Published September 29, 2015

What Monmouth Meanes

Top attorney in St. Louis credits college for instilling her self-belief
  • Pamela Malone Meanes ’90 and Dr. Jeremy McNamara.
Pamela Malone Meanes ’90, immediate past president of the National Bar Association, is a big believer in the word “advocacy” – speaking up for others who cannot in her role as a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, the largest law firm in St. Louis.

When she arrived at Monmouth College from East St. Louis, Ill., she found herself in a similar position to how some of her legal clients feel – unsure of what would happen to her and in need of an ally. She found one in her faculty adviser, English professor Jeremy McNamara.

“I was at the top of my class in East St. Louis, but being a premier student there is sub-par at Monmouth,” she said. “I needed that time and attention. I remember meeting Dr. McNamara. He said, ‘I looked at your test scores. Are you sure you want to major in English?’ But then I’ll always remember what he said next. ‘If you go there, I’m there with you.”

She continued, “I didn’t know at the time he was known as the toughest professor in the department. But he taught me discipline. At the beginning, he suggested I take a more introductory class, and he followed my progress in it.”

Before long, Meanes was not only taking the most challenging courses in the major, but excelling in them. She recalled that the college’s emphasis to its students during her era was on “freedom and responsibility,” and she has carried it with her throughout her two decades in law.

“I’ve really appreciated that balance,” she said. “I was against the grain my entire time at Monmouth, but people here gave me the freedom to be me. My professors supported me. I learned that what I’m advocating for needs to be balanced with reason. I can challenge, but not offend. I can motivate, but not demonize. I enjoy bringing people to the table for conversations, and the lessons I learned at Monmouth helped me to do that.”

Meanes is so effective at “bringing people to the table” that she rarely has to appear in a courtroom, but when she’s there, she definitely values the experience.

“I consider the courtroom as a stage, and I love to be able to convince a jury of my side,” said Meanes, who knows a thing or two about the stage from her days as a regular theatre performer. One of her most memorable roles was as Tituba in “The Crucible.”

Meanes returned to her alma mater in September to speak to Monmouth students about opportunities in law and to discuss constitutional law, civil rights and civil liberties with political science students. Part of the discussion focused on recent events in Ferguson, Mo., not far from St. Louis, and an issue very much on her radar, as police brutality was one of her four platforms at the National Bar Association convention.

“Black lawyers needed to do something about this,” she said. “We need to help educate about real solutions to these problems, to be able to critique and to help to solve them. Issues such as what are your rights? What is the law? What can offices do and not do?”

She was joined by another Monmouth student from her era, Dan Cotter ’88, a law partner at the Chicago firm of Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd and immediate past president of the Chicago Bar Association. Meanes credits another Chicago attorney from that era, Brad Nahrstadt ’89, a partner of Lipe Lyons Murphy Nahrstadt & Pontikis Ltd., for being a mentor to her, as well.

Meanes’ entrance into the legal profession was not her original plan, or even Plan B. She majored in English and minored in education at Monmouth, hoping to become a high school teacher, then pursued a master’s degree in African American studies at Clark Atlanta University, with the goal of becoming a college professor. She was aided in her graduate school application by Andrea Scott, the college’s director of intercultural life who, along with her husband, Dr. Ed Scott, were two others at Monmouth “who changed my life forever.”

Meanes’ plans for a career in education changed on April 29, 1992, the day of the Rodney King verdict.

“I was ending my time at Clark Atlanta, where I was the graduate president. Following the verdict, a group of Atlanta colleges planned a peaceful protest march. Mayor Maynard Jackson agreed to it, but when it came time, he was nowhere to be found. There was rioting and arrests, and I got very involved in the negotiations so that students wouldn’t have police records. That’s what made me decide to go to law school.”

Asked what she looks forward to each day as she prepares for work, she replied, “Representing my clients and doing an excellent job at it. I like to advocate and protect needs and get justice. I enjoy advocating for them, and doing it in a very ethical and legal way. That’s the best part of my day.”

Most of Meanes’ work is in the area of real estate and construction litigation.

“Dan Cotter calls going to law school the ‘liberal arts master’s degree’ for the way it stresses critical thinking and advocacy,” said Meanes, who was the first African American in her firm’s history to be elevated from associate to partner. “Statutes and the Constitution are really just pieces of paper. It’s the justifiable application of those laws that really matter. At the end of the day, the person who defends those principles and makes them happen is a lawyer. I enjoy a quotation by Charles Hamilton Houston: ‘A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.’”

Meanes was asked how she found her way to Monmouth in the first place.

“I was part of an Upward Bound honors program in high school, and we had a lady named Fran visit our class. She told us ‘You guys should look at Monmouth.’ I was thinking a place with big lights, but I checked it out, and they offered me a full scholarship. My mother was a maid. She didn’t have the resources to place me in a school like Monmouth, so the scholarship meant everything. I liked that I’d get one-on-one instruction and be in small classes. My mother liked that it was a school of faith. I had a Pentecostal upbringing.”

Meanes remembers being “crazy” at football games, as well as some of the strong friendships she formed with, among others, a “breakfast club” that would to go to the local Hardee’s to eat and then gather to watch “The Price is Right.” She also studied abroad as part of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s London/Florence program and did her student teaching in Chicago.

“The opportunities I had at Monmouth as a young woman from East St. Louis were so valuable to me,” she concluded. “But what I remember most is my first meeting with Dr. McNamara. He and some of the other faculty made me believe in myself.”

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