President's Column ~ May/June 2014
Friday, May 16, 2014
Posted by: Stephanie McGee
M. Gray Styers, Jr.
Tenth J.D. Bar President and Wake County Bar Association
A CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE
WHEN WE DECIDED TO BECOME LAWYERS, the primary motivation for many us was the desire to "make a difference” in our community, in our state, or in our country. As we grew up, we saw, first hand in our hometowns, attorneys who were respected leaders of our communities. We learned in history classes about lawyers who had provided leadership at critical times. (Perhaps no other President had as much experience as a practicing trial lawyer than Abraham Lincoln.) The legal skills of analysis, problem solving and advocacy, coupled with the professional values of integrity, civility, and loyalty translate well to leadership opportunities in the public sphere.
Perhaps because our county seat also serves as our state capital, perhaps because of examples and traditions handed down from generation to generation, or perhaps simply because of good fortune, many Wake County attorneys, through out history, have heeded the call of public service and have dedicated their careers to making a difference in ways that benefit us all. A complete list would fill volumes and still be incomplete, but a few examples make the point:
Those enjoying barbeque at our May meeting, or visiting Mordecai Historic Park at other times, may have wandered into the Badger-Iredell law offices. James Iredell, Jr. served as Governor in 1827-28 and U.S. Senator in 1828-31, and, as an attorney thereafter in Raleigh, was a commissioner to revise the state’s laws, was a Reporter for the NC Supreme Court, and published an authoritative digest of court cases in the state from 1778 to 1845. Another lawyer who practiced in that office, George Edmund Badger, served as US Secretary of Navy in 1841 and as a US Senator from 1848 to 1855.
Walter Clark practiced law in Raleigh for over a dozen years in the 1870s and ‘80s. After serving on the Superior Court bench, he was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1889, and served as Chief Justice for over twenty years, from 1902 to 1924. He also had a long career as an author, publishing volumes on North Carolina history, handbooks on the law, and an annotated code of state court civil procedure. He was a noted advocate of reforms on many controversial issues of his day, including popular election of U.S. Senators, banking and railroad regulations, and women’s suffrage.
Many Wake Forest alumni remember Carroll W. Weathers as the Dean of the Law School from 1950 to 1970, shepherding the move of the law school to Winston-Salem in 1956-57, and exemplifying the high standard of ethics and professionalism he sought to instill in young lawyers. Unless you read the article in the last edition of The Bar Flyer, you probably didn’t know that Dean Weathers also practiced law in Raleigh for seventeen years and was President of the Wake County Bar Association in 1943.
This historic tradition of public service continues today. If you look at almost every church, synagogue, other religious group, environmental group, or service organization anywhere in Wake County, you will find lawyers in leadership positions.
At our March lunch meeting earlier this year, we heard from two of our respected state legislators, Sen. Josh Stein and Rep. Paul Stam. Other colleagues who serve or have recently served in the General Assembly include Dan Blue, Deborah Ross, Darren Jackson, Duane Hall, Tamara Barringer, Grier Martin, Jennifer Weiss, Chris Heagarty, Richard Stevens, Don Munford, and Tom Murry, and in previous sessions, legislative giants such as Sam Johnson, Bob Farmer, and Wade Smith served our county and our state extraordinarily well. On the national level, John Edwards served as US Senator and was the 2004 Democratic candidate for Vice-President, Brad Miller and Martin Lancaster served in the US House of Representatives, and currently George Holding
serves in the US House. James P. Cain served as US Ambassador to Denmark from 2004 to 2008. Kirk Warner, David Watters, Doug Heron, and many others have balanced their law practice with distinguished military service. All these leaders practiced law here in Wake County.
In bar leadership, current North Carolina Bar Association president-elect Catherine Arrowood follows the proud tradition of Martin Brinkley, Judge Allyson Duncan, John Jernigan, and John Q. Beard. Recent State Bar presidents include Keith Kapp, Bonnie Weyher, Jim Dorsett, and Cressie Thigpen. The only two North Carolina presidents of the American Bar Association – Willis Smith and A.P. Carlton – both hailed from Wake County. Tom Norris, Henry Mitchell, W.W. "T” Taylor, and John Q. Beard were among the founding directors of NC Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. Again, any list is inevitably incomplete (and my apologies to those whose names were left on the proverbial cutting-room-floor solely for the sake of space constraints), but these men and women, among so many others, are part of our rich heritage and exemplify the public service that characterizes our local bar.
Sometimes "public service” doesn’t necessarily mean being in the spotlight yourself, but rather helping to train and equip others to serve and to lead. An example of this type of public service can be seen in the person of George Wythe – a name familiar to students of American History and frequent visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, but who would otherwise not necessarily be on the "A list” of our Founding Father. When one considers, however, his service as mentor and teacher to Thomas Jefferson, to Chief Justice John Marshall, and later to Henry Clay, and Wythe’s early and outspoken opposition to slavery, his contribution to the formation of American ideals and jurisprudence cannot be overstated.
We cannot all be elected officials or serve in government, bar, or military leadership positions, but we all can, and should, answer the call to public service. We can all serve as mentors, like George Wythe, both informally and through the WCBA/”Campbell Connections” mentorship program. We can all step forward and volunteer in the organizations, and for the causes, about which we care and are passionate.
Our WCBA Public Service Committee provides and promotes opportunities for us to respond to this call. A few of the many ways to serve include: providing pro bono service through the 4All Service Day, "Lawyer on the Line,” and/or LANC’s "Volunteer Lawyers’ Program;” donating food during the Legal Feeding Frenzy or our own YLD Food Drive in December; volunteering for our Rule of Law Program or many other service projects; or just allowing a teenager to have a "Lunch with a Lawyer” this summer. Later this year, you will be hearing more about a new program through which we can volunteer in schools to help students learn to read. Look for the "Spotlight on Public Service” in our e-mail newsletters and during announcements at our lunch meetings for more information about these and other opportunities.
Whether in private practice, as corporate counsel, or in the public sector, we can use our intellect, our training, and our skills as lawyers to realize the dreams that first led us to law school – to serve not ourselves and our pecuniary gain, but to serve the public at large and to improve the communities in which we work and live.