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Remarks by Past President Clement Upon Presentation of Commemorative Plaque

Monday, August 21, 2017   (0 Comments)
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The Honorable Whittington W. Clement provided remarks at the 2017 Summer Meeting on behalf of VBA past presidents in presenting to the membership a plaque commemorating the VBA’s founding. He presided over the VBA in 1993.

Clement served in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years, was state secretary of transportation from 2002-2005, and practiced law in Danville and currently focuses his practice on government affairs and lobbying in Richmond.

An excerpt of his remarks:

Whittington Clement offers remarks in the past presidents plaque presentation“We past presidents think it is fitting and probably overdue in commissioning the bronze garden plaque to commemorate the VBA’s founding in 1888. I hope you have all had a chance to see it. This is a history right here. The history of this great resort, the Homestead. The history of The Virginia Bar Association. The history of our relationship to the Homestead.

Throughout our history, members of the VBA have worked to live up to the ideals of the association — as the plaque reads, ‘to advance professionalism, collegiality and service to the public by Virginia lawyers.’

It is that history that has bound us together over the years. It is the common experience that we share – whether from big firms in big cities or small firms in our rural areas, whether in government or the nonprofit world, whether it’s wet or dry at the Homestead, whether we are worn or triumphant, or even sober or not – that truly binds us together.

It our common experience that fuels, maintains and enlivens The Virginia Bar Association.

The VBA is a living thing and we are all proud to share what it represents.

The VBA is one of only three statewide voluntary bar associations in our country. It was founded in 1888 out of a reformist mentality, which is notable because no true Virginian, when awakened from a deep sleep, immediately thinks, much less expresses, the word ‘reform.’

Continuity is our more natural instinct. Yet it happened. We opted for reform. The Virginia legal profession, according to the history books, cried out for an upgrade. And Virginia responded. More than 100 lawyers attended that first statewide meeting. They resolved to raise professional standards and improve the law.

Prior to this uplifting, prior to these reforms, no standards existed in Virginia for bar admission. There was no examination, no code of ethics. They had no voice in judicial selection or law reform. And no means existed to discipline lawyers.

We offered leadership when Virginia needed leadership. We stepped up to the plate. We did our duty. In the early decades of the 20th century, we sought support in the Virginia General Assembly for action. We called for the creation of an agency to regulate the legal profession, thus relieving us from the duty – an often-conflicted duty – of policing our own members. Thus, some 50 years following the creation of the VBA, we saw the creation of a progressive licensing and disciplinary agency, the Virginia State Bar.

Then what is it that has kept us – the VBA – around so long? What is the value of this venerable organization in this modern age today when we witness rapid change in so many fields that affect our lives so profoundly? The members of the bar – us – can cite numerous examples of how the practice of law itself has changed, even in the last 5 to 10 years. But what makes the VBA even relevant today?

Whittington Clement offers remarks in the past presidents plaque presentationLife. And change. Change in all forms. Social. Cultural. Economic. Political. There is no escaping the requirement to anticipate and react – to react and prepare – to prepare and shape.

We find our profession challenged on many fronts. We see intense competition, both from within and without. We see the challenge of new, different, sometimes perplexing different revenue models, as an alternative to almighty billable hour.

We see the erosion of the general practitioner, the lack of specialists in our rural areas and the discouraging signs of fewer young people choosing to enter our profession.

For myself, that part, that trend, if it holds, is as troubling as anything.

It is in this context, with this perspective, that it strikes me as more important than ever that The Virginia Bar Association work to remain a viable voluntary organization and that its members continue to be leaders of our profession in Virginia.

We must be true to our 1890 Charter. It states our purpose. It says that the VBA exists “to cultivate and advance the science of jurisprudence, promote reforming the law and in judicial procedure, facilitate the administration of justice in the state, and uphold and elevate the standard of honor, integrity and courtesy” of our profession.

Honor. Integrity. Courtesy. These are timeless values. High values. They are also values with utility. These values, running through this organization, keep us anchored.

As a voluntary bar, we can advocate for the public’s interest through law reform and improvements to our justice system. We can be champions of judicial independence. We can take stands for those who might not otherwise have an advocate. We can promote access to justice for the poor, continuously advocating – as we long have – on behalf of legal aid funding. Likewise, we can get out in front and lead the effort to improve the quality in indigent criminal defense representation.

And consider the incredible goodwill and learning experience to thousands of young Virginians through the Rule of Law Project initiated almost 10 years ago under VBA President Mike Pace.

Whittington Clement offers remarks in the past presidents plaque presentationAt a minimum, when it comes to shaping public policy, we should target the public good as our goal and not the commercial interests of our profession. If we do that, then we will do well.

And let us not minimize the benefits of our social activity. Our stressed society – stressed by competitive pressures, stressed of partisanship on steroids, stressed by institutions under assault – makes the value of nonadversarial settings, the Homestead in summer or in Williamsburg each winter, greater than ever. Yes, it is truly good for us, as lawyers and as human beings, to join our families and enjoy each other.

One last word to our younger lawyers.

All this – the long tradition, my humble observations – is up to you. Your active participation in the VBA will shape and define the VBA in the future.

I owe a lot it, right back to my days as a young lawyer in Danville, where I practiced for 25 years. I would never have had the opportunity to meet so many colleagues throughout the state if it were not for the VBA.

In closing, perhaps as you enjoy the ambience of the Homestead and its grounds and gardens, take a moment to contemplate what the VBA has done – and done so well for so many years – and continues to do for our fellow members and communities throughout Virginia and what we past presidents believe and hope the VBA must keep doing through the future good works of its members. We hope this plaque will be a reminder to all of that.”

 

Two other past presidents reflect on the unique values of the VBA.

commemorative bronze plaque-closeup


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