(pictured above: Attorneys Dudley Humphrey (left) and George Cleland look on as H. Glenn Davis speaks.)
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker was among those advocating for integrity in the legal community last Friday at a daylong confab that tackled the subject.
Judges, lawyers and others gathered at downtown Embassy Suites for the event, which was held by the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism and Forsyth County Bar Association–21st Judicial District Bar to help legal professionals meet the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements of the N.C. Bar Association.
Justice Parker was the first of many presenters who addressed the topic of professionalism in the legal profession.
Parker acknowledged that those in the legal profession often get a bad rap, but she said it is a noble profession that shouldn’t be marred by the actions of a few bad apples.
“Wherever we go, in whatever capacity, we are viewed by the public as lawyers and held in either esteem or disdain; which one depends on us,” she said.
Parker said honesty and integrity, along with truth and justice – not winning – should be the goal of every lawyer. Calling the legal profession one of service, Parker encouraged pro bono work and praised organizations like Legal Aid of North Carolina for providing services to those who can’t afford lawyers. More that three million people in the state are poor enough to qualify for Legal Aid services, Parker said, but the agency only has the capacity to serve 20 percent of them.
“The failure to provide adequate legal services to those of modest means affects both the economic and social fabric of our society,” she said.
Veteran attorney H. Glenn Davis has been practing law in Winston-Salem long enough to recall a time when he “knew basically every lawyer in Winston-Salem, black and white.” That would be difficult today; the local bar has more then 1,200 members. But Davis, who was among the speakers, says he is the same kind of lawyer he was in the mid-60s and urges newcomers to follow the tenants that have guided his professional life.
“Always be truthful with your opposite council,” he said. “They catch you in a lie today, what’s going to happen tomorrow? They won’t respect anything you say.”
The program also took time to highlight several lawyers for acts of service.
“I wanted to focus on a few people who made me extremely proud to be a lawyer from Winston-Salem,” said Melvin Wright, who practiced law in Winston-Salem for 46 years before becoming the head of the Commission on Professional.
He cited Mark Rabil, the director of Wake Forest University’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, for his work to free wrongly-convicted Darryl Hunt, and Chris Beechler, Carrie Vickery and Nicole Dupre, lawyers who donated kidneys to save the lives of others.
Kristin Kelly, president of the local Young Lawyers Association, presented kidney-shaped trophies engraved with “Two is not always better than one” to Beechler and Vickery (Dupre could not attend).
Vickery donated a kidney late last year to Deputy City Attorney Al Andrews, whom she had not known for very long. She said she hopes her act will inspire others to act selflessly. Vickery, a criminal defense and family law attorney at the Holton Law Firm, agreed wholeheartedly with Parker’s position of pro bono work. Vickery already represents indigent clients at no charge.
“I think that having good legal services available to lower income persons is extremely important,” she said, “and while you’re entitled to court-appointed council in criminal cases, you don’t have that in civil cases, and I think those are so important and those people should still have good council to represent them.”
The Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism has held similar events in all 30 court districts in the state. Winston-Salem had not played host in more than a decade. The Commission was formed in 1998 to enhance professionalism among law students, lawyers and judges. The Commission has also helped push through a N.C. Supreme Court order that mandates a three-week vacation policy for lawyers, orientations about professionalism at law schools and changes in CLE requirements to include the topic of professionalism. The Commission also annually hands out the Chief Justice Professionalism Awards to those who put the profession in its best light.