Articles and Speeches
Address to the S.C. Bar House of Delegates by A. Marvin Quattlebaum, President
May 5, 2011
A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr.
Chief Justice Toal, Past Presidents, and members of the House of Delegates:
I am honored and humbled to take the oath of President of the SC Bar. I am very excited about serving as your President for the next 12 months. And I want to tell you some of the things I hope we can accomplish together this coming year. But before I do that, there are some people I need to thank.
Carl Solomon. It has been my privilege to serve as President-elect while Carl led the Bar. I am not sure I have ever seen a more talented leader. But what is amazing to me is that Carl led so effectively during such a challenging year. First, about the time he became President, Carl's partner moved from private practice to the federal court bench, leaving Carl to head up his small firm. Then during the middle of his term and at the beginning of the Annual Convention, Carl and Kesha's second child was born. Throw in a tough budget year and you can see why the Bar needed a leader of Carl's strength and fortitude. At first, we did not know what to give Carl to thank him for his service. Then it hit us. Rest! So Carl, we have for you and Kesha a travel gift certificate from your travel agency that we hope you will use…soon! Please join me again in thanking Carl for his incredible service.
Chief Justice Toal. Madam Chief, I could go on and on about the ways you have advanced our legal system as Chief. You have been recognized nationally for those efforts, and we all know how fortunate we are to have you as a leader of our judicial system. But what I want to thank you for today is the relationship we have between the Court and the Bar. To be able to work together and to have the friendships we have is truly unique. It simply is different from the way it works in other states. I know that comes from the top, and I want you to know how appreciative we are for that relationship.
Past Presidents. It is truly humbling to follow in your footsteps. You are the giants of the profession. I thought about mentioning the Past Presidents who have directly influenced me. But the list was so long that I had to stop. However, I did want to mention one of you specifically. Claude Scarborough is the last person in my firm to serve as President of the SC Bar. I think that was in 1975. More importantly to me (and to my wife and parents), he hired me out of law school. So I asked him to come to this meeting and it's great to have him here. Mr. Scarborough, thank you for your help to me through the years. And to all the Past Presidents --thank you for your past service, for your examples of leadership and for your assistance to me.
Bar staff. I will not dwell on this because you know what a great Bar staff we have. Let me just say that we have the best Bar staff in the country. Anytime it looks like we as a Board are doing something right, it is due to our staff. We are very blessed to have a staff so dedicated to our profession. Members of the Bar staff, will you please stand? Please thank them for what they do every day of the year to serve you and the citizens of South Carolina.
My law firm. A number of members of my firm are here today. My firm has been very supportive of my Bar work and I appreciate so many of you being here.
My family. My parents, brother, and sister could be here today. Also here are my wife Laurie, my daughters Elizabeth and Martha and my son Wes. My normal schedule keeps me away from home more than I would like and serving as your President will not help it out. I want to thank all of my family for being patient with me while I do this job. I am lucky to have them.
Now on to my remarks. As I moved towards being your President, I heard two questions over and over. First, what in the world is going to happen to the Bar with you as President? Second, why do you do Bar work? Well there is not much I can say about the first question. I suspect everyone is worried about that. But I have an answer to the second.
I do Bar work, more than any other reason, because I like lawyers. I come from a family of lawyers. My dad is a lawyer. My uncle is a lawyer. Many of my cousins are lawyers. My great-grandfather was a lawyer. If the legal business went away, the Quattlebaums would be in a world of trouble.
But it is not just my family. Many of my best friends are lawyers. I am friends with the lawyers in my firm, the lawyers on the other side of in my cases and the judges I appear before. Lawyers are the most interesting people I know to be around. They are also some of the most committed servants to their communities. And let me say one more thing—SC lawyers are the best. In my work, I handle cases around the country. I will put SC lawyers up against anyone.
So doing Bar work means I work with and on behalf of other lawyers. Since those are folks I like and respect so much, it's an easy decision for me to do Bar work.
With that background, let me tell you about 3 initiatives for the coming year.
First, "attacks on our profession." Attacks on our profession were front and center in November's elections. These attacks left a bad taste in my mouth and I am sure plenty of yours. Regardless of one's political affiliation, it is wrong to paint our profession with a broad and unfair brush.
These attacks also are dangerous. You see they have the potential to jeopardize the public's trust in the legal system. And if the public does not trust our legal system, the rule of law which is so fundamental to our country could be undermined. So this is an important issue for the Bar.
The Bar did not respond to these attacks during the middle of the November elections. We felt that doing so would have placed the Bar too much in the middle of partisan issues which the Bar cannot do. But that doesn't mean there is not an important role for the Bar on this issue. President Solomon began work on the image of lawyers during his presidency. We will continue that work this coming year. Here are some things we intend to do:
--establish a BOG task force chaired by Angus Macauley to address attacks on the profession
--complete and distribute video pieces that portray who lawyers really are and what they really do in way that addresses head on the criticisms of the profession
--develop a television ad about the role of lawyers in our society. The Bar will pay to develop the ad but not to run it; that would be taking sides in a specific election; but we will have the ads available for candidates, regardless of party or political philosophy, who wish to use them.
--continue to run op eds about the profession and the benefits we provide to our communities and to the state
--and let me say this: if you are part of a county bar association, a rotary club, a local chamber or any other organization that would like the Bar President, or anyone from the BOG, to speak about the role of lawyers in our society or any related topic, let us know; we will be there.
We hope these efforts will help re-shape the image of lawyers. But we all need to recognize that this is a complex issue that will not be solved overnight. But even if we do not solve this problem entirely, the Bar will do it anyway. It's important for our members to know that the Bar will support them. My daughter Elizabeth loves country music singer Kenny Chesney. In one of his songs, he says: "I've got your back, when it's against the wall. You mess with one man, you got us all." Well, the same holds true for the Bar. When there are attacks on our profession, the Bar will have your back.
Second, "benefits." Perhaps the most fundamental function of the Bar is to provide benefits to Bar members that are relevant and helpful. It may not be exciting. It may not be sexy. But providing high quality benefits has always been the hallmark of our Bar. Sometimes when you deal with big issues like funding of our judiciary and the image of lawyers, you might have a tendency to forget some of the basics like providing excellent services. Jim Collins writes about this in his book How the Mighty Fall. Collins says that many great organizations fail because over time they lose sight of the things that made them great in the first place.
To make sure this does not happen to the Bar, this year the Bar will review its services and benefits to make sure they remain relevant and current. In doing this, we will pay special attention to the services for solos and small firms. Approximately 40% of our lawyers are solos or in small firms, and that number is growing with the current economic conditions. In fact, a growing number of recent law school graduates who have not found jobs are hanging shingles. So it is critical that the Bar support this part of the profession.
We have already been in contact with the Solo and Small Firm Section and will work with that section on issues of particular importance to solos and small firms. Here are some of the services we will consider:
--opening a practice
--the business side of the practice
--providing forms on Hotdocs
--Solo and small firm CLE in September
--Solo and small firm booth at convention
So benefits in general and those geared towards solos and small firms in specific will be an important part of what we do this year.
There is one more "member benefit" I want to briefly discuss. Chief Justice Toal has long been a leader in modernizing our judicial system. To continue these efforts, it is critical that the data about Bar members be modernized so that it can be used in multiple platforms. This year the Bar will be working in partnership with the Court to modernize this data. This may not sound very exciting. But when completed, it will give all members of the Bar the opportunity to take advantage of technological advances in the legal system. Let me be clear—the Chief and her staff deserve the credit for leading this effort. But the Bar will be working in partnership with the Court to provide the member data necessary to make this member benefit possible.
Third, "member involvement." The Bar faces more competition than ever before. There are simply more and more legal organizations. These organizations, some of which I am a member of, are important parts of our profession. But they compete with the Bar for your time and resources. There is plenty of room in our profession for all these organizations. But amidst this competition, the Bar needs the involvement of its members more than ever.
I know I am "preaching to the choir" when I am talking about this to you. This House is composed of the leaders of the Bar. You give your time year after year. But we need more members like you. We also need to increase the involvement of our members into the day-to-day work of our sections and committees. We have great volunteers doing that work now—but we want more. To that end, we have established a Member Involvement Task Force to be chaired by Cal Watson with a goal of doubling member involvement over 3 years. We will be staffing this Task Force soon, and we will look to reach all segments of the Bar.
Just one example is "in house" lawyers. This group is probably an underserved portion of the Bar. We will examine this and other segments of the Bar to try to involve as much of the profession as we can.
We know doubling our member involvement is an ambitious goal. But we believe it is achievable and important. Doing this will strengthen the Bar and better allow the Bar to work on behalf of the entire profession.
One part of member involvement is attending the annual convention. In January, as most of you know, the convention is in Columbia. It is the first time it has been in Columbia in many years. I think this is shaping up to be a great convention. The Conventions Committee is working very hard. The committees and sections are working hard to secure high quality speakers. And while on the topic of speakers, we have a treat for folks who come to the Convention. I am pleased follow up on our E-blast by announcing today that our headline speakers for the Convention are US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. Justices Breyer and Scalia on rare occasions present in a debate style format explaining. It is a very entertaining presentation. What a great honor to our Bar that these justices have selected our Convention as one of the few public appearances they make.
Senator Lindsey Graham was instrumental in making this happen. If you have an opportunity, please thank him. And please make sure you come to Columbia for the Convention and spread this exciting word.
Those are not all of our initiatives, but that is all have time for now. After all, we have a reception to get to.
Let me make one more point in closing. Growing up, I played basketball. My favorite team was the Boston Celtics. You may remember that team: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. They had epic battles with Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. What made the Celtics great? Well, they were talented. But more importantly, they were from diverse backgrounds and played together. Because of that, they accomplished great things.
The Bar can be the same way. We have talented lawyers. And we come from diverse backgrounds – from big cities and from small towns; from big firms and from small one and two man shops; from plaintiffs firms and from defense firms; from government and from private practice. If we work together, like those Celtic teams, we too can accomplish great things for our profession. Thank you very much for the opportunity to work with you this year.