The Atlanta Lawyer — February 2012
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President's Message
Rita A. Sheffey

The World Revolves Around the Relationships We Build: Making (More and Better) Connections for the Future<br /> <br /> As I began my year as President of the Atlanta Bar Association, I wanted to focus on “Making Connections for the Future.” I had no idea that during my year those connections would include meeting with lawyers from Istanbul and Mongolia. Yet, it was my pleasure to meet with each of them and to share experiences with our respective legal systems. It was a clear reminder of what an amazing legal system we have -- one that it is held in such high esteem by others outside our country. Too often, I think we focus on things we perceive need to be changed, and perhaps lose sight of an amazing legal system that works and has worked extremely well for centuries. Indeed, we are fortunate to be beneficiaries of work of some amazing leaders who came before us, as well as some among us today.<br /> <br /> There are many approaches I could have taken to talking about relationships and connections. I mention only a few here by way of example.<br /> <br /> Earlier this month, I attended a dinner in New Orleans at which a former president of both the Atlanta Bar Association and the State Bar of Georgia, Sen. David H. Gambrell, was honored by the American Bar Foundation with the 2012 Outstanding Service Award for a “Fellow who has adhered for more than thirty years to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession and to the service of the public.” Many of Senator Gambrell’s family members, friends and colleagues from Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia were there to share the special moment with him. We also heard from other remarkable honorees, including United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, recipient of the Distinguished Honorary Fellow Award for “a lifetime of sustained and significant professional achievement and public service.” Justice Scalia’s eloquent remarks focused on the importance and resilience of the United States Constitution, a single document that has endured and protected us for centuries. I was honored to meet the Associate Justice and to exchange a few words about another member of the Atlanta Bar Association, Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias, who clerked for Justice Scalia. I was (and am) proud to be a lawyer and a member of the Atlanta Bar Association and the State Bar of Georgia (and the Virginia State Bar as well).<br /> <br /> As Atlanta Bar President, I have been privileged and honored to talk with so many of our members, to meet other incredible individuals, and to attend some wonderful special events. In every instance, I am humbled by the opportunities, embraced by the relationships, and amazed at the connections we all have. Bar leaders and others in our profession often talk about diversity as something to be encouraged and achieved. But there is much more to it than that. I think the recently modified logo of the Multi- Bar Leadership Council (MBLC), which includes the phrase “embracing diversity and inclusion in the law” reflects what we really seek. Interestingly, during a meeting last week of the National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP), the incoming chair of the NCBP, Karol Corbin Walker, talked about the “illusion of inclusion” and challenged local and state bar leaders to address this issue. The phrase is striking, and also disturbing, but often a fair characterization. While I believe the legal profession has made considerable progress on diversity issues, much remains to be done. All of our bar associations already have done much in this area, but surely we can and will do more, particularly working together and supporting one another.<br /> <br /> As I have reflected on our international visitors and the recent annual meetings of other bar associations, I also am reminded just how alike we are and the common bonds we share. I recently enjoyed the installation of new officers and board members for the Gate City Bar Association and the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA), as I did for the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL) and the Stonewall Bar Association last fall. Each of these occasions highlighted some amazing lawyers who give so freely of their time to serve our profession and to help mentor tomorrow’s leaders. While each ceremony and message was distinct, all are dedicated to presenting programs and opportunities for our respective members, to Having a positive impact on our profession, and to facilitating productive, long-lasting relationships. At each event, I watched alongside proud family members and colleagues showing their love and support for the newly installed leaders eagerly facing the next 366 days as bar presidents. It brought back special memories of my own installation more than eight months ago as my parents, family and friends looked on. And, of course, each of us is merely the face of our respective organizations for one year. And then others step in to keep us moving forward. We are joined and supported in our collective efforts by many, many incredible lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals who feel, as do we, that professional associations and the relationships they foster make our profession stronger, and make us happier and more fulfilled.<br /> <br /> I look forward to working closely with Gate City President (and ex officio member of the Atlanta Bar Board) L. Chris Stewart and GABWA President JaDawnya Butler, as I already am with GAWL President (and a former member-at-large on the Atlanta Bar Board) Lindsay Verity and Stonewall President (and a member of the Atlanta Bar Board) Robert M. Lewis, Jr. Later this month, along with the MBLC, the Atlanta Bar will host a summit of the presidents and presidents-elect of our many sister bar associations. Through this summit and ongoing dialogue and collaborations, it is my sincere hope that we will continue to get to know each other and our respective associations better, share best practices, opportunities and challenges, embrace diversity and inclusion in our profession, and leverage our respective connections for an even greater positive impact on our profession. As leaders of these organizations, we know very well the importance of relationships and connections and I challenge us to explore ways we can work together and support each other even more than we already do. Indeed, I do believe that the world revolves around the relationships we build and that it is vitally important to continue making connections for the future, not only ours, but also for our associations.<br /> <br /> During the last few months President Rita A. Sheffey, Hunton and Williams LLP, has been entertaining visitors from Istanbul and Mongolia. Shown with Rita in the photograph on the far left is Yasemin Eginlioglu from the Istanbul Bar Association, who has visited with the Atlanta Bar Association several times during the last year. (See page 21 of the March-April 2011 issue of The Atlanta Lawyer). With Rita in the photograph on the far right is Mr. Bassankhuu Oktyabri who currently serves as the Director of the International Affiliate of Advocates International within the Rule of Law Institute of Mongolia (ROLIM). The ROLIM is a non-governmental organization established in 1997 financed in part by Advocates International, a U.S.-based legal aid organization. Mr. Oktyabri traveled to Atlanta to learn more about public interests litigation, specifically providing pro bono legal assistance and consultancy to needy people.