American Bar Association President-Elect: Robert Grey
You could say that Robert Grey, president-elect of the American Bar Association, is a product of his neighborhood. He grew up in the same Virginia community that produced the noted civil rights lawyer, Oliver Hill, and the first African-American governor of Virginia, Doug Wilder.
“Most of the civic leaders in my community were lawyers,” he said, “and that was a role I understood, and believed was honorable and worthy as a career.”
After graduating from Washington and Lee School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, Grey started out in criminal defense work. His early years also gave him exposure to civil litigation, domestic relations, and bankruptcy cases.
“My first jury trial was an armed robbery case in which I got an acquittal,” he said, “and my first civil trial in a jury setting was a landlord-tenant dispute, and I got a verdict in favor of my client.”
These early cases marked only the beginning of his tremendously successful and expansive career.
“And that has been very satisfying to me,” Grey added, reflecting on his professional career, “the diversity of experience that I’ve had. I’ve worked for small and large law firms, for the state and the federal government, and this has given me a broad experience base.”
A diverse experience and diversity in the workplace are hallmarks that Grey fully supports.
“I think that maybe on the issue of diversity, the profession is certainly a viable vehicle for providing leadership,” he said. “Lawyers are uniquely trained and have developed skills in problem solving that can help our communities achieve the highest level of diversity that we can in our society.”
Grey, a partner at the international law firm Hunton and Williams, which is based in Richmond, has coupled his legal experience with a strong commitment to public service. His bio reveals a long list of awards for his public service, and early in his career, he became active in the American Bar Association.
“It was a very gradual progression within the association, by participating on committees, chairing committees, and then making a decision to run for an elected position,” he said.
Grey’s first elected position was as a state delegate to the ABA’s House of Delegates. In 1998, he was elected chair of the House, making him the first lawyer of color elected to an officer position of the ABA. Most recently in 2002, he was elected as president-elect of the ABA, the second person of color to ascend to that post. It’s a position with awesome responsibilities and requires a lawyer with a broad range of experience.
“We’re the spokesperson for the lawyers in our society, and anything that impacts the judicial system is likely to be reviewed and commented on by the association,” he said.
One of the major issues confronting the profession is the compromise being made on civil liberties as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
“What we’re trying to achieve is a balance in our society,” he said. “We believe strongly in protecting our civil liberties and we need to create an approach to national security that is least intrusive, that you maintain a democracy that we want to perpetuate, but also protect it from outside threats.”
What he believes separates our society from many others is our reliance on the law.
“The ABA tries to be thoughtful and supportive of this idea that we’re built on a society based on the rule of law,” he said, “that we resolve conflict in a peaceful and orderly manner, and that though our society might seem very litigious, it is better than the reverse of taking the law into your own hands.”
MCCA® congratulates Grey upon his rise to president-elect of the ABA and wishes him much continued success.
Tom Calarco is a freelance writer from Schenectady, N.Y. He is the Author of The Underground Railroad Conductor, which is available for purchase online at www.travelsthruhistory.com/books.htm. His next work-in-progress, The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region, is set for publication in the near future.
From the November/December 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®