I wish you a happy New Year and look forward to endeavoring to be well and do good together in 2020. At the beginning of a new year and new decade, I often take time to pause and reflect on the people whose influence have made a difference in my life. The late Honorable Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr., former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia left an indelible impact on me. Over a decade ago, Chief Justice Hassell gave me an opportunity to serve as his law clerk at the beginning of my legal career. He was a great jurist, husband, father, and mentor, and his legacy in this great Commonwealth of Virginia lives on through his contributions to the legal community and through the lives of the people whom he touched along the way.
Chief Justice Hassell used his position to encourage attorneys to engage in pro bono work. Each time he administered the oath to admit attorneys into the bar of the Supreme Court of Virginia, he would give a short speech about the poor. He would begin by noting that as attorneys, we likely would make more money than most people in the Commonwealth of Virginia and that the poor could really benefit from legal services that they could not afford. He encouraged each attorney to provide pro bono legal services, and he began the Indigent Criminal Defense Seminar to help prepare and equip attorneys to defend indigent people accused of crimes. The Virginia State Bar continues to offer the Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr., Indigent Criminal Defense Seminar each year.
Chief Justice Hassell also instilled a passion for the rule of law in all of his law clerks. When new law clerks would begin their work at the Supreme Court of Virginia in August of each year, Chief Justice Hassell would tout attorneys and judges as the upholders of the rule of law. He would say that if all the doctors in society suddenly died tomorrow, society would still go on as usual. He would then say that if all the accountants in society suddenly died tomorrow, society would still go on as usual. He always concluded by stating that if all the attorneys and judges in society suddenly died tomorrow, society would erupt into utter chaos because there would be no one to uphold the rule of law. He believed in and upheld the rule of law throughout his career. The Young Lawyers Conference in conjunction with the Diversity Conference and other organizations help organize the Rule of Law Day at the Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond each spring, and approximately 300 middle school and high school students learn about the rule of law and also observe a mock argument before the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Rule of Law Day program always begins with a video of Chief Justice Hassell, discussing the importance of the rule of law.
Chief Justice Hassell was my mentor, and his influence is still evident in my life today. His passion to help the poor, to uphold the rule of law, and to mentor younger attorneys such as his law clerks have inspired me throughout my tenure as YLC President. I hope that you are able to provide pro bono legal services at one of the YLC’s Wills for Heroes program, to volunteer in the Rule of Law program to help younger generations understand the importance of the rule of law, and to serve as a mentor or seek a mentor through the Mentorship Network organized by the YLC and the Senior Lawyers Conference. This year, may you find joy in helping people who will not repay you, inspiration for your role in upholding the rule of law, and a mentor who will help steer you into your destiny.
Farnaz F. Thompson
YLC President 2019-2020