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Lawyers in short supply at Assembly

The Virginia General Assembly could use a few good lawyers.

That seemed to be the message Tuesday as Roanoke state legislators talked about the 2013 General Assembly session with members of the Roanoke Bar Association.

“We have reached a tipping point,” warned Del. Greg Habeeb. There are now non-lawyers on the two courts committees at the State Capitol and soon, he said, the Assembly could have majorities of non-lawyers on some courts subcommittees.

Fellow Del. Chris Head, a business owner and non-lawyer, concurred that there is danger in having too few lawyers in the legislature. He described the legal “wordsmithing” required to answer tough questions about his alcohol identification bill before the House Courts Committee.

Head’s bill was designed to make it a crime to sell alcohol to an underage customer without requiring the showing of “bona fide evidence of legal age.” The committee chair raised the concern that store clerks could be convicted if they were taken in by realistic – but fake – I.D. cards.

Hoping to avoid harsh results, Head worked with sympathetic lawyers in efforts to fix the language of the bill. “I understand why we need to have lawyers,” he said.

The Virginia General Assembly currently is made up of about 29 percent practicing lawyers, according to a recent check by The Virginian-Pilot.


  1. When lawyers create the law, they do it in their language, which is not necessarily the language of the land. No wonder the citizen, who must live by the law, cannot comprehend it.

    Our forefathers were not primarily lawyers, and they got it right.

  2. In fact, while there were many who had a hand in writing the U.S. Constitution, it was essentially written by lawyers, including a number of Virginia lawyers. The Declaration of Independence was, of course, written by our own Thomas Jefferson (who was also involved in writing the Constitution). And yes, Virginia lawyers wrote the Virginia Constitution. I agree with Ms. Ailshire in that they did get it right.

  3. Alexis de Tocqueville observed in “Democracy in America [vol 1, 1836] that the genius of the American democratic system was the willingness of its citizen lawyers to serve in elective office at all levels of government, high and low, and using their training, experience and reverence for the rule of law to act as a hidden but effective restraint against the passions of the non-lawyer legislators. I think I hear the Count weeping.

  4. The General Assembly frequently fails to do what it intends and does what it does not intend, usually as the result of some good purpose in mind but without consideration of the unexpected consequences.

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