Jordan Bondurant//June 26, 2017
Jordan Bondurant//June 26, 2017//
VIRGINIA BEACH – Doris Causey became the first African-American to serve as president of the Virginia State Bar when she was sworn in June 16 at the VSB Annual Meeting, which appropriately carried “History in the Making” as its theme.
Causey also is the first legal aid lawyer to head the bar.
She hopes to leverage those distinctions to strengthen the legal aid system and promote diversity in the legal profession.
“I will have a focus on access to justice, because that’s what I do and that’s my passion,” Causey said June 9 as she prepared for the VSB Council meeting.
She was quick to add that she also expects to promote diversity in the legal profession as she serves for a year as the bar’s representative to lawyers across Virginia.
Early experience with legal aid
Causey’s awareness of the role of legal aid came early.
“In my community in Mississippi, legal aid lawyers did a lot. I always knew if I didn’t work for legal aid, I would volunteer for legal aid,” she said.
Earning a law degree from Texas Southern University, she went to work in private practice in Richmond. She often lingered at the neighborhood legal aid office.
Veteran legal aid lawyer Marcel Slag pushed her out that door to go to court on a housing case, she recounted.
“He threw me into the fire,” Causey said.
Nervous about her first court appearance for a legal aid client, she nonetheless prevailed.
As she spent more time seeking ways to help, legal aid lawyers accepted her as part of the team, she said.
“She’s going to stick around. Let’s give her something to do,” they said, according to Causey.
The good fight
Causey described a case where an apartment tenant was evicted without proper procedure.
“They threw everything in the street,” she said.
Causey said she represented the client in an action against the landlord.
“We ended up getting almost $19,000.”
“These people have a cause. They’re calling the people who they think will help them. Somebody needs to be there,” Causey said.
Spreading the word
Causey said she wants to fire up Virginia lawyers to contribute as she did. She says more than a million Virginians who qualify for legal aid are served by only 135 lawyers.
“You can’t look at those numbers and not know there’s such a great need,” she said. “We really need to focus on that access. I do want to talk about the justice gap.”
While closing the justice gap is her “number one goal and priority,” Causey said she also will promote diversity, excellence and civility in the law.
“The bar should be more diverse,” she said.
Speaking of African-American lawyers, Causey said, “I think we add something to the table when we come to the table. We can add not just a different perspective, but a different viewpoint.”
The VSB president traditionally makes the rounds of local bar association meetings across the state, explaining the role of the mandatory bar. Causey said she hopes to urge more lawyers to volunteer for the numerous bar service positions.
“You can serve on district committees, on the Clients’ Protection Fund,” Causey said. “People feel like, ‘I can’t add anything’ – but you really can,” she said.
Causey was unopposed when she announced her bid for presidency of the VSB in 2015. She was elected by acclamation as president-elect at the bar’s 2016 Annual Meeting.
One of her announced goals as a candidate has already been achieved. The VSB’s Diversity Conference now has a share of the bar’s budget. In 2015, it was the sole VSB conference that did not receive any funding from the agency.
Causey – managing attorney of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society’s Richmond office – has served for eight years as an elected Richmond representative on the VSB Council.
“When I came on, I was the only elected black person,” Causey said. She said she was determined to make a difference.
She told bar members and guests at her swearing-in ceremony in Virginia Beach that she lives by what she called “the starfish rule.”
She described a beach full of starfish, stranded after a storm. A man was throwing some of the starfish back in the ocean. An observer asked why, saying the man could not possibly save all the starfish.
“I know,” the man responded. “But I made a different in that one’s life,” he said as he flung another starfish into the sea.
She has served the VSB on the Clients’ Protection Fund board and the Budget and Finance Committee.
Causey also is a member of the Old Dominion Bar Association’s executive committee and has been secretary of the Old Dominion Bar Association and the Hill Tucker Bar Richmond Chapter.
She acknowledged the impact of the ODBA and its leaders in her acceptance speech June 16. She also recognized her legal aid colleagues.
She is a Virginia Bar Association Fellow and a member of the Richmond Bar Association.