Michael N. Herring, a managing partner at McGuireWoods in Richmond, was chosen by his peers as Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s 2021 “Leader of the Year.”
He received the honor Oct. 19 during Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s Leaders in the Law and Up & Coming Lawyers ceremony at The John Marshall in downtown Richmond. The ceremony marked the 16th class of “Leaders in the Law” honored by VLW.
“Recognition by my peers is both humbling and greatly appreciated,” Herring said. “I often boast about the Virginia legal community when I speak to attorneys from other states, and I never take for granted what we have — collegiality, professionalism, trust and, above all, respect for one another.”
Herring joined McGuireWoods in 2019 and is an experienced trial lawyer who focuses on commercial litigation, government investigations and white color criminal defense matters.
Prior to joining McGuireWoods, Herring served as Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney for 13 years, being first elected in 2005 and winning re-election three times without opposition. Herring said his biggest professional challenge came in this role, where he had to reconcile his personal opinions with his duties as commonwealth’s attorney.
“My biggest challenge was probably reconciling my personal opposition to capital punishment with my duties as Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond. I still wrestle with some of the positions I took as a prosecutor,” Herring wrote in his Virginia Lawyers Weekly Leaders in the Law questionnaire.
A Richmond native, Herring earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia. After college, he worked as an associate at what was then Hunton & Williams, where he said he learned the downtown community.
In 1992, Herring began working as an attorney for violent crimes and narcotics offenses at the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. After leaving that office in 1996, he worked as an associate at LeClairRyan and as partner at Bricker & Herring.
Herring grew up in the Battery Park area of Richmond, which he described as “working class and rich in the values of decency and ‘heart.’”
“There was very little stratification for class,” Herring said in his questionnaire. “I learned at a young age that people are just people, for all their good and bad attributes.”
As a legal professional, Herring has remained involved in his community both at the city and state level.
In nominating Herring, Michael Sluss of McGuireWoods noted that Herring “has seen the criminal and civil justice system from every angle and has helped bring about real reforms that have improved the lives of countless Virginians.”
Among the most visible pieces of community involvement for Herring is his role as president of the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which oversees the delivery of civil legal services to low income individuals. During his 15 years on the board of the organization, funding for legal aid has tripled and the number of legal aid attorneys has increased by 55%.
In 2019, Herring was appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam to serve on the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. The commission was organized to examine existing laws in the commonwealth and make recommendations to address laws that promote or enable racial discrimination. Fellow 2021 Leader in the Law Cynthia Hudson chaired the commission.
Herring has served on the board of many organizations, including the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. He also served a stint as president of the Richmond Bar Association from 2005 to 2006.
Since 2003, Herring has helped educate future lawyers by serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Throughout his three decades in the law, Herring has been honored multiple times for his service. In 2016, he was awarded the Harry L. Carrico Professionalism Award by the Virginia State Bar, an award which honors an individual who has made “a singular and unique contribution to the improvement of the criminal justice system” in Virginia.
Two years later, the Richmond Bar Association honored Herring with the Hill-Tucker Public Service Award. First awarded in 1989, the award is given to Richmond Bar members “who render conspicuous public service and otherwise distinguish themselves in service to society beyond law practice.”
Amongst the accolades and honors Herring has earned over his career, he says his biggest professional accomplishment is his maturation in public service.
“Over time, I learned to ignore whimsical approval or disapproval and to prioritize clarity in communicating,” Herring said in his questionnaire. “In other words, a certain amount of public and professional disagreement was healthy. Lack of understanding was not.”
After his selection as Leader of the Year via secret ballot, Herring expressed gratitude to his peers.
“For years, I’ve enjoyed reading about the selection of other friends and acquaintances as Leaders in the Law. But to be chosen as Leader of the Year by some of those same colleagues is nothing short of amazing,” Herring said.
Professional accomplishments aside, Herring said in his questionnaire that his biggest personal achievement has been raising three “wonderfully bright and healthy children” with his wife, Aster.
“Nothing comes close,” he said.