Opinion

VBA committee spots trends of emerging significance to society

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

Our culture is filled with any number of excuses for short-term thinking.  Right or wrong, publicly traded companies generally are perceived as being preoccupied with quarterly earnings.  In government, politicians seem to plan only as far as the next election.  Privately owned companies appear to struggle making the transition from one generation to the next. 

Despite claims of non-partisanship, foundations and think tanks too often take positions defined along political lines.  And, I must concede, even the media seems increasingly concerned with little more than its own survival.

Fair or unfair, these stereotypes raise the question, “Who’s looking farther forward?”  How about a former governor, a handful of judges, a smattering of educators, a couple of publishers, a few other business people and a strong contingent of lawyers?

This group comprises the Virginia Bar Association’s Committee on Special Issues of National and State Importance.

Founded in 1888, the Virginia Bar Association (VBA) has a rich heritage of cultivating excellence in the legal profession, expanding access to counsel and providing continuing legal education. In the late 1970s, the bar association organized the Special Issues Committee to spot trends of emerging significance to society, and thus to the practice of law. These trends have become program topics for the association’s twice-a-year meetings.

In the late 1990s, the VBA changed its by-laws to allow up to one-third of the members of this committee to be non-lawyers. David Craig Landin, a senior partner at Hunton & Williams who then was VBA president, placed a new emphasis on the work of the committee. He recruited former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles to serve as the committee chairman.  Baliles did much to revitalize the group and serves as a member to this day.  Landin is the current committee chairman.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must let you know that I have been privileged to be a member of the Special Issues Committee for the past few years.  It’s an interesting group that brings a great deal of talent and experience to a wide range of topics.  The committee discussions are characterized by a passion for the commonwealth’s continued progress and a desire to stay ahead of developing issues.

The committee tends to meet in special places — the University of Virginia’s Rotunda, the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the U.S. Supreme Court, to cite a few examples.  Despite the lofty locations, this is no boondoggle.  The group operates with only a small budget from the VBA, and committee members pay their own expenses.

So, just what has the Special Issues Committee seen coming around the corner?  In the 1980s the committee put together programs on gun control, the AIDS crisis and in-vitro fertilization.  In 2000, it explored cyber crime and cyber terrorism. More recently, there have been programs on immigration, privacy rights and the unmet needs of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VBA’s 2011 Summer Meeting will be held at The Homestead in Hot Springs July 21-24.  This event traditionally hosts the first major political debate between candidates for statewide office.  With 2011 being a year for legislative races but no statewide contests, the Special Issues Committee has decided to present a panel discussion on July 23 titled “Virginia is for business —– Can the commonwealth stay ahead?” The Special Issues Committee and Virginia Business will serve as co-sponsors.

Much like the political debates, we believe this event has the potential to draw the interest of lawyers and non-lawyers alike.  And, like the political debates, attendance is open to all interested parties.

Virginia has become a prime location for business, but its stature as a business leader isn’t something we can take for granted. The economic development arena is highly competitive.  Other states and other countries would like to enjoy the success we’ve had in recruiting new companies.

Keeping an eye on the horizon is something Virginia Business always practices in developing our content.  We are delighted to be joining forces with the Special Issues Committee to produce a program on keeping our state among the best business climates available.  I hope to see you at the July meeting.  .


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