KENNETH B. HODGES III President State Bar of Georgia
Answering the Call to Public Service
“Sic vos non vobis” is the message of 19th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle from his revolutionary novel, Sartor Resartus. The Latin phrase means “not for ourselves but for others.” Carlyle’s message, published in 1836, is timeless and one to be emulated by all—and especially by those of us in the legal profession.
The ideal of lawyers being of service “not for ourselves but for others” even precedes Carlyle. Thomas Jefferson, for example, once said, “The study of law qualifies a man to be useful to himself, to his neighbors and to the public.” More recently, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted, “The lawyers’ public service tradition has a proud American history. Thirty-three of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were lawyers. . . . The tradition of public service work was the engine that helped reformers . . . to reshape early 20th century law better to serve modern society’s commercial and social needs.”
Georgia lawyers have a long and substantial record of using that qualification to serve the public in a broad range of capacities. For many Bar members, public service is their full-time job, as leaders of or staff attorneys for practically every agency of federal, state and local government representing all three branches of government—executive, legislative and judicial. Some elected officials, including judges, attorneys general, district attorneys, solicitors general and others fall into this category.
Additionally, for a large number of lawyers by education and profession, public service is their avocation. They practice law on behalf of their clients by day and work for the public “after hours” as elected officials or appointed members of state, regional and local commissions, authorities, councils and boards. Georgia lawyers have served in the state legislature, Congress and as constitutional officers, including governor.
For several years now, State Bar presidents have spoken and written about the importance of attorneys serving in the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives and lamenting the steady decline in the number of lawyer-legislators at our State Capitol. Currently, we are down to 26 lawyers in the House (14.4 percent) and 10 lawyers in the Senate (17.9 percent). Our Legislature needs more lawyers to pass good laws, and hopefully those numbers will begin to increase as w e continue to encourage Bar members to seek election to the House or Senate.
This year, I am working with State Bar Governmental Affairs Director Christine Butcher Hayes and several of our current and past lawyer-legislators on encouraging more attorneys to run for the General Assembly for the betterment of our laws, the legislative process and our justice system.
What we have not talked about as often is the public service being rendered by Bar members at the local level—on our city councils, county commissions, school boards, development authorities, hospital authorities and other capacities of local leadership. It is just as important for the legal profession to be represented at this level of government as under the gold dome of the State Capitol.
Justice Breyer contrasts “the negative...