Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Can a small firm lawyer be AG?

In reply to SST, I wrote this:

I can't say that it's true that small firm lawyers are unqualified to be AG. I would argue that there have been no big firm lawyers who have been elected AG, although some of them (Miller, Baliles, Gilmore) became big firm lawyers afterwards. (I think of Kilgore as a SW Virginia lawyer.) The last big firm nominee, Dolan, lost in part because Gilmore ran ads claiming that Dolan "botched" his only criminal prosecution. Criminal law experience might count more with voters.

I would want the AG to be a good lawyer, but there are all kinds of lawyers. The big firm litigators are more likely to be involved in interesting, complex civil matters involving big businesses. The smaller firm lawyers are closer to the ground, representing more people and smaller businesses. Even those generalizations have their limits.

Here's an awkward example: you can get on Westlaw and see how many times a lawyer's name is on there associated with the opinions in the database for the state and federal courts in Virginia. Baril's name is there 26 times, McDonnell's name is there 3 times, and mine is there 44 times. Who is most qualified to be AG? Not I.

Besides, the AG is more than a lawyer. No lawyer in private practice will learn all the substantive areas of the law touched by the workings of the AG's office - there's too much to know. And, he doesn't have to know it - the AG has hundreds of lawyers working under him. The selection of AG is more like hiring a coach than picking a quarterback.

And so, the more important difference between candidates might be their ideas. The AG gets to choose the legal position of the Commonwealth on many kinds of legal matters, including disputed social issues. The AG also has a role in the shaping the justice system for all Virginians. It is interesting to me to learn what priorities and perspectives the different candidates bring to those tasks.

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