Despite the historical challenges the WBA faced, it has continued to grow and develop and to provide a beacon for African American lawyers in this City. Just a few highlights of the past decade will demonstrate that the WBA is a formidable force in the legal community that consistently builds on the principles established by its founder Charles Hamilton Houston.
Being instrumental in the creation of the Young Lawyers Division, Donald A. Thigpen (1999-2001), with the aid of Board Member A. Gilbert Douglass, formed the WBA’s Judicial Council Division in 2000. The Judicial Council Division provides a critical forum through which judicial officers in the District of Columbia can provide programs and activities for the community. Most notably, the Judicial Council Division puts on an Annual Spring Symposium on timely topics, which is open to the public and has instituted a Summer Intern Program that provides judicial internships for law students from all over the country. At Law Day 1999, the Washington Bar awarded the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit to the Honorable Norma Holloway Johnson, the first African American female Chief Judge of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia. During Mr. Thigpen’s tenure, Chief Justice of the United States William H. Rehnquist — for the first and only time — brought greetings to our organization at the Ollie Mae Cooper Ceremony in 2000. Mr. Thigpen’s tenure as President was further distinguished by the conferring in 2001 of the Houston Medallion on Professor Charles Ogletree, the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Clinical Programs at Harvard Law School and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia.
As the fortieth President of the Washington Bar Association, and the third woman President in the history of the organization, Kim M. Keenan (2001-2003) was determined to expand the WBA’s ability to support the pipeline of future lawyers. To that end, she co-founded, with Vice-President Patricia Rosier, the Washington Bar Association Legal Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization. The Legal Fund has provided scholarships to law students throughout the city as well as scholarships and financial support to students at the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast Washington. Since its inception, the Legal Fund has sponsored students to attend the award-winning Crump Law Camp sponsored by the National Bar Association and has worked cooperatively with the Washington Bar Association in implementing its agenda, including the Annual Law Day Dinner and the Brown v. Board of Education Celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. True to the stellar legacy she began in the WBA, in June 2009, Kim was elected as the president of the DC Bar.
Felicia L. Chambers (2003-2005) continued the trend of adding riches to the depth of the Washington Bar Association. She instituted the Career Fair for Law Students, modeled after a program held by the Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys, which provides law students practical career advice and career opportunities in all sectors of the legal community. Under her leadership, the WBA answered the call of then NBA President Kim M. Keenan, to be an active force in the 2004 Election Protection Effort. In partnership with the WBA Legal Fund, the WBA celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education in two parts – the Annual Law Day Dinner, chaired by Vice-President and Chairman of the Board Kevin D. Judd, during which the organizations awarded the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit to the Honorable William Coleman, one of the lawyers who worked on Brown, and a panel discussion and festive program, inter alia, celebrating Brown at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an event chaired by Robert Bell. She has also determined that the WBA Legal Clinic, which educates community members about legal problems most likely to affect them, will again be a regular part of the WBA Calendar as it was in the WBA’s earlier years. That program, chaired by Vice-President Iris McCollum Green, was last held during Ms. Keenan’s Presidency.
During Kevin D. Judd’s Presidency (2005-2007), the WBA received the Outstanding Affiliate of the Year Award by the NBA. His progressive leadership style and service enabled the WBA to reap many accomplishments in various areas, such as operations, membership services and community activism. All of these accomplishments have enhanced the WBA’s image within the Washington, D.C. area’s professional community, as well as the community at large. For example, the WBA’s by-laws were revised to streamline the WBA’s ability to conduct business to better accomplish the Bar’s mission in uplifting the legal profession and the community. One of the major creations from the passage of the revised by-laws was a Law Student class of membership. This change enabled the WBA to establish a direct pipeline for law school graduates to join the WBA’s membership after law school, thus keeping the WBA vibrant as it move further into the 21st century. In addition, during his administration, Past President Judd charged both the Judicial Council Division and the Young Lawyers Division to develop a myriad of programs interspersed among the Bar’s signature programs. As a result, both divisions met the challenge and developed exceptional seminars, symposiums, workshops and networking receptions for our membership and law students. Lastly, Past-President Judd implemented a comprehensive and rigorous procedure for recommending prospective nominees to the Judiciary through our Judicial Selection and Evaluation committee, which was chaired by Past President Kim Keenan. The committee now interviews and assesses the credentials of candidates who are up for judicial nomination before the WBA provide letters of recommendations to the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.
The Washington Bar Association continued its leadership, growth and development into all aspects of the legal community in our nation’s capital during the Presidency of Robert L. Bell (2007-2008). Under the leadership of President Bell, the WBA established the WBA Law Student Division, with Crystal Queen, a student at Howard University School of Law, serving as the inaugural Chair. In addition, under Mr. Bell’s leadership, the WBA Book Club was established. Past WBA President Felicia Chambers served as the first Chair of the WBA Book Club. Further, in fulfilling one of his campaign promises, President Bell initiated the Inaugural Annual Conference of the Washington Bar Association. The theme of the WBA Inaugural Annual Conference was “Intergenerational Dialogue: The Role of the Black Lawyer of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” The WBA Inaugural Annual Conference was held at the historic Charles Sumner School on Thursday, June 19, 2008 (JUNETEENTH). India Pinkney (WBA board member) served as the 2008 chair. The Inaugural Annual Conference was an all day event consisting of, among others, panel discussions from prominent law school deans and law professors; a panel discussion with judges from the local trial, appeals and federal courts; and panel discussions by prominent lawyers in trail blazing areas of the legal and business communities. The Annual Conference opened with a Presidential Showcase Seminar and ended with a WBA Book Club Meeting. Prominent local attorney Ted J. William, Esq., gave a book review and led a book club discussion. The Inaugural Annual Conference was held at the same site and day as the 2008 WBA Annual Meeting, which was followed by the Annual WBA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Further, President Bell continued the WBA’s leadership role in service to the bench and legal profession by serving as Co-Chair of the JUST THE BEGINNING FOUNDATION (JTBF) 2008 Trailblazers Panel, during its Eighth Biennial Conference in Washington, D.C. WBA Past President, Kim Keenan, served as Moderator and Co-Chair of the JTBF 2008 Trailblazers Panel, which was held at Howard University School of Law. Before his tenure ended, President Bell appointed Rodney Pratt (Second Vice-President and former YLD Chair) as the first General Counsel for the Washington Bar Association.