by Rachel Ganong '12
Jon Huddleston '86 discovered an unsettling discrepancy after graduating from William & Mary Law School.
"It always amazed me, this dichotomy between being a law student and being a lawyer," he said, noting that the former are praised while the latter are often maligned.
He heard the lawyer jokes and knew the stereotypes, but to Huddleston the punch lines and caricatures grossly misrepresented what he considers to be a profession of caring, committed, and compassionate people. Accordingly, he has worked to rectify the reputation of lawyers in his career and through his service to the Virginia State Bar (VSB), the agency that regulates the 39,000 lawyers in Virginia.
Huddleston developed an early interest in law and chose to study government and economics as an undergraduate at William & Mary in anticipation of applying to law school. "One of the things that attracted me to the law was the competition," he said. "I'm a really big sports nut. I lacked the size and skill to really succeed on the athletic field. Law provided that sense of competition that was very much analogous."
He continued on at William & Mary for his law degree, and the experience gave him early exposure to the concept of the citizen lawyer. His professors encouraged students to participate in local government and to contribute to their communities in other civic roles, and they led by example.
Impressed with the concept of the lawyer's role in society, Huddleston started practicing law in Leesburg, Va., at the firm now known as Sevila, Saunders, Huddleston & White. He has worked there for 27 years, including summer clerkships.
Since he started practicing, he has been active in the Virginia State Bar. Huddleston, who often sees the most adversarial aspects of the legal profession in his family law practice, noted that staying involved with the VSB gives him the opportunity to interact with his colleagues in a collegial and constructive setting. "I started working with the Young Lawyers' Conference right out of law school," he said, service which later led to work with the Conference of Local Bar Associations, as well as serving on Bar Council and the Executive Committee.
Huddleston also served on the Board of Governor's for The Virginia Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the profession in Virginia, helping to issue dozens of philanthropic grants throughout the Commonwealth. Huddleston was instrumental in helping to provide a grant for the construction of the Nuremburg Courtroom exhibit at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, noting that "it is a wonderful testament to the Rule of Law."
Service on the Executive Committee ushered Huddleston into the role of VSB president for 2009-10, and the position gave him a platform to emphasize the societal contributions of lawyers. He set the tone for his presidency on the cover of the organization's Virginia Lawyer magazine, which featured Huddleston surrounded by children from community sports teams he has coached.
That image matched the message he broadcast to the nation with the VSB slogan "Virginia is for Good Lawyers." The slogan played a central role in Huddleston's presidency, winning a national marketing award from Thomson Reuters and summarizing the philanthropic work of lawyers around the state.
"Contrary to some public perceptions, lawyers are some of the greatest people to be around," he said, lauding his colleagues' intellect, moral and ethical standards, and capacity to help others. "If you look around, it's the lawyers in the community who are doing good things, often anonymously. They are out there coaching kids for basketball and soccer. They are out there banging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity."
Huddleston emphasized the public service dimension of the legal profession not only through VSB publications, but also through a series of 15 videos profiling individual lawyers and the volunteer work they do. He interviewed lawyers who have helped feed the homeless, those who rang bells for the Salvation Army, and lawyers who had spent decades leading scouting troops.
While the videos, posted on YouTube, received thousands of hits and the slogan won awards, he modestly represents his accomplishments in showcasing the work of his colleagues and restoring respect to the legal profession. "I think we're making a difference nationally," he said. "We haven't changed the world yet, but I think we're working on it."
In recognition of his service to the Commonwealth's lawyers, the W&M Law School Association honored Huddleston in April 2011 as co-recipient, with classmate John C. Garde, of the 25th Reunion Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Huddleston perseveres in spreading the positive message about lawyers. Meanwhile, he lives it, contributing to his own community through coaching basketball and soccer teams and spending time with his family. "Life is not a spectator sport. You have to go out there and experience it," he said. "It is very important to go out and work with your friends, and your family, and your community. I think that's what keeps me going day to day."