Personality: Terrence L. Graves

Spotlight on president of the Richmond Bar Association

8/9/2018, 6 a.m.
The Richmond Bar Association is always striving to increase the diversity of its membership, says Terrence L. Graves. The 54-year-old ...
Terrence L. Graves

The Richmond Bar Association is always striving to increase the diversity of its membership, says Terrence L. Graves.

The 54-year-old attorney with Sands Anderson PC can make sure that happens now that he’s in charge.

On June 1, Mr. Graves took office as president of the RBA. He will lead the 1,500-plus member association for the next year as it expands on its long-standing mission of service to the bar, the bench and the public.

He is the second African-American president of the organization that was founded in 1885.

“My first priority as president is to make sure that every member feels that they have a place at the table and that their needs as members, however diverse they might be, are being met by the association to the extent possible,” Mr. Graves says.

“We also want to make it clear that if you practice law in or around the city of Richmond, then the RBA is an organization of which you should be an active and contributing member.”

Mr. Graves acknowledges what he calls the unfounded perception that the RBA is still the same stodgy organization it was when it was comprised solely of white men.

“There was a time when the Richmond Bar Association did not welcome people who look like me,” he says. But that’s not the case anymore.

“I think the RBA, and a lot of other entities both public and private in Richmond, still suffer from the perceptions of what was allowed to go on from the 19th century through the 1960s and ’70s,” he says.

He said making sure the RBA’s door is open is the most effective way to move forward. That includes serving the community in areas that are needed, providing manpower for pro bono projects and working with other area bar organizations to interview an array of candidates for judgeships.

“It is of utmost importance to have judges that reflect the demographics of the community that the court serves,” he says. “In many instances, the best qualified individuals to serve are people from diverse backgrounds.”

Mr. Graves’ interest in law dates to his childhood in Suffolk. He and his brothers were avid readers. His parents, Rammie and Elna Graves, emphasized education and the importance of family.

“You had to get your books and you were expected to pitch in where you could and when you could,” he recounts.

He graduated in the Top 10 in his high school class, and a speech he wrote for an advanced literature class was deemed the best. He delivered it at graduation in 1982.

Once at Howard University, he was exposed in his political science class to many of the legal struggles throughout history and to the brilliant legal strategists of the Civil Rights Movement who had connections to Howard — law dean Charles Hamilton Houston and Howard law school graduates Thurgood Marshall and Oliver W. Hill Sr.

The late Mr. Hill of Richmond and the late Justice Marshall, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court, are among Mr. Graves’ legal heroes.