Monthly Archives: December 2022


By Karla Carter, Esq.

I was sitting in my Wills & Trusts class during my second year of law school when I learned something very important: my family needed an estate plan. I was a college-educated Black woman from a rural maritime community who was pursuing a professional degree in law and, up until that point, I had no idea that “estate planning” applied to my family and the parcel of land my dad owned in the Northern Neck region of Virginia. We came from humble beginnings. My dad made his living on the water as a commercial fisherman and cook. While we lived modestly, (my dad was frugal and a good steward of his modest income), I never felt like we were poor by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I didn’t think we were the kind of people who had an “estate.” 

Over the years, I had seen movies like “Brewster’s Millions” and “Rainman” which dealt with large inheritances, and I always associated wills and “estates” with a lot of money, mansions, and fine jewelry. I never thought that my childhood home and the land upon which it sat was also an estate that needed protection through proper estate planning.

Sadly, my story is not unique among the Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color where estate planning is not a mainstream practice. Many families in these communities hold their land through an unstable form of land ownership known as heirs property where property passes from generation to generation without the benefit of a will. Heirs property is especially prevalent among low-wealth communities of Blacks who own land in the rural south, Whites in the Central Appalachian region of the country, Hispanics in the colonias communities of southwestern United States, and Native American groups. 

While all populations, regardless of race, are impacted by heirs property, Black families have lost a disproportionate amount of land to heirs property issues. According to the USDA, heirs property is the leading cause of Black land loss in America, with millions of acres lost to this unstable form of ownership, which has translated into billions of dollars of lost generational wealth. To understand this present problem requires one to first understand the historical and cultural framework that gave rise to this problem in the Black community. 


After Emancipation, freed Black people acquired millions of acres of land, owning roughly 16-19 million acres by 1910. Often denied access to White-owned establishments to obtain legal services and financing, Black people began developing their own economic structure as a means of building wealth within the Black community. However, as Blacks began to establish thriving towns, to register to vote, to start businesses, and to engage in politics, opposition by Whites to a rise in Black prominence led to public lynchings and other atrocities that contributed to the Great Migration where millions of Blacks fled the South because of the violence and brutality they suffered in the South and the promise of opportunities for financial independence in the North. Here was a population of Americans whose status had shifted from one of being property to actually owning property themselves, but because they lacked the external resources and support they needed to protect their property in the Jim Crow South, what could have been a triumphant story quickly became one of sadness, desperation, and loss. Many decades of sorrow form the backdrop of Black land loss in America and between 1910 and the present day, Black land ownership has dwindled to roughly 2.5 million acres. 


A common theme exists across all low-wealth communities where heirs property is prevalent, regardless of race: the lack of access to trusted, quality legal services. A lack of trust in government and the legal system by people in low-wealth communities has its roots in the past unethical practices of government officials, lawyers and judges who preyed on this vulnerable population to defraud them of their land. The partition process was a common vehicle for abuse and decades of legal chicanery and outright deception by government officials has resulted in a deep mistrust of the government and the legal system by people in low-wealth communities. This scenario played out countless times: Because heirs property owners hold the property as tenants in common, any one owner of the property has standing to file a partition suit in court. Often, a developer would purchase the interest of one of the heirs, which gave the developer standing to bring a partition suit in court. Rather than ordering a division of the property, the courts regularly granted the requests of the developers, thus forcing families with strong connections and emotional attachments to the land to be separated from the family property. Land that had been in families for generations was lost forever. Often the land was sold way below market value, resulting in the heirs receiving little to no proceeds from the forced sale. These unjust outcomes were the rule, not the exception, resulting in billions of dollars of lost family wealth, and not just in the Black community. Native Hawaiians have been impacted by forced partition sales and Hispanics in New Mexico lost more than 1.6 million acres of land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because of forced partition sales. 

As a profession, our hands are unclean. However, there is a better way forward and our profession has taken meaningful steps to correct these past wrongs.    


In Virginia and a growing number of states, partition reform is on the rise with the expectation that we will see a decline in these types of forced sales of family land. In 2020, Virginia adopted provisions of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), which was enacted for the purpose of helping families preserve their family land and to protect their land from the vulnerabilities inherent in heirs property. The law requires the court to consider partition in kind as well as the family’s emotional attachment to the property. If a sale does occur, the court is required to appoint an outside appraiser to ensure that the family receives a commercially reasonable share of the proceeds. Virginia’s approach to adopting the UPHPA was to incorporate the UPHPA provisions into its existing partition procedures set forth in Virginia Code §§8.01-81, et seq.   

Lawyers and legal scholars were among the stakeholders instrumental in bringing about partition reform in this country, but the real work begins with lawyers creating opportunities for low-wealth communities to have access to trusted, quality legal services. Providing quality legal services requires not only professional competence, but also cultural competence. 


Rule 1.1 of Virginia’s Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to provide “competent representation” which requires “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  

As lawyers, we are called upon to treat our clients with respect and courtesy, something that can only be accomplished if we pursue cultural competency as a way of better serving our clients and the larger community. Being culturally competent is just as important as being professionally competent. We can’t serve our clients effectively without being in tune with the culture, experiences, belief systems, and values of our client. In providing services to the low-wealth communities that need and deserve our service, we must pursue cultural competence in our service to this population. For example, to help a Black family stablilize their land ownership, a lawyer benefits from a knowledge and understanding of the history that led to the widespread lack of estate planning in the Black community. Your background may be vastly different than the client you are serving, but to pursue cultural competence to better serve our community carries tremendous value. The need for legal services in low-wealth communities is vast and matters involving land are some of the most expensive to resolve. 


There is likely an attorney reading this article who has a desire to serve in this area, but who lacks the professional training and experience in the areas of real estate, land use, and estate planning needed to serve this population. Fortunately, programming is being developed to launch in 2023 to help willing lawyers who have a desire to increase both their cultural competence and their professional knowledge to equip them to serve this population.  

The sad history of land loss in low-wealth communities in this country is one that has persisted long enough, and a new narrative is being written, one in which lawyers and judges seek justice for all and where low-wealth communities are able to preserve their family legacies through estate planning and other needed legal services. To close the wealth gap in America, attorneys are needed to stand in the gap by providing trusted, quality legal services to the low-wealth communities that need it most. Lawyers dedicated to the pursuit of cultural competence and professionalism in serving low-wealth communities are the key to closing the wealth gap in America and helping families create generational legacies. To those lawyers willing to join me on this mission, I bid you Godspeed.  

Karla D. Carter, Senior Counsel, Dominion Energy

Karla Carter is a frequent writer and speaker on issues involving heirs property and the need for access to legal services in low-wealth communities. For questions about future training opportunities as described in the article, contact Karla Carter by email at:

The Editor’s Corner

                                                                  By: August Bequai

  “ Requiem for a Servant of the Law: Prof. Anthony C. Morella”

                           “Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none

                                     of its own, the collapse of the state is not….far off…”

-Plato  (“Laws”)

Professor Anthony Morella.
Professor Anthony C. Morella

The law is one of humanity’s oldest and greatest achievements. Without it, chaos and the rule of the jungle would govern. While the Ancient Scythians and other nomadic groups had developed a body of customary laws to address their daily needs, the first known record of a body of written laws is the Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2,100-2,050 BCE). Written on clay tablets, it addressed the social and economic needs of the citizenry of Ancient Sumeria.

Even if paying lip service for political purposes, it stressed impartiality and fairness in the application of the law. All citizens were equal before it. Sumeria’s rulers had learned from history that unjust  laws lead to political instability. It would become a model for the legal codes of the  Assyrians, Babylonians, and other ancient civilizations that followed. It became a practice to enact written laws.

While these took on a variety of forms; nevertheless, there was an underlying acknowledgement that the law must be viewed by the populace as just in its application, and tolerant of diversity. When the law came to  viewed as unjust, political turmoil followed. The philosopher David Hume said it best: “…the corruption of the best of things produces the worst…”

Which brings us to our story of Prof. Anthony C. Morella; (“Tony,” to his many friends, students, and colleagues). Tony was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1930. The son of poor immigrants from Southern Italy, Tony went on to become an air force officer, lawyer, General Counsel/Vice President of a national university, advisor to mayors, judges, members of Congress, and a devoted teacher-(or servant, as he would often describe himself)- of the law.

Upon completing his military service, Tony returned to Massachusetts and married his college classmate, who in turn went on to become a member of Congress, Ambassador, academic, and more. They both shared an undying commitment to freedom of speech and thought. Their friends and associates encompassed the political expanse.

Tony’s real passion, save for his family,  was the law. He taught it to aspiring  jurists for more than 50 years; many of these went on to become judges, legislators, and practitioners, and the son of one of these went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The U.S. Constitution for Tony was one of the great achievements of the 18th century. Dogmas and legal fads came and went, but the law for Tony was eternal. The cement that bonded diverse groups into a  civilization. He knew extremely well from his family’s history in Europe, the dangers that lurked when the law became a tool of zealots and the corrupt.

When the nation faced the Watergate Crisis, Tony  and his friend and colleague Prof. George Horning, were called on by U.S. District Court John Sirica (of Watergate fame),  to advise and represent him in litigation involving then President Nixon. See Nixon v. Sirica, 487 F.2d 700 (D.C. Cir. 1973). Judge Sirica would later remark that the assistance Tony and Prof. Horning  had rendered had proven to be invaluable.

When their representation was concluded, unlike many others who gloried in the fanfare of Watergate, Tony and Prof. Horning quietly returned to teaching and practicing law. Before his death, Tony confided that the full story of Watergate would have to be told by future historians. For Tony, the Watergate Crisis affirmed his undying loyalty to the law.

Though approached by publishers with offers to tell the inside scoop of Watergate, Tony turned them down and remained loyal until his death to his client’s secrets. The attorney-client privilege and right to counsel for Tony were sacrosanct. Without them, the American legal system could not properly function. “How can a client trust you,” he would often remark “if you plan to divulge his secrets.” When it came to the law, for Tony, the end never justified the means.

Tony always saw himself as but a servant of the law, a mere speck of sand in the long history and evolution of the law. As General Counsel for a major university, Tony bemoaned the commercialization of the law. Law schools had become cash cows for universities, he would often remark. The main objective of many university administrators, he sadly noted, was no longer to train lawyers to serve society, but to enrich their university covers.

For Tony, the right to counsel had given way to politics; with lawyers refusing to represent clients solely for their political views. The law had increasingly become a tool for berating one’s political  opponents. For Tony, these were dangerous trends that could only lead to chaos and violence if left unchecked. Always a  servant of the law, Tony strove to impress on his students the right to counsel; it pre-empted their political views.

Tony never forgot his roots and made it a practice to advocate for the poor and forgotten. Tony had also learned from his military experience that diversity was the fiber that made America great. In the military, he would say, those you serve with are your family; their race, gender, ethnicity, and religion go by the wayside. In war, well bleed the same.

He also never forgot the lessons of history or his own extensive first-hand observations of American politics. For Tony, great national leaders never elevated themselves above the law. The best leaders for him, were those who placed the public interest ahead of their own. Modesty, for Tony, was a goal leaders should aspire to attain. It helped them better understand their role in history. The Ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus best summarized Tony’s view of politics: “Honor modesty more than your life.” (“The Suppliant Maidens”).

Tony had witnessed the abuses of the McCarthy Era, the growing disparity between America’s rich and poor, and the growing polarization of American politics. For Tony, lawyers and law schools bore some of the blame. He attributed this to the pursuit of riches and the limelight by many lawyers, instead of public service. The young generation of lawyers, however, gave him hope.

Tony fell victim several years ago to an ailment that savaged his body, but not his spirits. When I visited with him, our discussions always turned to the law and its importance to a stable society. For him, the need for lawyers to assert their role as guardians of the law was paramount.

When Tony died peacefully in his home on October 29, 2020, the writings of Spain’s beloved poet Jorge Manrique (c. 1440-79) came to mind. In his most celebrated poem-(“Coplas por la Muerte de su padre”)-he explored the meaning of life. He concluded that life was but a brief journey and what mattered most was how one lived it. For Tony, the law was his life until his dying day. He lived it modestly as its devout servant. Manrique would have approved.

*The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Diversity Conference Leaders Win Big Awards at VSB Annual Meeting

Daniel Frankel, Providence Napoleon, and Courtney Frazier

Compiled from VSB Press Releases

Two current members of the Diversity Conference’s Board of Governors plus a past chair of the Diversity Conference were honored for their work and dedication.  This trifecta of award winners is the first time that this many Diversity Conference leaders have won as many VSB Annual Meeting Awards. Daniel Frankl was the CLSBA’s Local Bar Leader of the Year while Providence Napoleon was the posthumous recipient of the Diversity Conference’s Clarence Dunnaville Award, and Frazier was the recipient of the Edwin Burnette Young Lawyer of the Year Award from the Young Lawyers Conference.

Frankl served as the 2021-22 president of the Roanoke Bar Association (RBA), a role that was preceded by years of service to the Roanoke Bar and the Roanoke Law Foundation, which serves as the charitable arm of the RBA.

Frankl was nominated by Eugene M. Elliott Jr. of Roanoke who commended Frankl for his leadership during “the heart of COVID-19.” During this time, Frankl contacted the Roanoke City Schools to see how the RBA could assist them and learned that they needed clothes washers and dryers to assist homeless children who had no way to wash their clothes. Frankl and the RBA worked to obtain washers, dryers, and laundry supplies and worked with the community to raise $32,580 for 20 schools.

Napoleon began her bar service as Co-director of the Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute, a weeklong program that introduces students to the legal profession. She was a young lawyer delegate representing Virginia to the ABA House of Delegates and to the ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly. She was Chair of the Virginia State Bar Diversity Conference in the 2015-2016 bar year. She served on the Board of Governors for the Young Lawyers Conference from 2014-2018.

Napoleon was recognized as a rising star in the legal profession. She was named a Rising Star by The Legal 500 in 2019 and was named by Legal Bisnow’s Trending 40 as one of the top 40 lawyers under 40 in Washington, DC.

In 2019 and 2021, Frazier received the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference Significant Service Award. Within the VSB, Frazier has served as a co-director of the Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute, a joint project between the Bar’s Diversity Conference and Young Lawyers Conference, which encourages diversity in the law by exposing high school students to the legal profession at a week-long event at no cost to the students.  

In 2019, under Frazier’s direction, the Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute won first place in the Embracing Diversity Challenge hosted by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.  

Frazier has also served as a co-director of the Professional Development Conference since 2020. Each year, the Professional Development Conference committee organizes a low-cost CLE program, usually on topics of particular interest to young lawyers. The program is open to all Virginia lawyers and has been well attended by attorneys of varying ages and practice experience.  

In her community, Frazier participates in the University of Richmond Mentor Network, mentoring undergraduate students interested in legal careers, in addition to the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Success in Law School Mentoring Program, a national organization that challenges “the legal profession to prepare future generations of diverse talent for the highest positions of leadership.”   

The PhD Project: Building a Stronger, More Diverse Workforce. Together.

Olivia Schmitt 

The PhD Project addresses a hidden barrier to workforce diversity: the lack of diversity among college professors. According to Pew Research, 48% of Gen Z – the largest generation in American history – is nonwhite. Yet more than 75% of the faculty at the nation’s colleges and universities – from professors to administrators – are white, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Having a professor “who looks like me” can have a profound impact on students. It can give them a role model, inspire them to strive for more, and ultimately set them on a path for career success. That’s why The PhD Project is building workforce diversity by creating more diversity in front of the classroom. And the nonprofit is doing it by targeting the place where great leaders are created: business schools. 

For The PhD Project’s mission to come to life, it has created a network of more than 1,400 Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic American and Native American professors. Many of them have left successful careers in the corporate world to earn business PhDs, with the intent to mentor and inspire underrepresented students who aspire to a career in business. For nearly 30 years, The PhD Project has been responsible for quintupling the number of underrepresented professors, administrators and academic leaders at an extensive list of academic programs. It has 62 members at 15 universities across the state of Virginia; 16 of those members are at Virginia Tech. The nonprofit also has more than 250 additional members who are currently pursuing their doctorate.

By creating a more diverse population of business PhDs, the project is transforming business education – and transforming business – for everyone. The PhD Project is a growing and dedicated community of business professors, PhD candidates and corporate leaders who share a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Through mentoring, networking, and unique events – and by connecting businesses to a diverse pool of high-potential candidates – the nonprofit is building a national movement that continues to gain momentum as more diverse business faculty inspire more diverse business students who will one day lead more diverse corporations. 

While it’s a good start, there is more to be done.

Just one business educator from an underrepresented background can impact far beyond the handful of students in the classroom. That professor’s students can go on to become leaders in the corporate world, or business professors themselves, bringing new light to hiring practices, innovative approaches and alternative perspectives to the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people.  

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PhD Project member Dr. Nicole Thorne Jenkins, the John A. Griffin Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, has seen this firsthand and says the need for change is urgent. (pictured above)

“As generation Z continues to matriculate on university campuses, they demand environments that reflect the representation that they see in their peer groups. As business schools, we are the gatekeepers to corporate America and as such, we must evolve into communities that have the cultural fluency to prepare our students for a diverse and dynamic marketplace,” Dr. Jenkins says. “This begins with having representative voices across all facets of the learning environment through holistic admissions processes, robust hiring processes and the design and content of academic programming.”

In the 21st century, diversity is critical. It’s not a box to be checked on a business plan. It’s a requirement for an effective, competitive workforce. When the people in front of the classroom look like the people sitting at the desks, when everyone knows that their unique abilities are recognized and valued, when everyone has an opportunity to succeed, campuses are stronger. Companies are stronger. Society is stronger.

For more information about The PhD Project mission, model and how you can get involved, please visit