Category Archives: Chair Column

Chair’s Column

From the Diversity Conference Chair

By Chidi James, Esq.

Dear Virginia State Bar Diversity Conference Members and Friends,

        I am honored to serve as the Chair of the Virginia State Bar Diversity Conference for fiscal year 2019-2020.   I joined the diversity conference when Judge Manny Capsalis was president of the Virginia State Bar in 2009.   At that time, there were many voices strongly opposed to the creation of the conference.  Many questioned whether the Virginia State Bar had any business promoting/addressing diversity issues, because they believed diversity to be a political issue.

        What I came to realize after the debate is that diversity is not a political issue.   Or at least, it is no more of a political issue than Professionalism, Civility, and the Rule of Law.   The Virginia State Bar’s mission statement is to do the following:

        (1) to protect the public, 

        (2) to regulate the legal profession of Virginia,

        (3) advance access to legal services, and

        (4) to assist in improving the legal profession and the judicial system.

        If we, as a Bar, are to fully advance any of these goals, we must gain an understanding of the importance of diversity.  

        Webster’s dictionary defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements…especially: the inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization.”   By definition, we have diversity in our society, because our country and this Commonwealth is composed of people of different genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, and values.   That fact is inescapable.  One of our goals as a diversity conference should be to encourage others not only to recognize that people are different but encourage each of us to get to know people who are different from us.  I don’t mean just spending 10 minutes talking at a judicial reception or bar meeting, I mean getting to know each other to the point where we are having lunch, career mentoring, and swapping stories about families and shared experiences.   Once we get to that point, I am confident that we will see that we have more in common than not.  

        There is one HUGE problem.  It can be uncomfortable spending time with people who are not like us.  (Remember “Stranger Danger”).   What if they have different political beliefs?   What if they have different religious beliefs?   What if I offend them unknowingly?    Unfortunately, being in an uncomfortable situation is unavoidable if we are going to break down barriers between people.    

        Here is where the prongs (1)(3) and (4) of the VSB mission come into play.   (1) and (3) Protecting the Public and Advancing Access to Justice: Public confidence in our civil and criminal justice system is undermined if the average person who interacts with the legal system does see the bar and bench reflect their communities.  If they do not perceive fairness in the legal system, they will be much less likely to use it and will have poorer outcomes when dragged reluctantly into it.  (4) Improving the Legal Profession and Judicial System:  In our Professionalism Course we are taught that a lawyer must learn to disagree without being disagreeable.  The mandatory professionalism course is a one-time requirement.  Embracing diversity and diversity programs helps us build on those principles of civility discussed in the Professionalism course.   We don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s okay.  We do have to treat each other with dignity and respect.   If we can learn to treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of our outward differences, the Legal Profession and our Judicial System will be that much closer to living up to the lofty self-evident  truth that “all men (and women) are created equal,” and should be treated as such by our profession and our courts.  

        So, once again, I am very happy to serve as the chair of the diversity conference, and I look forward to building on our success, like the law day program, the annual forum on diversity, law student mentee program, the hill/tucker pre-law institute and others.   If you have not been involved thus far, there is no time like the present.   Please register for the diversity conference at , and we look forward to seeing you soon.

                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                        Chidi I. James



Attorney Chidi I. James is an AV rated attorney and a partner with the law firm of Blankingship & Keith, P.C. in Fairfax Virginia. His practice consists mostly of serious personal injury cases including wrongful death, products liability, and inadequate security cases.  He serves as the Chair of the Diversity Conference for the 2019-2020 bar year.

From the Diversity Conference Chair


Carole Capsalis

Executive Director Karen Gould highlights the recently released report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change *(the “Well-Being Report”) in her column in the Virginia Lawyer magazine this month.  The Report, aptly described by Ms. Gould as a “thoughtful amalgam of findings, recommendations and resources”,  issued by the Task Force on which Chief Justice Lemons is a member, lists its recommendations at pp. 12-46 of the Report.  Among the Recommendations, and of special significance to the Diversity Conference, is Recommendation 6, the Promotion of Civility, Collegiality and Respectful Engagement Throughout the Profession.  The Report states what we have long recognized and promote as part of our mission, that organizational diversity and inclusion bears the fruit of lawyer excellence and well-being, for our profession and to the public it serves.   The Report recognizes that a lack of diversity and inclusion is an “entrenched problem the legal profession”, and that “a significant contributor to well-being is a sense of organizational belongingness, which has been defined as feeling personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others.  A weak sense of belonging is strongly associated with depressive symptoms”.  Recommendations 6.1 and 6.2 of the Well-Being Report are to Promote Diversity and Inclusivity and to Create Meaningful Mentoring and Sponsorship Programs.   The Report recommends urgent prioritization of diversity and inclusion through initiatives to foster inclusiveness and respectful engagement, such as scholarships, law school orientation programs that highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion, legal mentorship and sponsorship, CLE programs focused on diversity in the legal profession, and pipeline programming for low income high school and college students.

The ideals set forth in Recommendation 6 of the Well-Being Report are shared by the Diversity Conference in its mission statement and goals.  Through its programming and coalition building, the Diversity Conference seeks to advance and support many of the initiatives suggested by the Task Force, from CLE programs focused on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession to pipeline programming for low income and at risk high school students, from supporting diversity initiatives in law firms and in the academic and business sectors, to the creation of meaningful mentoring and sponsorship programs.  

We need you, the members of the Diversity Conference, to help us in our commitment to advance and maintain these initiatives and to add your ideas for the creation of new ways we can promote diversity and inclusion in the bar and work to ensure that our legal system is responsive to the legal needs of the people of Virginia.  Please get involved in one of our committees described in this newsletter.  The Law Student Committee, for example, will once again host its Mentor/Mentee Initiative at the Annual Meeting, sponsoring two law students from each Virginia law school to attend the Annual Meeting and be paired with a Diversity Conference member mentor.  The Pipeline and Community Projects Committee promotes the Hill Tucker Pre-Law Institute, the week long legal education scholarship program for high school students of diverse and academically at risk backgrounds from across Virginia.  This past year’s rewarding program is highlighted in this newsletter.  The Membership Committee promotes outreach to membership along with social and fellowship opportunities.  The Annual Meeting/CLE Committee plans the showcase CLE programming for the Annual Meeting and the Fore Diversity Golf Tournament.  Join us this year to help prepare for the June 2018 Annual Meeting, where the Diversity Conference is very excited to sponsor the topic of Racism, Rallies and Riots:  What Does the First Amendment Protect, and What Limits are There for Citizens, Local Governments and Law Enforcement, which we hope will be a most dynamic and thought provoking program.  For those of you who are e-technology and social media savvy, unlike me, there is a need for your talent on the Public Relations/Social Media Committee.  Share your ideas for future issues of Invictus.  There are many ways you can get involved, from volunteering at a local Rule of Law program to organizing CLE Programming, bring your fresh ideas for new initiatives that can be advanced by the Diversity Conference for the benefit of our members and the public we serve.  As always, encourage your colleagues to join the Diversity Conference.  Please contact me at, or visit our website at   Not a member? please join us by filling out our membership application found on our website.    

*The Report can be found on the VSB website at