Columbia attorney William Hubbard is on track to become the first South Carolinian to take the top spot in one of the world’s largest professional organizations — the American Bar Association.
The Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough partner is set to be confirmed as president-elect in August and will begin serving his one-year term as president of the 135-year-old organization in mid-2014.
“He is the total package in terms of being an excellent lawyer and being involved in improving the quality of life for everyone,” said Columbia attorney I.S. Leevy Johnson, who managed the campaign for Hubbard’s ascension and gave the nominating speech for the 60-year-old Florence native to be the association’s president-elect.
“What he’s doing has never been done by a South Carolina attorney and significantly, he was unopposed. Historically, it has been very competitive among lawyers to become president of the American Bar Association, but he is so highly respected, he did not have any competition,” Johnson said.
Hubbard — who has spent his entire career at Nelson Mullins and involved with the ABA — grew up on Jackson Avenue in Florence, the youngest of three children. He is the son of a dry-cleaners operator and a sixth-grade teacher. His father is deceased and his 91-year-old mother still lives in Florence.
The leaders and problem-solvers in that community always were the lawyers, he said it seemed then.
That, along with the ethics and hard work of his parents, served as his inspiration to enter the legal profession, he said.
A 1974 University of South Carolina graduate there on an academic scholarship, Hubbard finished law school at USC in 1977, clerked a year for former U.S. District Judge Robert Chapman, then joined the Nelson Mullins Law Firm in Columbia in 1978 and never left.
“It’s certainly been a great place for me to spend a career,” Hubbard said. “This firm’s been real supportive. It’s real supportive of bar association work; it’s very supportive of pro bono work; it’s a firm that supports community involvement — in addition to being good lawyers.
“To have that kind of support and encouragement makes it an easy decision to stay,” he said.
In 1979, Claude Scarborough, the firm’s managing partner, encouraged the young attorney to attend the ABA annual meeting in Dallas, Hubbard recalled.
“He said, ‘As long as you are active and showing yourself to be a leader, we’ll continue to support you,’” Hubbard said. So, he went to Dallas that year and became involved with the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, which, due to an explosion of young lawyers coming out of law schools, comprised fully half the association’s entire membership.
Eight years later in 1987-88, Hubbard was the chairman of the Young Lawyers Division.
“That gave me a much higher profile in the ABA generally,” Hubbard said, and also led to invitations to be a board member of the American Bar Endowment and the American Bar Foundation, critical sectors of the association.
Hubbard became the endowment’s president, and also is immediate past president of the foundation.
From 2008-2010, he was chair of the 550-member House of Delegates — the second-highest position in the association after president — where he presided over the policy-making duties of the association, determining what issues came before the delegates, and how.
Access to civil justice, for instance — a person’s need to have legal representation when faced with a civil, rather than criminal, wrong — is one of the bar association’s most longstanding and important issues today, Hubbard said.
Recently, the association supported the push to get Congress to renew the full Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, Hubbard said.
“We all know that if you’re accused of a crime, you’re entitled to counsel,” Hubbard said, “but there’s a huge, unmet need for people who are caught in landlord-tenant disputes or domestic-violence situations and they really don’t have access to a lawyer.”
So, in recent years the ABA’s House of Delegates put in place an effort called the “Civil Gideon,” to promote the concept that people are entitled to some type of legal representation, even in civil matters.
When the 400,000-member ABA adopts a policy, it then seeks to affect legislation in Washington, Hubbard said.
“That was another step up the ladder, if you will,” Hubbard said of leading the 550 lawyers from all the states and U.S. territories for two years, “and ultimately put me in a position to throw my name in the hat to run for president.”
Hubbard, who can be seen regularly around the State House when the General Assembly is in session, said he decided earlier that he’d go for top leadership in the association if the opportunity arose.
Having been chair of the House of Delegates will give him a leg up on being president, Hubbard said.
“It’s really a compliment to this community, and his family, and to his law firm that they have allowed him to contribute so unselfishly to the legal profession,” supporter Johnson added.
As president-elect, Hubbard will spend the next year planning and working on the issues he wants to promote as president in 2014.
One of the initiatives Hubbard wants to concentrate on in this upcoming year and in 2014 when he is at the helm is formation of what may be called a “Legal Core,” he said.
Hubbard said it entails devising a structure whereby recently graduated lawyers who may be unemployed, under-employed, or otherwise not fully engaged with the profession, may be mentored to be able to provide some of the civil legal representation to the middle class and poor that currently is missing because it is unaffordable to them.
Another issue that will get attention is law schools and how law is taught, Hubbard said. Graduates come out of law school today with tremendous debt, he said. Restructuring the nation’s law schools will be the subject of a blue ribbon panel report in June, Hubbard said.
“We also look at the diversity in the profession,” Hubbard said. “That’s one of our goals — to make sure the pipeline is being replenished and that there are opportunities for minority lawyers and that minority lawyers have the opportunities to go on and be leaders in the bar and on the bench and in the profession.”