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October 24, 2019

Virginia solicitor general: The work government lawyers do matters

The work of government lawyers is “critically important to the balance of the rule of law,” Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens said during his speech at the American Bar Association Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division’s Legal Skills Conference held Oct. 18 at the Omni Richmond (Va.) Hotel.

Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens cites government lawyers as “critically important” to the “balance of the rule of law.”

Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens cites government lawyers as “critically important” to the “balance of the rule of law.”

American Bar Association photo

Heytens said the fact that the government is “bound by, advocates for and complies with the rule of the law,” is one of the “most important things in our society.” He added that government lawyers are critically important in making sure that the “balance” of the rule of law “is struck in the right place.”

“What we do representing the government matters,” said Heytens, speaking to a room of nearly 80 lawyers in government.

Heytens described his federal government service in the Department of Justice and now with the state of Virginia as being “important and rewarding.”

The solicitor general’s office is responsible for coordinating appellate litigation in Virginia. Some recent actions include multistate litigation involving the Trump administration’s travel ban, family separation policy, 2020 census, immigration and other high-profile matters, including the recent D.C. sniper shootings case that was just reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Heytens said one of the most important aspects of working in government is the people. “These are people who have chosen to devote their lives to something that is important and meaningful.”

Government work is “fundamentally different” than any other client a lawyer could have, he said.

“It’s different because it represents us,” Heytens said. “The government is something that is us. It acts on behalf of us and does things to us. Because the government is for us for better and for worse sometimes, it is critically important that the government has top-level responsible and ethical legal representation, because the government is doing a lot of very important things in the world.”

The 9,450-member ABA  Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division  provides programs, publications and online resources specifically designed for government, public sector and military lawyers, as well as interested law students.

Conference co-sponsors include the ABA Section of Criminal Justice, the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia, Inc., the Office of the Virginia Attorney General, and the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission.