Bar Foundation leader advocates worthy projects

September 2-8, 2013

Becca Bona

“This isn’t a profession for people who don’t like people,” said the Honorable Judge Herbert Wright as he explained his choice for law as a career path. From clerk, to private practice to judge, once he chose law he went all in. 

Choosing the law

A native son of Arkansas, Wright attended elementary school in North Little Rock until his family moved to California. After three years he returned to Central Arkansas and attended Catholic High School before heading to college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

As an undergraduate, Wright studied financing and hoped to stick with it. His dreams at the time focused on banking; “In college I just wanted to be a great investment banker and work for Stephens Inc.”

However, he always had a passion for and a drive toward criminal law. “I always wanted to practice criminal law. I had thought about it on and off from high school and through college,” he said. 

After attending law school at Fayetteville, Wright worked through the summer until he had passed the bar and then immediately went to work as a clerk for the Honorable Judge Perry V. Whitmore in the 2nd Division Court. Wright was serious about the business of law and when the opportunity arose he took full advantage. “When [Whitmore] retired at the end of 1990, I opened a private practice,” he remembered.

During those days, Wright learned to be a people person, and how to work efficiently. Nevertheless, there were times he worried about being able to make ends meet. “I didn’t always eat well, but I always ate,” he said with a chuckle. 

If he had a question, he sought out the answer. “I went up to the 17th floor of the now-Regions building – the office suite floor […] where a few of the older attorneys were very free with advice.” With this attitude it wasn’t long before he was ready to begin his journey to judgeship.

Taking up the gavel

Today Wright marvels at the impact that technology has had on those lawyers who want to start up their own private practice. The difference two decades makes, as he said, is “huge.”

“Now you can open a private practice with a laptop and a website. When I opened private practice you couldn’t afford a cell phone. If you could get one, the service was still very spotty, and a laptop wouldn’t do then what your phone can do now,” he marveled.

Even without the use of a laptop and cellphone, Wright was successful in his criminal law-focused practice. He had the opportunity to sit in for a couple of judges, and realized that he was very interested in all that went into judiciary duties.

From behind the bench, Wright found his interest piqued in a new way. “I got to sit for a couple of judges, and I was hearing some of the same issues that I dealt with as an attorney, but from a different view point,” he said. 

In 2004, the Wrightsville District Court went from a citywide to a countywide election, and Wright ran against the incumbent. 

Since that victory he has learned much along the way; “Judges all have opinions, you just have to set your opinion aside and listen to what’s in front of you,” he said. 

He ran for his current position, as judge in the 6th Judicial Court, uncontested in 2008, and took the oath in 2009. 

The judge has found his niche, and he wouldn’t take any of it back. His advice to those interested in the law is to think deeply about their aims: “Lawyers and judges deal with a lot of people who are dysfunctional, if you’re not willing to be part of the solution and resolve some of those issues, this isn’t the profession for you,” he said. 

Working with the PCBA

For the hardworking Wright, the Pulaski County Bar Association (PCBA) became a part of his life directly out of law school. However, some time would pass before he became deeply interested and involved in its function and reach. 

“[I] wasn’t really active other than attending the monthly meetings. When Bill James was elected as president, he designated me [as a board member]” he said. 

That designation acted as catalyst to his later involvement. “I learned a lot, I got involved, and have been active ever since,” he said. 

After being elected president of the Pulaski County Bar Foundation, Wright turned his attention to building it up. The foundation is responsible for organization and orchestrating the charitable acts of the members of the PCBA. 

He explained the relationship between the two organizations: “There’s not much that differentiates the foundation from the association, because they’re hand in glove.” 

The foundation is responsible for putting on the annual golf tournament in the summer, as well as sponsoring the portrait hanging that is a staple of Law Week in the spring. 

Wright hopes that the reach can expand. He said, “I would hope that as more people find out about it, that their contributions would increase; but also, that worthy projects could be identified and funded through the foundation.”

Scholarships and awards such as the Ike Scott Fellow and the Bill Martin Scholarship are works of the foundation. The Ike Scott Fellow honors attorneys that have made a difference in Pulaski County, and the Bill Martin Scholarship is a student stipend awarded to a Bowen student who then interns with the association’s executive director. 

Future projects include finalizing details on a new scholarship named for the late Honorable Judge Dean Morley who served in North Little Rock. The scholarship would be awarded to a student that intends to practice law in Pulaski County. 

He said of the PCBA, “It’s a great way for judges and attorneys to meet in a non-adversarial setting.”

Even though his schedule is pretty busy, the judge finds time to read, go hunting, and play golf. He is happy to be in Central Arkansas and said he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I love living in Arkansas. No matter where I travel, and I’ve met a lot of great folks, I think the people here are the nicest.”