Greensboro Bar Association History

Guilford County was created from parts of Rowan and Orange County in 1771.  The Guilford County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, presided over by Judges having the title of Justice of the Peace, conducted civil, criminal and administrative court.  The demeanor of the early court as indicated by the entry in the minutes that:  “It is ordered that in the future each sheriff attend this court with a wand of tough wood eight feet in length and one inch in diameter and that each constable attend the court with staffs neatly shaved, six and one-half feet in length and one and one-half inches in diameter, painted black on the head for eight inches.”

The Greensboro Bar began with the abandonment of the Guilford Courthouse in the village of Martinsville and the erection of a new courthouse in the newly created town of Greensboro, named for revolutionary hero General Nathanael Greene.  It was located near the approximate center of the County at the intersection of Elm and Market Streets.  At the May 1809 Term of Court, it was announced that “The New Courthouse in Greensboro, now ready for reception of Court, the Court adjourned from the town of Martinsville to the town of Greensboro to meet at 10:00 tomorrow, Friday, 19, May 1809.”

Prior to the creation of the Greensboro Bar Association there had been friendly association among Greensboro lawyers.  In early days, lawyers’ offices were located in one or two story buildings on Court Square around the stately structure of the Guilford Courthouse.  Frequently on a summer day a group of lawyers might be found sitting in chairs beneath the high spreading elms that shaded the park area of the Square.  Here, one might overhear through an open Courthouse window a voice arguing before a jury.  Here, one might hear a lawyer’s conversation about law, literature or philosophy with frequent quotations from the Bible and Shakespeare.

In April 1927, a group of young lawyers who had been practicing more than three years and less than fifteen years were invited to a dinner in the private dining room of the restaurant on the top floor of the Jefferson Standard Building.  That dinner led to the organization of the Greensboro Barrister’s Club. Its primary purpose was to bring about a formal organization of a Greensboro Bar Association, and incidentally, to meet for dinner every other week with a member giving a talk on some topic of the law.  The first officers were: Robert H. Frazier, President; Robert F. Moseley, Vice-President; and Harry R. Stanley, Secretary.

Not long thereafter, in a meeting at the Greensboro Country Club to which all members of the Greensboro Bar were invited, a resolution to form the present association was enthusiastically adopted.  On March 22, 1929, the Greensboro Bar Association was duly organized and it’s Constitution and Bylaws were adopted.

The objects for the Association were as follows:

This Association is established to encourage the assembly of its members at stated periods for the transaction of business conducive to the public good and their own welfare; to co-operate with the legislative, judicial and executive departments of government in securing, administrating and enforcing laws for the common weal; to aid in maintaining the honor and dignity of the profession of law; to promote legal science and the administration of justice; and to cultivate social intercourse among its members.

The Association’s actual activities are less well known. One early Executive Committee considered a report that some members were chasing “the business of banks,” a problem likely resolved by the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Another early committee, of unknown inspiration, formed to investigate the “moral fitness and professional qualities” of Greensboro law license applicants.  Occasionally, the Association adopted resolutions regarding proposed or needed legislation, or polled a meeting and reported recommendations about pending judicial appointments.  Primarily, however, the Association was a collegial fellowship of practitioners who met monthly, except in summer, for the pleasure of one another’s company and the exchange of ideas.

Horace Heyworth of the High Point Bar, on February 12, 1931, presented a proposal to establish two divisions of the Superior Court in Guilford County – –  a Greensboro Division and a High Point Division.  At the meeting on February 20, 1931, Thomas Turner sponsored a proposal to set up equal court facilities in both Greensboro and High Point.  By subsequent act of the General Assembly the two divisions of Superior Court were set up in Guilford County.  Several years later, on September 26, 1945, the Association approved a proposed act to create Guilford County as a separate judicial district.

Lacking the legal capacity to do so, the Association has never attempted to be an enforcement arm with respect to matters of legal regulation.  Nevertheless, early records disclose attention paid to ethical transgressions that today appear more amusing than threatening.  One older practitioner apparently developed the habit of hanging out in bank lobbies attempting to cage fees out of the ignorant for helping them to cash checks.  Then there was the case in the 1950’s of a Greensboro attorney who boarded a train at Lynchburg, was unable to display the ticket he claimed to have lost, was expelled from the train, and sued the Southern Railway and lost—he left town shortly thereafter.  Until 1971, schedules setting out suggested fees for various services were promulgated by the Association, but such practice lapsed after it came under scrutiny for its possible price fixing implications.  One speculates that the schedules were honored in the breach often enough to provide a defense to such a charge.