Q&A with Edna Ruth Vincent
Edna Ruth Vincent, a family law attorney with Colten Cummins Watson & Vincent in Fairfax, Va., was born in Roxboro, N.C., where she grew up and went to college. After completing a master's degree in education at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Vincent taught high school for five years before becoming a lawyer.
Published in 2008 Virginia Super Lawyers magazine
on June 26, 2008
Updated on June 11, 2009
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
I thought about going to law school for several years but managed to talk myself out of it with thoughts such as: “It will take too long” and “You’re already settled into a good job.”
Then one day as I stood in my classroom, feeling a sense of longing, I had a light-bulb moment. A very clear and powerful thought came to me about the passage of time. In that instant I knew three things: time is not stagnant even when people are; time will pass no matter what I am doing; and the three years it takes to go to law school will pass in the blink of an eye. I cannot let it find me still standing in my classroom dreaming about life rather than living it.
Why family law?
It just fits who I am and what I care about. It requires me to exercise both compassion and objectivity when counseling clients. And it allows me to represent people who are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives and who need someone who cares where they end up after the dust settles.
How did practicing law differ from your expectations?
When I started I wanted to be a litigator and pursued jobs that emphasized litigation. I went to work for a large law firm [but] after a couple of years I still had not tried a case from start to finish on my own; instead I had written winning motions, briefs and pleadings for senior partners. It was then that I realized I needed to be in control of and totally involved in every aspect of my cases.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
[It] came from a quote attributed to Calvin Coolidge and reads like this:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.”
This quote defines my life. If nothing else, I am persistent and determined. I never quit. I was born to a farming family in North Carolina, and my mother modeled these traits. When my father died when I was almost 2, my mother was left alone to raise nine children. With persistence, determination and faith in God, over time my mother purchased a sizable farm and raised all nine of us without any major incidents. We recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She is truly my role model.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the practice of law during your career?
The slow corrosion of civility among lawyers.
In what way can a lawyer be better than the facts of a case?
By confronting the negative facts head-on. If your client has one or more bad facts, make sure you are the one to present them to the court first. Never ever let the opposing side bring out your client’s failings. Encourage your client to be courageous, admit his or her frailties, accept responsibility for his or her actions, and express sincere contrition. Then take the good facts and make them overshadow the bad.
What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?
As a lawyer, there is no joy like the joy at the conclusion of a case—whether by trial or settlement—when you know your particular talents, skills and manner have been instrumental in obtaining a fair and reasonable resolution to the disputed issues.
Who in history would you most like to practice with?
Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American woman to be a federal judge for the Southern District Court of New York. She was a female civil rights lawyer [who] participated in most of the important civil rights cases from 1945 to 1965 and prepared the draft complaint for what would become Brown v. Board of Education. She [also] argued 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and won nine. She was the best at what she did and inspired those around her.
I had the pleasure of meeting Judge Motley once in an intimate gathering, and she described traveling in the South and defending her clients in courtrooms where she was the only woman professional and holding her own with the men. She spoke of walking into a courtroom and having the judge ask her where she wanted to place her stenographer machine.
Finish this sentence: Every lawyer should …
… be a client, at least once. So we can truly appreciate and have compassion for the fear, angst and vulnerability many of our clients feel.