Justice Benham to Address UGA Law Grads

“Doctors heal the body. Ministers heal the soul. Lawyers heal the community,” says Justice Robert Benham “We heal the community through dispute resolution and problem solving.”

The former chief justice is known for warm and engaging speeches punctuated with poetry and personal stories about Georgia lawyers. The graduates might find a preview of what’s to come by watching Benham’s video interview on the Supreme Court website, where he describes his philosophy of the role of lawyers.

“Doctors heal the body. Ministers heal the soul. Lawyers heal the community,” Benham says in the video. “We heal the community through dispute resolution and problem-solving.”

But Benham points out the limitations of the law. “The best solutions aren’t in the courthouse,” he says. “The best solutions are across the dinner table or across the neighborhood fence. Someone will say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Someone will say, ‘Please forgive me.’”

Benham is a 1970 graduate of the University of Georgia law school. He is the first African-American to serve on Georgia Supreme Court and currently the longest-serving justice. He was appointed to the high court in 1989 by his fellow Cartersville resident, Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He was elected for the first time in 1990. Benham served the court as chief justice from 1995 to 2001.

Benham had been a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals for five years. Before joining the bench, he had a private practice in Cartersville. He served two terms as president of the Bartow County Bar Association. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

Benham earned his bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University and a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia. He also attended Harvard University. After law school, Benham served in the U.S. Army Reserve, reaching the rank of captain.

Benham recalls in the video that his father sat him and his two brothers down and gave them life lessons: “Serve your God. Sacrifice for your family. Share with your neighbors. If found worthy, do public service. If called on, lay down your life for your country.”