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July 17, 2019

After 50 years, attorney shows no sign of slowing

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Although he did a bit of everything as a young lawyer, Robert deTreville Lawrence IV these days specializes in estate planning, trust administration and real estate law.
Life’s about showing up. You get up in the morning and you face the day. And the next thing you know 50 years has gone by.
— Robert deTreville Lawrence IV
Robert deTreville Lawrence IV
• Age: 74

• Home: Warrenton

• Work: Lawyer, Walker Jones PC, Warrenton, 1977-present; sole practitioner, Warrenton, 1974-77; lawyer, Richards & Richards, Warrenton, 1969-74.

• Education: Law degree, University of Georgia, 1969; bachelor’s degree, political science, University of Virginia, 1966; Brent High School, Philippines, 1962.

• Family: Wife, Blair; 2 sons, and 2 grandchildren

• Hobbies: Travel, swimming, attending history lectures and cultural events, maintaining 40 bluebird boxes at the family farm near The Plains, watching full moons at the farm before the sun rises.
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Staff Journalist
All of the men in his family served in the military.

To keep the tradition alive, Robert deTreville Lawrence IV joined the ROTC during his second year at the University of Virginia in 1964. But Mr. Lawrence twice failed physicals because of vision and hearing “deficits,” dashing his armed forces ambitions.

“That’s when I decided to go to law school,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know what else I was going to do.”

Mr. Lawrence this year marked his 50th anniversary as an attorney in Warrenton.

After graduating from the University of Georgia’s law school in 1969, he joined the firm of Richards & Richards, where he “did a little bit of everything.” Five years later, he started a one-man firm of his own.

In 1977, Mr. Lawrence and a half-dozen other local attorneys established Martin Walker Lawrence PC. Today, the 31 Winchester St. firm — renamed Walker Jones — has 11 lawyers and 15 support staff members.

When he started, real estate work comprised a big part of Fauquier law practices.

But, the new law office allowed Mr. Lawrence, 74, to focus on estate planning, trust administration and related property law areas, including land title work.

Entangled land divisions fascinate him.

“I like fixing things — boundaries, driveways, titles,” he said in an interview Friday. “I’ve been in the records room (of the Fauquier County Circuit Court) the last two days, working to establish a driveway” to a client’s lot near Catlett.

He delights in the chase — tracking deed after deed after deed — determined to piece together stories to reveal and resolve the gnarliest of real estate transactions.

“You’re mining what’s in the land records,” Mr. Lawrence explained, almost gleefully. “I love it. They say when a lawyer goes to hell, he searches titles. But, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in that records room.”

Though he no longer litigates, the South Carolina native liked the courtroom well enough.

Before the state created the public defender’s office, courts appointed attorneys to represent impoverished criminal defendants.

“I had two murder trials — a man who killed his father with (the blunt end of) a hatchet and a woman who cut her husband in the shoulder, and he bled to death,” Mr. Lawrence recalled.

The lawyer also defended a man involved in a “cattle rustling” ring who had decided to cooperate with investigators.

“I remember driving up Culpeper Street and seeing him walking down the street,” Mr. Lawrence said. “I pulled over and said, ‘Get in the car. What are you doing? You’re supposed to be in jail’.”

The client assured him he had permission to leave the county jail, Mr. Lawrence said.

Astounded, the lawyer replied: “ ‘How could it be all right? You’re supposed to be in jail until we have this resolved’.”

The defendant said the jailer had released him to “go to the dentist,” Mr. Lawrence said. “He was just wandering down the sidewalk.”

He added: “I can’t think of anything I’ve done that’s been dull.”

Present and former colleagues and clients sing his praises.

Mr. Lawrence hired Office Manager Lora Goff 40 years ago.

“He’s a wonderful teacher of the law,” Ms. Goff said. “He’s a Southern gentleman. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry. He treats everyone with respect — whoever comes through the front door.”

Powell Duggan joined the firm 39 years ago.

“Bob really has a keen legal mind,” said Mr. Duggan, 66. “He’s always inquisitive and looks at all sides of things at creative angles.”

The former Warrenton mayor and councilman added: “It’s good to have him here. It’s good his years here will continue past 50; he has no plans for retirement right now.”

Retired Fauquier County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Jonathan S. Lynn helped launch the firm.

“Bob’s an extremely good lawyer,” said Mr. Lynn, 70. “A lot of (title work) is spending time searching records, determining who all the heirs are and tracking them down to know where they are.

“It’s a very complex area of the law, and Bob was just very, very thorough and very dedicated to it.”

If any of the firm’s attorneys had a question about land-partition law, for example, they went to him, Mr. Lynn said.

“He knew it backwards and forwards.”

Years ago, Mr. Lawrence helped “save” her mother’s home, said Demetris Carter, who lives near Hume.

“I can’t say enough good stuff about him,” said Ms. Carter, 62. “I adore him. He took the time to explain everything to me. I didn’t feel rushed . . . . I think he walks on water.

“Some lawyers are shysters. But, I can’t say that about lawyer Lawrence.”

Mr. Lawrence always had planned to return to Fauquier after he earned a law degree from the University of Georgia.

“I knew I wanted to be here,” he recalled with a smile. “Blair (his future wife) and I were getting serious.” They married in 1969.

Deeps roots near The Plains on his mother’s side of the family also brought him back to Fauquier.

He found that the scale and pace of Warrenton and Fauquier suited him.

“I’ve come to learn that I like people,” Mr. Lawrence said. “And when you’re a country lawyer in a small town, you see a lot of people.”

For almost 35 years, the Lawrences have lived on Winchester Street, a short distance from his office. He walks to work and eats lunch at home.

Always well turned out, he credits Mrs. Lawrence, 73, for his natty appearance.

“I get dressed twice every morning,” he said, grinning. “I come down; then I have to go back and do it right. She works hard at it.”

He affectionately refers to Mrs. Lawrence as “management.”

When he turned 40, he began wearing bow ties to work each day.

“My good friend Henry Baxley gave me a bowtie and showed me how to tie it,” said Mr. Lawrence, who owns about 60 of them. “That year I started shooting left-handed and drinking white whiskey. That was a momentous summer. You turn 40, things are different.”

He also often sports a brimmed hat to shield the sun but also because “my grandfather wore hats, and I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Mr. Lawrence has proven as fine a friend as a lawyer, Mr. Lynn said.

“If I was in need of something and picked up the phone to call Bob, I have no doubt if he could help me out, he would help me out,” the retired judge said.

Mr. Duggan agreed.

“He’s somebody you always count on. I’ve always felt he will be there, if you need something.”

He will continue to work so long as it remains “fun” and his health holds up, Mr. Lawrence said.

“Life’s about showing up,” he said of his long career. “You get up in the morning and you face the day. And the next thing you know 50 years has gone by.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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Bernice Pearson · July 18, 2019 at 12:03 pm
Bob Lawrence is the consummate Southern Gentleman Lawyer - his summer seersucker suit, panama hat and ever present bow tie spells Southern Gentility and I have always been proud to say Hello Bob and know the hat will be tipped and the head bowed just a tad and the smile as big as all outdoors. I am also proud that I worked for and with him for a short time and then he brought to me one of my most interesting auctions in my 28 years of doing auctions. He brought me others but none quite as interesting or as demanding and rewarding as that one - he would instantly know which one I am sure. AS a lawyer, Bob excelled in quality work - as a citizen he raises the bar as high as possible - as a family man he sets an amazing example and as a friend, unequaled. Congrats Bob- keep on keeping on. Bernice (Pearson) - Lavonia Georgia
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