Serving justice: From the streets to the courtroom

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 21, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

If the legal community had a &uot;College of Hard Knocks,&uot; Dwayne Strothers would definitely be a graduate. Instead of law school, the Forest Glen High School graduate spent three years working 18-hour, unpaid weeks before passing the bar exam in 1998. Five years later, he’s one of the city’s most up-and-coming general practitioners.

After finishing at Forest Glen in 1979, Strothers spent three years at Norfolk State University, studying accounting.

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&uot;From the time I finished high school,&uot; he said, &uot;I wanted to become an attorney or certified public accountant. I wanted to develop my analytical skills and discipline as a safeguard in case the law career didn’t flourish.&uot;

It didn’t happen at first, however; family financial hardships forced Strothers to leave Norfolk State before graduation, sending him to work at Sears, Montgomery Wards, and 7-11. In September 1984, he got a different type of acquaintance with the law, becoming a police officer, working patrol for the next 18 months.

In early 1986, Strothers enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and went to boot camp at Paris Island, S.C.

&uot;That’s where they make boys into men,&uot; he said. &uot;It put it all together for me.&uot;

He served at San Antonio, Calif. and Okinawa, Japan before finishing with a stint at Camp LeJuene in North Carolina in April 1990. That’s when Strothers came back home, working as a security officer at the Surry Nuclear Plant.

Four years later, an attorney acquaintance of Strothers invited him to participate in the Law Readers Program, and his training began at a five-lawyer firm in Norfolk.

&uot;It was grueling,&uot; he said. &uot;There was sleep deprivation, and I drank a lot of Jolt Cola!&uot;

Two years into the training, Strothers took the bar exam for the first time. Virginia is one of seven states that allows lawyers-in-training to do so without a law degree. He didn’t pass.

&uot;It didn’t discourage me, but it took an emotional toll,&uot; he said. &uot;I was surprised at the difficulty. You’re under time constraints, and you have to write essays and answer short questions.&uot;

He went back to training, and got another shot in 1998. This time, he got a passing mark.

&uot;I was excited,&uot; he said. &uot;I was very grateful to God that I was walking in His order and was given the opportunity to serve people. I wanted to be a lawyer that served people well.

&uot;I don’t think of defense attorneys as defending people who are guilty,&uot; Strothers added. &uot;I think that they defend people who have had strong allegations made against them, and one thing about the beauty of jurisprudence is that a person is presumed innocent, and I take great pleasure in defending the rights of the accused.&uot;

For the next two years, Strothers worked in general practice at the Norfolk firm as a defense attorney in criminal and family law and in personal injury. In July 2001, Strothers opened his own office on Commerce Street in Suffolk.

&uot;I believed that it was the time for me to get out,&uot; he said. &uot;It was the right time in my career.&uot;

When asked about the journey toward his law career, Strothers said, &uot;It worked for me. It’s about the path I took.

&uot;My background and my perseverance helped. This program was good for me.&uot;