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Columbus attorney who promoted diversity gets top legal honor

(September 1, 2017) — Norton Webster retired from his law practice about 20 years ago, but he still continues to go into his Columbus office almost every day he is in town to help clients.

That kind of dedication to the profession helped Webster earn the Bar Medal, the Ohio State Bar Association’s highest honor, last week during the OSBA All-Ohio Legal Forum luncheon.

When asked how he felt about receiving the award, he showed his humility by uttering just one word: surprised.

“I figured they had pretty much forgotten about me,” said Webster, a retired partner of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP.

He served as OSBA president from 1967 to 1968, holding the record for being the youngest to serve in the role.

“I’m always a person that believes even if you’re not in a leadership role you should continue to participate,” Webster, 88, of Columbus, said.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Guy Reece said it is about time Webster got the Bar Medal.

“He’s receiving some of the recognition that he deserves for his lifelong dedication to the legal profession,” Reece said.

Reece met Webster in the 1980s when the men were selected to lead the Minority Clerkship Committee of the Columbus Bar Association. The program has two goals: to provide legal experience and education for African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American law students through summer placement at local law firms, government and corporate offices; and to increase attorneys of color in the Columbus community.

“It gives them an opportunity that they otherwise might not have,” Webster said.

During his time as OSBA president, Webster stressed the importance of diversity.

“Before most people would speak out, he was speaking,” Reece said.

Born and raised in Ohio, Webster is a two-time graduate of Ohio State University. He received his undergraduate degree in 1949 and his law degree from OSU’s Michael E. Moritz College of Law in 1952. Throughout his 65 years of practicing law, Webster experienced first-hand how the profession has evolved over time through the use of technology.

“There have been herculean changes in access to legal precedents as well as all the information that is necessary to adequately practice law,” Webster said. “You

can do your research much quicker and much more pervasive because of the computerization.”

Webster has been heavily involved during his career as a member of the Ohio Elections Commission, a past chairman and member of the Ohio Supreme Court Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, a former vice chairman of the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and was the state delegate to the American Bar Association for nine years.

He cautioned, however, that a career as an attorney is not for everyone.

“Being an attorney is like a pair of shoes,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit everybody.”