Anne Holton is passionate about the importance of public service. Throughout her career as a lawyer and judge, and as Virginia’s former first lady, she has focused on helping Virginia's neediest families and children. After serving many years as a legal aid lawyer representing low-income families, Holton was appointed to the bench as a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge in the City of Richmond in 1998. Today, she works as a consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Child Welfare Strategy Group.

Holton spoke at the University of Richmond School of Law’s commencement on May 7. She encouraged law students to use their degrees to give back to the community.

Holton graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a degree in economics and earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she met her future husband, Tim Kaine. Holton's father, Linwood Holton Jr., served as Virginia's governor from 1970–74 and she spent her teenage years living in the Governor's Mansion. During that time she joined with her family in helping to integrate Richmond city schools. In 2006, Holton moved back to the mansion with her three children when her husband was elected governor of Virginia. Kaine recently announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate from Virginia.

What drives you in your career?

I grew up with a public service ethos. My parents raised me that way and I learned early on that if you can find something you can do for a living that's rewarding to make the world a better place — there is not much that is more rewarding than that.

Why did you decide to focus your work on helping families?

The focus on families and children came about through my legal aid work and as a judge in juvenile court and it's such challenging and important work. … One of the things I learned in legal aid is the importance of treating people with respect and dignity — that means a lot to people, particularly those who haven’t been treated that way, even if you don’t get the results you hoped for. One of the most gratifying aspects about legal work in any capacity is that you are serving a client, you are a servant leader, and it is rewarding.

What has been your experience working with students from the University of Richmond School of Law?

They are a terrific group of students who are all very committed, enthusiastic, interested and eager to be out doing things in the community and getting their hands dirty in legal work. Back during my legal aid days, we had a non-credit clinical program where UR students volunteered under my supervision, representing clients in administrative hearings before the Virginia Employment Commission. Later on the law school had clinical law students working in for-credit positions at my court. I've also been an occasional guest speaker at the law school.

What's your advice for students who want to work in public service careers?

There are lots of ways to do public service and that's one fun thing about our careers, so it's important to think broadly about what constitutes public service. No one will get rich being a public defender or a prosecutor or working in the commonwealth attorney's office, but they are good positions and they pay decently and they offer a terrific learning environment. Also, in private sector law some people do pro bono work from within firms. There are so many ways to do public service law — we don't all have to be legal aid attorneys.

Over the course of your career, what has changed for women in the legal profession?

Times have changed but I was blessed to come in early on the more modern approach to women in the profession so folks who were four to five years ahead of me had to be the trailblazers. I have had my moments where I've felt like women in law had fewer choices — in terms of style — than a man might be able to get away with, but I have had very few circumstances where I felt my career was held back from any opportunities because of my gender.

How do you juggle your career, your husband's career and raising three children?

We have been blessed with lots of great opportunities and a great family at home and the key to how we dealt with it is partnership and patience. Tim and I are real partners with each other. We have always worked hard to work together on those things and talked about how we divide things up and get our life covered. We've also loved our careers but we understood that career is not everything.

How do your children feel about the possible job opportunity for their father in the U.S. Senate?

Our daughter Annella, the youngest, is turning 16, our son Woody is freshman at UVA, and Nat is a junior at George Washington University. The U.S. Senate is a wonderful opportunity for public service and we would be thrilled if Tim gets the opportunity to do it.

Can you give us sneak preview of your commencement address?

These young people have so much to offer and so much to give. Life is long and you'll have lots of different stages of your career within your professional life and you can do a lot of things in life — but you don't have to do them all at once.