What's A Good Bar To Do?
April 2010 President's Column
Patrick E. Kelly
Several months ago, MCB Past President and Rotarian Tony Lathrop called to see if I would speak to his Charlotte Rotary Club. When I asked him what he wanted me to speak about, he replied, The Mecklenburg County Bar of, course - talk about what the Bar is and what it Bar does. Well, that sounds easy, I thought, so I readily accepted the invitation, confident that I would have no difficulty preparing a 15 minute presentation on some aspect of our Bar.
Later, as I sat down to prepare my presentation, I realized that I did not know anything about my audience. I had no earthly idea what the Rotary really was. And if I, of above average education, knew virtually nothing about Rotary, it was likely that my Rotary audience was just as ignorant about our Bar. As I proceeded with my preparations, it was of some comfort to learn that a significant number of our Bar brethren are also Rotarians. Nevertheless, it was also clear that the challenge of explaining to my audience what the Bar is and what it does in 15 minutes or less would be more difficult than I had originally thought.
I decided to keep the presentation simple -- sort of like when I tried to explain what lawyers do to my six year old -- not so much because my audience wouldn't understand, but because I believe if you cant explain something so that a six year old can grasp it, it's a safe bet that you really don't understand the subject as well as you thought you did. As it turns out, this fundamentals approach is a lot more work than just teaching the test. It required that I review extensively the history of our Bar, its mission and purpose, its structure, its governing documents, and its many activities.
The point of this, however is not to focus on my presentation but more on what I learned in preparing my presentation. I thought I already knew a lot about the Bar. And I did. But in endeavoring to teach my audience (who, by the way, could not have been more welcoming, attentive and engaged), I came to a much greater appreciation of the significance of the Mecklenburg County Bar not just in my life as Bar President but in the lives of so many others, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, over the past century or more. In last month's letter, I alluded to just a few of the notable contributions our Bar (and its predecessor the Bar of Charlotte) has made to the history of our region, our state and our country dating back before the Civil War. Below is a summary of some of the other things I learned about our Bar.
The MCB as we know it was organized in 1912. In 1928, a new federal courthouse opened in Charlotte when there were only 75 Bar members. Eighty years later when the current county courthouse opened, our Bar had grown to more than 3,800 members. Today, the Mecklenburg County Bar, a subdivision of the NC State Bar and a mandatory Bar, has more than 4,300 members. Our membership has about 2 men for every woman, is approximately 10% minorities and welcomes more than100 new attorneys each year. With the Charlotte School of Law and other new law schools in North Carolina, we should expect the population of our Bar to continue to grow. Believe it or not, North Carolina still has one of the lowest per capita ratio of attorneys to citizens in the United States. We should therefore expect that lawyers from other areas of the country will continue to migrate here as well.
While the size of our Bar has grown, our mission has remained constant -- to serve the public and the Bar in improving and preserving the administration of justice and assisting the NC State Bar as required by NC Statutes. This includes promoting professionalism, competence and ethical behavior; assuring access to legal services; educating the public on legal issues and the importance of the rule of law; and providing members with educational and support services.
To accomplish this broad mission, the Bar has more than 70 committees, subcommittees, sections and divisions comprised of hundreds of dedicated lawyer-volunteers. The Bar also employs 17 full-time staff members, including a full-time Executive Director. Here a just a sampling of the things our Bar is doing in furtherance of its mission:
- MCB promotes professionalism through our Bar leadership Institute. The Honorable Selina Brooks, Mayor Anthony Foxx and The Honorable Tyyawdi Hands are three of more than 100 BLI graduates who have become leaders in our Bar and our community.
- MCB promotes legal competence and ethical behavior by providing more than 500+ hours of CLE programs each year. Our CLE programs provide value and convenience to our members that other providers can't touch.
- MCB self-regulates the legal profession through our grievance and fee dispute process.
- MCB provides access to legal services through our Volunteer Lawyer Program, Lawyer Referral Service and Bar Foundation. In 2009, the LRS referred more than 2000 clients to attorneys for legal services.
- MCB promotes diversity and equal opportunity within our Bar by supporting Diversity Day for college and high school students; Lunch with a Lawyer for middle school students and the Call to Action for legal departments and law firms.
- MCB provides opportunities for networking and building collegiality and professionalism through its Committees, Sections and social gatherings such as Coffee Connections.
The list could go on and on. It is important to appreciate that our Bar is an extension of each of its members. As individual members of the legal profession, we have certain ethical and service obligations. Our Bar allows us, as busy practitioners, to achieve collectively what none of us could ever hope to accomplish on our own. Through these collective efforts, we are each free to pursue our own individual practices while also meeting our professional obligations to our fellow members, our profession and the greater society.
As my term as President draws to a close, I am reminded each day of the importance of the Bar to each of us. I hope that each of you will take a moment to reflect on this in the coming months as we look to the future and ask ourselves what we want and expect from the Bar. As you all know by now, the members of the Bar will vote on a dues increase at the May 20 Annual Meeting. For me, a fiscal conservative, my appreciation of what this Bar has accomplished, and what it continues to accomplish, makes it easy for me to support the dues increase. I fully appreciate that no one (including me) wants to pay more. I get it that some think the timing of this increase is bad. In a perfect world, we would have no dues increases. But we aren't in a perfect world. The needs of our Bar and our community haven't diminished during these tough times; if anything the needs are greater than ever. When all is said and done, can any organization which has grown like ours afford not to increase dues for a decade or more? How many of us have not increased what we charge clients since 2001? Would we still be in business if we hadn't?
Our Bar remains vital to our profession and our community. Please consider this when you cast your vote at the Annual Meeting. Your vote is, after all, a vote of confidence in our Bar - in what it has done and what it will continue to do for the next generation. If you look at the Bars record, you can take comfort in the fact that it has been and will continue to be a responsible steward of its resources and the fees that each of us pay.
As one prong of the Rotary's Four-Way Test would ask, "Will it be beneficial to all concerned?" As we look to the future needs of our Bar and whether to support the dues increase, the answer to this question is an unqualified "yes".
Download Mr. Kelly's Rotary PowerPoint presentation here.