President's Message

Posted by: Milton Gilbert on Mar 1, 2021


I have written in the past about my father’s vocation as a pastor, however, I have not mentioned the fact that one of my father and mother’s non-vocational advocations was to perform marionette shows throughout North Carolina, including schools, malls, churches and a few times on local television in Durham. In relation to this, my parents were also members of Puppeteers of America. This afforded them the opportunity to go to a few of the national festivals, including one in 1975 in Missouri. During that Missouri festival, I met Jim Henson with Kermit while hanging out with the other children of the puppeteers, including Henson’s children. This experience helped to further cement and double down on my love of all things Henson and make me a lifetime Muppet fan.

Henson wrote a couple of letters to his family that were to be opened in the event of his untimely death. In one of those letters, Henson told his children, “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Despite the fact that these words were meant for his family, they translate very well for all of us.

It has been my experience that lawyers in Mecklenburg County have not always enjoyed the best reputation amongst our brethren in other counties in this state. Dare I say, I have heard the term “Charlotte Lawyers” used as a pejorative phrase by both members of the judiciary in other counties in my presence and by other lawyers in court. I recall trying a case in Richmond County where the entire closing argument was to send a message back to this “lawyer from Charlotte.” The jury awarded precisely the relief that I sought for my client by the way, so I guess that they sent me a message.

I question the origin of this reputation. It seems like it is really an extension of the claims of the “great state of Mecklenburg” that one often hears living back east of Charlotte. I submit to you that if we were living in some other state such as Illinois, New York or Pennsylvania, one would hear the same suggested phraseology and comparisons about Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia lawyers, respectively.

I have practiced all of my more than 19 years in this Bar and frankly do not understand why this reputation exists. Yes, I have found lawyers in our Bar to be directed and task masters, but I have never found them to be lacking in collegiality. To the contrary, I have found our members more willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt than others of similar station. Case in point is the standing civil rule of not filing for a default judgment until counsel for the other side has been notified in writing of the lack of a responsive pleading. There are very few counties in this state, or in any other jurisdiction, that provide such a level of grace. This continues to be the rule, I suspect, because we as lawyers, especially we as “Charlotte” and/ or “Mecklenburg County” lawyers know what it is like to be in the trenches.

We as “Charlotte” and/or “Mecklenburg County” lawyers appreciate having a great deal on our plate, having some issue with staff, a technological issue or otherwise something extraordinary that arises in our lives that may make us fall a bit behind. In short, we as “Charlotte” or “Mecklenburg” lawyers have “been through some stuff.”

Last April, I was interviewed by Super Lawyers magazine for an online article. One of the questions I was asked was ultimately what would the end result of the pandemic be on our profession. Triggering my inner “Pollyanna,” I informed the interviewer that I hoped that the pandemic would ultimately cause us to be a bit “more human.” I suggested, “We might be less likely to be curt, judgmental or feel slighted because we’ve all been collectively through this thing, and we might be more supportive as a society. I think we begin to look at people less as numbers, and more as individuals.” I can say without reservation that my calculation and thought process has not changed since that conversation in April 2020.

In the last year, I have noticed our members show tremendous grace when I have been on the opposite side of a matter. Not that such grace did not previously exist, however, it is a level of grace commensurate with shared experience. I have had lawyers “check-in” with me just to see how I am doing, and I have done the same. And it is not just me. I have heard examples from many members of how they have granted additional extensions when they have learned that opposing counsel was exposed to COVID. I have anecdotal evidence of more grace being provided with discovery deadlines. In particular, many colleagues that work in the area of ADR have found much more success this year than in others because failing to reach settlement could mean delays for years rather than just a few weeks or months.

We have had and continue to have, what will at the time of the publishing of this article, a full year of living in a COVID world. Perhaps the increased favor that I and others have experienced is something to be short-lived once COVID is done. I hope that it is not. We as a Bar have collectively “been through some stuff.” As the vaccines begin to roll out among our members and we slowly open up to the newly constructed post- COVID legal world, I hope that we will not forget what we have been through. I hope we will continue to offer grace to each other and provide support when a fellow member needs it. I am proud to be a member of this wonderful legal community and am very proud to call myself a “Charlotte” and/or “Mecklenburg” lawyer.