Looking Back and Focusing Forward
By Robert E. Harrington
For the past several months, our members have reveled in the celebration of the Mecklenburg County Bar's 100-years anniversary.
We have delighted in the memory of leaders of the Bar who have preceded us - like Joseph Grier Jr. and Judge James McMillan - both World War II veterans, who returned to lead this Bar as presidents and to help lead the community, the Bar (and, in Judge McMillan's case, the bench) through the challenging times of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. And Carrie McLean, the first woman to serve as President of our Bar - in 1925-26. And Judge Robert Potter, who presided in our federal court for nearly twenty years. And Judge Clifton Johnson, who, during his career, was the first lawyer of color to serve as a North Carolina District Court Judge, the first to be elected to the Superior Court, and first to serve on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
And we have celebrated the contributions of current members of the Bar - like Mark Bernstein, Ray Farris, Ozzie Ayscue, Mark Merritt and Judge Shirley Fulton, all former presidents of the Mecklenburg County Bar, who have been instrumental in our Centennial celebration. And Julius Chambers, who, along with members of his law firm, has led the fight for civil rights in our local courts and in the United States Supreme Court. And Judge Fulton, who served with distinction as the first woman elected to serve on our local Superior Court bench, and, ultimately, as Senior Resident Superior Court Judge.
Through it all, our Bar has worked to meet the needs of our members - lawyers in solo practice and those in firms small and large - from Charlotte to Matthews to Pineville to Davidson to Cornelius - and those in the City Attorneys Office, the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, and in our federal agencies.
That has been a part of the story of our first 100 years. With the beginning of our 101st year as a Bar, we start the story of our next 100 years.
So, what will we do in our 101st year and in the many years to follow? That story begins now.
First and foremost, we will continue to perform the duties we are charged with as the Bar for the 26th Judicial District. We will interview and recommend new members of the Bar. We will protect the public by participating in the investigation of grievances. We will conduct elections to recommend District Court Judges to the Governor. And we will elect Bar Councilors to represent our interests at the State Bar.
Beyond that, we will complete the work of former presidents John Lassiter, Pat Kelly, Todd Brown, Bob Dortch and the Future Bar & Foundation Center Committee led by Pender McElroy, Bill McMullen and Bob Henderson to secure a location and build a new Bar center to serve our members' needs in this generation and the next. We expect to provide more detailed information on the new facility in the very near future, and we expect to break ground on the facility during this fiscal year. We will work to assist and mentor our new members - many of whom face the daunting prospect of starting practice on their own. We will continue to help lawyers whose practices have been affected by the economic upheaval of the past five years. We will explore ways to increase networking opportunities for our members. We will continue to provide high quality cost-efficient CLE programs for our lawyers. And we will advance the important and rewarding work the Bar has done to assure that the opportunities and benefits of law practice in this county are available to all Mecklenburg County lawyers, regardless of their backgrounds. We will also work on the more mundane, but no less important, tasks of assuring that our internal bar structure adequately serves the needs of our 4,000-plus member Bar.
Perhaps most important, at least among our non-regulatory responsibilities, we will work hard to improve the delivery of legal services to the most disadvantaged residents of Mecklenburg County. We look forward to working with our collaborative organizations in that effort - Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina, the Council for Children's Rights and other groups that work day-in and day-out to represent those for whom adequate legal representation is too often denied. I speak of this subject with emphasis because what these citizens need only lawyers can provide.
During this next year, we look forward to jump-starting the next chapters of the legacy of the Mecklenburg County Bar. We have the resources of a remarkable and diverse membership - and the support of an outstanding executive director and staff. I challenge each of us to get involved in the Bar and begin the task of making this Bar's next 100 years even more successful than the Centennial that we have celebrated.