No matter which side of the political aisle you are on, I think we can agree that the leadership from the Oval Office has been lacking during the COVID-19 crisis. We are the United States of America, and we are behind the eight ball during a pandemic that is cutting across our nation. Since January, the United States has lacked the courage to do the right thing, failed in communication, and has lacked the commitment to rid our nation of the virus.
What can we learn from this?
During a crisis, our leaders’ past actions matter.
If leaders have failed to demonstrate thoughtful and measured behavior, people won’t know what to expect from them.
During a crisis, our leaders’ actions matter.
We look to our leaders during difficult times. We seek reassurance, direction, guidance and the truth.
Leadership requires courage. Leadership is not brash, reactive or dismissive. It is considered, informed, directive, thoughtful, compassionate and grounded in integrity.
Courage to do the hard work. Courage to ask the tough questions. Courage to implement clearly defined policies and priorities. Courage to build the infrastructure.
It is this brand of courageous leadership that NCAJ must summon as we undertake the creation of a strategic plan for our advocacy program.
In August 2020, NCAJ hired an advocacy consulting firm to lead us though an advocacy strategic plan. Daniels Advocacy Group is working with NCAJ leadership and members of the association to ask the tough questions, define a more thorough advocacy process, and set advocacy priorities for NCAJ.
NCAJ is a diverse membership body that is home to many different practice areas and practitioners. We must work to prioritize our collective legislative goals.
NCAJ staff has been working hard to timely communicate to members with legislative updates. There have been multiple updates from me about various pieces of legislation in Community View as well as by way of direct member blasts. We recently published a robust NCAJ legislative report.
Once the priorities are determined, NCAJ will be able to communicate with legislators and external stakeholders. This outreach will help to educate people about NCAJ and help to build our relationships outside of NCAJ. We hope to be able to incorporate the priorities on an informative new website and in easily distributable documents, such as a brochure about NCAJ.
Legal Affairs Program
There are two main advocacy components to our legal affairs program: appellate assistance – including amicus briefs and moot courts – and monitoring the State Bar for issues such as proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
NCAJ’s legal affairs program directly impacts our legislative program. Many of the issues spotlighted in NCAJ amicus briefs will eventually reach the halls of the General Assembly. As we put together a new advocacy infrastructure for NCAJ, we must remember this interplay and be strategic and thoughtful with our decisions.
We need criteria to guide our decisions about amicus briefs. Each brief needs to be part of a more comprehensive advocacy strategy. An amicus program is not solely about supporting our members in their cases. Sure, that is often times an added benefit, but great amicus programs address fundamental issues that are in line and focused on the organizational mission.
The second piece of our appellate assistance is our moot court program. This is another tremendous member benefit. COVID-19 has changed the way we do this for now, as moots are currently being held virtually, but we are still seeing great results. I encourage each member to consider volunteering at least once to serve as a panelist.
Finally, NCAJ monitors the State Bar and its various committees. Significant work is constantly on-going at the State Bar. NCAJ has many members that serve, including Darrin Jordan who currently serves as vice president. NCAJ has members that serve on the Administrative, Legislative, Ethics, and Grievance Committees, to just name a few. Individual NCAJ members may engage with the State Bar, but NCAJ also organizes association responses to committees when necessary.
Similar to the legislative program, NCAJ staff has worked hard to promote this valuable appellate assistance program to a broader segment of our membership. NCAJ amicus briefs and moot courts continue to see incredible results this year thanks to the generous contribution of time by many of our members.
Political Action Committee
The NCAJ PAC uses our financial resources to further advance the priorities outlined within the legislative and the legal affairs programs. It is a tool that, if used well, bolsters our relevancy, provides NCAJ with access to elected officials and helps us to advance our clearly defined advocacy agenda.
In addition to making contributions to legislators, the NCAJ PAC also endorses judicial candidates for the Supreme Court of North Carolina and the Court of Appeals. Every two years, the PAC endorses judicial candidates. And, every two years, there are members who express frustration and anger about the judicial endorsements made by the PAC. Unfortunately, despite the PAC Trustees’ best efforts, this year was no different.
We must have a conversation about the purpose of the NCAJ judicial endorsements as well as the goals we are seeking to accomplish with this process during the advocacy strategic planning process. Is it accomplishing our mission? Is it dividing our membership? Is it effective?
Similar to our legislative program and legal affairs program, NCAJ staff worked hard to communicate our PAC endorsements to the membership as well as the public this year. We launched a terrific new microsite, VoteYourCourtNC.com, that encourages people to vote in the judicial elections. The new NCAJ microsite, outlined as a key advocacy communication initiative in the Board-approved NCAJ strategic plan, was created to provide NCAJ with all the tools and resources necessary to promote the judicial endorsements. In addition to the microsite, NCAJ members have information behind the paywall including sample emails, sample social media posts and even a proposed letter to the editor. Essentially, this is a toolkit for our members to enable them to share with the public at large. The new microsite also allows NCAJ to track analytics to provide clear indicators of how successful NCAJ was in influencing the 2020 elections.
NCAJ is a membership organization of trial lawyers. Trial lawyers who fight for the underdog daily. Trial lawyers who are well versed at working within an adversarial system. Trial lawyers who are hardworking and passionate about what they do and why they do it.
This passion often times leaves members pointing fingers and blaming those we do not agree with or who have a different interpretation than us. In the moment this reaction can seem beneficial and validating. Yet, over time, this behavior and the divide it creates within the membership depreciates NCAJ’s mission and morale.
I have no doubt that the advocacy strategic planning process will be full of ferocious debate, tough discussions and yes, unfortunately, even personal attacks. But, NCAJ must use this time of crisis in our world to reflect, to do the hard work, to hold a space for the debate and then push through the internal fight.
I am so proud to be serving as your executive director and I value and appreciate the tenacity and relentlessness that each of you brings to representing your clients – those who desperately need you to fight for them when no one else will do so.
But here is the thing: Advocacy is not a short-term adversarial game. It is a long-term relationship game.
Effective advocacy is about relationships, courage and commitment. Organizations hire lobbyists because of and for the relationships they have built over time in the hope that those relationships will assist in advancing their priorities. However, an effective advocacy program cannot rely on relationships and lobbyists alone to advance its mission. An effective advocacy organization musters courage and fosters commitment within to define a strategic advocacy plan.
Courage to set priorities, outline expectations, and clearly define goals and objectives. Courage to allow opportunity for feedback. Courage to stand up and speak. Courage to sit down and listen.
Courage to set aside personal political viewpoints.
Commitment to embrace the fiduciary duty to the organizational mission. Commitment to stand as a collective, wholeheartedly after the debate has been had and the decision made.
Commitment to one another.
The most successful advocacy organizations remain focused on mission, vision and goals. They do not deviate from the priorities defined. They do not let the current political climate impact priorities.
They control their message. They control themselves. They control their future.
If NCAJ can successfully use this time of crisis as a moment of catharsis for our advocacy program we will be prepared and we will be effective no matter the political leadership or political climate.
There is a well-known saying in politics: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Let’s use this crisis as a point of reflection for NCAJ. Let’s take this time of unrest and tension in our world to be honest with one another, to ask the hard questions, and force the tough decisions. Let’s grow to meet the future.
Let’s make the deliberate choice to invest in our organization and its mission. Let’s be courageous and committed in order to become a powerful force for good in this state.
NCAJ’s advocacy strategic plan is an opportunity for us to set a roadmap for NCAJ to be an incredibly powerful organization. Let’s not waste the opportunity.