Our Time to Take Back the Courtroom

by Vernon Sumwalt, 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice

Trial lawyers are losing the ability to try cases. 

Yes, you heard me right.  The president of the NCAJ, formerly called the NCATL (remember what the “TL” stood for?) just said that. 

Now, I’m not the first to say this.  U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Anderson’s Where Have You Gone, Spot Mozingo? A Trial Judge’s Lament Over the Demise of the Civil Jury Trial, 4 Fed. Cts. Law Rev. 99 (2010), expressed concern about the decline of civil jury trials almost a decade ago.  North Carolina’s own federal bench has said the same about federal criminal trials.  See Conrad, Robert J. & Clements, Katy L., The Vanishing Criminal Jury Trial: From Trial Judges to Sentencing Judges, 86 George Wash. L. Rev. 99 (2018).  Why are trials running the way of the dinosaurs?  Fewer jury trials means fewer juries.  Fewer juries means fewer guards left standing on the last line of our Constitutional system of defense, where our Founders put 12 representatives of our communities—the only unelected ones under our Constitution—to protect the shores of justice from the erosion of popularity, power, and indifference.  There are a ton of excuses for this decline: arbitration (and ADR in general), sentencing guidelines, increasing costs of litigation and extensive discovery, inexperience of new lawyers, risk aversion of old lawyers, risks of conviction, dispositive resolutions, the list goes on.  Abraham Lincoln, who is said to have tried over 3,000 cases in 25 years as a trial lawyer—about 120 trials a year—didn’t have these obstacles.  Neither did most trial lawyers just 30 or 40 years ago.                   

We, as trial lawyers, cannot excuse this trend to end trials, or else we will lose our Constitution.  What’ happened?  What can we do to fight back?  This is the task of trial lawyer groups — NCAJ included —t oday.  To revitalize trial, rebound from this loss, and rebuild our last line of defense for Constitutional integrity. This is our destiny. Who trial lawyers are meant to be.      

So, if the hair on your neck stands up or your heart starts to race when I say, “Trial lawyers are losing the ability to try cases,” then good.  Very good.  It’s time to fight back.  We need the fire in your belly to throw NCAJ into hyperdrive to train new trial lawyers.  We need you now.

Things are moving at light speed at NCAJ.  While gradual, our CLE offerings launch into the realm of practical trial skills on Thursday, September 26, 2019, when William Goldfarb conducts a seminar with two live focus groups in Charlotte.  We have a depositions course planned in January 2020 to tackle North Carolina-specific practices and black letter law.  Meanwhile, we welcome Mark Kosieradzki to our Sustainer Summit at the Grove Park Inn in October.  Koz is a national expert on 30(b)(6) depositions and countering abusive discovery tactics.  NCAJ is test driving its first applications for its new focus group program before we open the doors for everyone’s consumption.  Our listservs and moot court participants continue to debrief their experiences and share takeaways, so others can experience the ride as close to a “real life” driver’s seat as they can be.  We are building better trial lawyers to try cases like they have nothing to lose, because all we have to lose is time.  Because the fear of loss holds us back from being who we are and what we are meant to be. 

We are trial lawyers.

Vernon Sumwalt is the 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and a partner at The Sumwalt Law Firm in Charlotte. Sumwalt is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Appellate Practice and Workers’ Compensation Law and has served in numerous leadership positions for both the NC State Bar and NC Bar Association’s workers’ compensation committees and sections.

Inaugural NCAJ Diversity & Inclusion Conference Inspires Candid Conversation About Bias

by Amber Nimocks, NCAJ Marketing and Communications Manager

CARY – Judges and attorneys discussed pervasive gender bias and the possibility of a new CLE requirement that would address matters of inequity – among many other topics – at the inaugural North Carolina Advocates for Justice Diversity & Inclusion Conference Sept. 20 in Cary.

The centerpiece of the conference was a judicial panel featuring N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita S. Earls, N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Linda M. McGee and Judge Ashleigh Parker Dunston of the 10th Judicial District.

Earls told the crowd of about 50 attorneys that she is concerned that the gender bias she encountered when she began practicing law in 1988 persists. She recalled that she would often find herself in a rural N.C. county trying to persuade others in the courtroom that she was a practicing attorney and not the court reporter or a legal assistant.

“I thought that since that was over 30 years ago, that it doesn’t happen anymore,” she said. “But I have recently heard stories from younger female attorneys who have had to pull out their bar cards to convince either a sheriff’s deputy or a judge that they really are an attorney.”

Several audience members recounted similar instances, and one suggested that the N.C. State Bar adopt a requirement for a CLE that addresses such issues.

NCAJ President-elect David Henson, NCAJ Executive Director Kim Crouch, NCAJ President Vernon Sumwalt, Judge Ashleigh Parker Dunston, State Bar Executive Director Alice Neece Mine, N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls, N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Linda McGee, State Bar Assistant Executive Director Peter Bolac and NCAJ Diversity Officer Valerie Johnson gathered after the panel.

Dunston agreed, and pointed to Maine, which requires one annual CLE credit hour that is “primarily concerned with the recognition and avoidance of harassment and discriminatory communication and conduct.”

McGee said she had thought adding a program like the diversity and inclusion conference would be helpful.

“We’re all learning more technology as a result of being required to do it,” she said, referring to the N.C. State Bar technology CLE requirement that became effective this year. “I see no reason why we couldn’t be required to be focusing on the fact that racism and sexism still occur in the courtroom far too often.”

McGee responded to an attendee’s comment that a new CLE will not necessarily change hearts and minds by recommending that leaders in the profession call out instances of bias when they witness them.

“There is no reason in this day and time that we shouldn’t be bold,” she said. “If we sense it and believe that it has occurred, we should take just a moment to address it right then because unfortunately, there are still a number of people that simply don’t see it. It’s a little difficult to think that’s true, but they don’t seem to.”

Earls said that when a lawyer decides to speak up about an instance of microaggression, it is actually giving that person a gift.

“You are saying that you are invested in them, that you are invested in them being better citizens of our community,” she said. “They may decide not to take advantage of the gift that you’re giving them. And you have to let that go if they don’t.”

The conference grew from the work of the NCAJ’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, now a committee, which appointed Greensboro attorney Karonnie R. Truzy as NCAJ’s first diversity officer in 2017. Truzy said the event was part of the committee’s ongoing commitment to bring awareness to the NCAJ’s need for diversity in programming and participation.

“The first thing we really had to get past was getting people to understand that there’s a need for this,” he said. “Now, we have not only an awareness but an intentional effort to make the organization more diverse and more inclusive.”

In addition to the panel, the conference included presentations from nationally renowned experts Lisa Coleman, Chief Diversity Officer for New York University, and Sybil Dunlop, of Green Espel PLLP in Minneapolis, who spoke on implicit bias in the legal profession and ways to confront it.

Inaugural NCAJ Conference To Feature NC Judiciary Leaders and National Diversity & Inclusion Experts

MEDIA ADVISORY

Sept. 19, 2019

CARYNorth Car­­olina Advocates for Justice will welcome nationally known experts and three members of North Carolina’s judiciary at its inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Conference for attorneys on Friday, Sept. 20 at One Eleven Place in Cary.

North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita S. Earls, North Carolina Court of Appeals Chief Judge Linda M. McGee and Judge Ashleigh Parker Dunston of the Tenth Judicial District will participate in a judicial panel discussion on the importance of diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary. Lisa Coleman, Chief Diversity Officer for New York University, will deliver the keynote address, and Sybil Dunlop, of Green Espel PLLP in Minneapolis, will speak on implicit bias and diversity. See schedule below.

SCHEDULE FOR FRIDAY, SEPT. 20

  • 1 p.m. Welcoming Remarks and NCAJ Diversity & Inclusion Annual Report: Kim Crouch, Executive Director, North Carolina Advocates for Justice
  • 1:15 p.m. Keynote: Lisa Coleman, Ph.D. Chief Diversity Officer, New York University
  • 2:15 p.m. Judicial Panel Discussion with N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita S. Earls, N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Linda M. McGee, Judge Ashleigh Parker Dunston, Tenth Judicial District
  • 3:30 p.m. Implicit Bias and Diversity: Sybil Dunlop, Green Espel PLLP, Minneapolis, MN

Media Contact

Amber Nimocks
amber@ncaj.com
(910) 547-0457

About NCAJ A nonpartisan association of legal professionals dedicated to protecting people’s rights, the North Carolina Advocates for Justice provides continuing legal education aimed at enhancing the quality of the legal profession, works to improve access to the legal system, and advocates at the state legislature in the areas of criminal and civil justice.

The Mountains are Calling and We Will Go (to the 2019 Sustainer Summit)

by Vernon Sumwalt, 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice

John Muir’s finish to his call to understand our world fits NCAJ’s fun this Fall. Right after writing “the mountains are coming and I must go,” Muir added, “I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” We all do this, and our Sustainer Summit will give us tons of takeaways to take our trial skills to the next level.

Our headliner is Mark Kozieradzki. “Koz” for short. Other than being a really fun person and having glamorous hair, Koz also plays a mean harmonica. Oh, and he happened to write 30(b)(6): Deposing Corporations, Organizations, and the Government (Trial Guides ©2016) and more recently Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through (AAJ Press ©2019). We all know Koz’s books. They are not eye candy collecting dust on our shelves. No, we savor them. We absorb them until they transform us with new skills to handle the Goliaths standing in the way of accountability. Koz’s books really are that good, and having him at this year’s Sustainer Summit will be even better. He’ll teach an entire morning on how to deploy these tools with confidence, consequence, and skill.

We’ll also have North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis teaching us about A Warren Court of Our Own: The Exum Court and the Expansion of Individual Rights in North Carolina, a panel conversation on the 2020 political campaign by Morgan Jackson of Nexus Strategies and Paul Shumaker of Strategic Partner Solutions, and a Saturday morning lineup of business development and law practice management tips from Tom Lenfesty of Law Practice Exchange (discussing “The Secrets to Law Firm Continuity Planning—Buying, Selling, and Other Succession Strategies Available to Law Firms and Lawyers to Continue to Practice without Fear”), from Dave Poston of Poston Communications (“Becoming a Better Trial Lawyer by Incorporating PR”), and from Tea Hoffman of Law Strategy Corp. (“Strategic Targeting—Finding New Clients that Fit Your Firm’s Ideal Client Model”). And don’t worry—we’ve scheduled plenty of “downtime” for everyone to enjoy everything Asheville has to offer.

NCAJ started Mountain Magic in 2003 for higher-level contributors to our organization. Although “Mountain Magic” is a great name, we needed to metamorphose this year, if only to mark a new conference format at our old favorite, The Omni Grove Park Inn.

Returning to the conference’s original intent of investing in our Sustaining Level members (Leaders Forum, Circle of Advocates, Presidents Club, Benefactors, Sustaining Patron, and Patrons) will, we hope, give a great big “THANK YOU” to those who take their investment in NCAJ to the next level. And the next level really isn’t out of reach. The lowest cost for a Patron-level membership is an increase of $475.00 from a regular membership for lawyers practicing over 10 years or, looking at it differently, about how much you’d save as the discounted rate for a room at the Grove Park over the course of the Summit, compared to a single night at full price. Follow this link if you are interested in upgrading to attend.

The mountains are calling us, so register today. We look forward to seeing you at the Sustainer Summit between October 17 and 20!

Vernon Sumwalt is the 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and a partner at The Sumwalt Law Firm in Charlotte. Sumwalt is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Appellate Practice and Workers’ Compensation Law and has served in numerous leadership positions for both the NC State Bar and NC Bar Association’s workers’ compensation committees and sections.

Members of NCAJ: Hurricane Victims Need Your Help!

NCAJ members, take note!  The NC Pro Bono Resource Center is looking for attorney, paralegal, and law student volunteers to help with FEMA Appeal and Restoration Clinics.

Clinics will take place on:

  • January 12th – New Bern, NC
  • February 9th – Wilmington, NC
  • February 23rd – Morehead City, NC

Attorney volunteers should sign up here for clinics and to take cases remotely. Training and malpractice insurance are provided.

Paralegals and law student volunteers should sign up here.

 

NCAJ Helps Build Your Law Practice

In the October 2018 issue of NCAJ’s Trial Briefs magazine, NCAJ Vice President of Membership Jennifer Watson Marsh shared an important tip: how to make the most of your NCAJ membership by accessing the FREE archive of webinars on building your law practice and your career, available online at ncaj.com/webinars.  Are you taking advantage?  Click story below for details.

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NC Pro Bono Resource Center: Helping You Overcome Hurdles to Pro Bono Work

sylvia
Sylvia Novinksy, Director     
Leigh-BW
B. Leigh Wicclair, Pro Bono Program Manager  

One of the ways NCAJ members serve NCAJ’s mission of protecting people’s rights is through their commitment to pro bono work. This past spring, over 20 NCAJ members were recognized by the North Carolina Supreme Court for having reported over 50 hours of pro bono legal services work in 2017. We are so proud of, and grateful for, these NCAJ members’ pro bono participation!

When we talk to attorneys across the state, we consistently hear that attorneys want to do pro bono work and deeply value the service element of our profession. In fact, most of the attorneys we speak with chose to become lawyers in order to “make a difference” in the world. However, given the demands that accompany our profession, it not always easy to do pro bono work.  Common barriers to pro bono include an inability to find pro bono projects, feeling overworked and unable to commit the time necessary to do pro bono, and feeling unequipped to handle a pro bono project outside of one’s regular practice area.

We are here to help you overcome these hurdles!

Launched in 2016 by the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission, the NC Pro Bono Resource Center is a statewide pro bono resource center ready to help YOU with your goals to increase pro bono work. The NC Pro Bono Resource Center serves as a clearinghouse for pro bono projects, provides trainings and CLEs to assist attorney volunteers and nonprofit service providers, and recruits and connects volunteers directly to projects. We also work with our legal and community partners to create impactful pro bono clinics and other pro bono projects which directly serve North Carolinians who would not otherwise have representation.

Let us help you find pro bono projects in your community, in your area of expertise, and that fit into your schedule! We can also help you become trained in a new area of law so that you can confidently assist pro bono clients and, perhaps, expand your practice area.

Visit ncprobono.org to learn more about available pro bono opportunities, including:

Triangle Area
NC Justice Center Driver’s License Restoration Project

Mecklenburg Co Area 
Custody Advocacy Program

Western NC
Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer (MAVL) Project is administered by Pisgah Legal Services

 Anywhere in NC
Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s BIA Pro Bono Appeals Project

Don’t forget that voluntary pro bono reporting from the previous year occurs from January 1- March 31. Keep track of your hours throughout the year and log them during this time at ncprobono.org/volunteer/reporting/.

 

*Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 encourages each NC attorney to provide 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year to those unable to afford them without expectation of a fee.