NCBA a Brief History
By William M. Storey
The following history of the N.C. Bar Association was written by Bill Storey, former executive vice president and treasurer, for the first New Committee Chairmen Orientation in the summer of 1978. Storey led the Bar Association for 26 years, until his death in February 1981. This is reprinted as a memorial to him, and to the Association he served.
While the efforts to organize the North Carolina Bar Association began around 1890, it was not until 1899, to be precise - February 10 at 7:30 p.m., that 157 lawyers met in Raleigh for the purpose of establishing on a permanent basis the North Carolina Bar Association. The charter which was before that group for an adoption stated the objectives of the organization to be:
- To promote the administration of justice throughout the State
- To advance the science of jurisprudence
- To maintain the standard of honor in the profession and
- To establish cordial intercourse among the members
While the public interest was not mentioned in the first draft of the constitution, the proposition was very soon recognized, and incorporated into the by-laws of this Association, so that programs and activities will include an acknowledge the public interest. It is my firm belief that this must always be foremost in our minds. Otherwise, we are but another trade group organized for self-centered and often selfish and provincial purposes.
As might be expected, the first meeting of the Association in February of 1899 began as many meetings of lawyers - with strong beliefs and attitudes prevalent. One member of the organizing group suggested that the proposed Constitution and By-Laws as prepared be read. Another suggested that it would expedite organization to have an enrollment of those present by counties in order that they might ascertain the group from whom to elect officers. This prompted the following remark by Mr. W.B. Shaw of Henderson:
"The procedure suggested is like putting the cart before the horse. I don't know what kind of constitution and by-laws will be adopted and am not ready to subscribe myself as a member of an organization that might fix exorbitant fees and adopt provisions in its constitution and by-laws which would be objectionable to me."
To this the meeting chairman responded with the observation that, "It seems that we are starting off powerful suspicious of one another. I have no idea that any harsh by-laws will be enacted, but every gentleman who does not care to subscribe to the by-laws can withdraw."
In this tempest and turmoil the Association was born. From an unsteady start, the infant has grown and prospered in a manner exceeding the fondest vision of its architects. The early years of the Association were largely spent debating the popular legal topics of that era, many of which continue to be debated today. A great deal of thought, discussion and argument accompanied each forward step. Beginning in the early 1900s the Association realized that it was incapable of properly performing the functions of examining applicants for admissions to the profession and administering disciplinary rules necessary for the control of their conduct.
In 1903 the Association requested the General Assembly to grant to the lawyers of the State the responsibility for examining, licensing and disbarring members of the profession. By 1915 the Association was successful in securing from the General Assembly authorization to create a board of legal examiners which consisted of the Chief Justice and two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court - thus relieving the Association from the burden of attempting to handle the admission matters. By 1932, the Association had agreed that an incorporated bar established by legislative enactment was necessary to control the examination, licensing and disbarment of attorneys and to prevent the unauthorized practice of the law. A bill was drawn by the North Carolina Bar Association and the 1933 General Assembly enacted Chapter 210 of the public laws. It was ratified on April 3, 1933, creating the North Carolina State Bar.
Most lawyers in this State feel the creation of the State Bar and the retention of the Bar Association has resulted in a happy, logical and efficient situation. The police functions of the profession are now vested, as they should be, in a state agency administered by lawyers (and to a limited extent by laymen), and our voluntary association has been freed from this burden and permitted to carry out its many and varied programs undiverted by these statutory responsibilities.