Why Both Are Needed
The North Carolina Bar Association often gets telephone calls and letters intended for the N.C. State Bar and vice versa. The State Bar, founded in 1933 at the request of the North Carolina Bar Association, is the mandatory organization that licenses and disciplines while the NCBA, founded in 1899, is a voluntary organization that provides services to lawyers and the general public.
Most people reading this already know that. But did you know that the North Carolina Bar Association is the largest voluntary legal or professional organization in the state with more than 14,500 members, including nearly 14,000 in-state, active attorneys. That's about 75 percent of the practicing lawyers in the state, the highest percentage of any voluntary legal group in the nation.
North Carolina operates well with both a mandatory and a strong voluntary bar. Many states have an "unified" bar and there are many problems inherit in that system.
L. Thomas Lunsford II, executive director of the N.C. State Bar, notes that mandatory dues "being a species of tax are, in the hands of government, public funds." There becomes a conflict when these public funds are used to pay for charitable endeavors or other projects unrelated to the bar's regulatory responsibilities.
"This is the genius of the North Carolina arrangement," Lunsford said. "Since membership in the North Carolina Bar Association is voluntary and tax money is not involved in its support, the organization is totally free to act politically and programmatically. It is accountable only to its members."
He also notes that since the vast majority of North Carolina's lawyers are members, the NCBA can "lobby credibly and with impunity on behalf of the legal profession on any issue of significance."
As president of the North Carolina Bar Association 25 years ago, Walter F. Brinkley said, "we must admit that there are lawyers who have done us discredit, and we must increase our efforts to minimize the opportunity for a recurrence of any moral or ethical shortcomings on the part of the members of the legal profession."
While he noted that it is the N.C. State Bar's duty, not the NCBA's, to attempt to regulate or discipline members of the bar, Walt said that the NCBA should strengthen its programs to touch "almost every facet of the professional life" and provide "opportunities to contribute to the public good" in order to improve "not only the image of the bar but its character and competency."
Indeed, the N.C. State Bar and the N.C. Bar Association are both needed. We provide mutual support to each other and have a wonderful working relationship. Our members are their members.
To further confuse, did you know that the Association is really two organizations?
In 1960, the N.C. Bar Association established its own "Foundation."
The purpose of the Foundation, as outlined in the articles of incorporation, is:
- To foster and maintain the honor and integrity of the law;
- To study, improve and to facilitate the administration of justice;
- To promote the study of the law and research therein, the diffusion of knowledge thereof, and the continuing education of lawyers;
- To cause to be published and to distribute addresses, reports, treatises and other literary works on legal subjects:
- To maintain a law library and a research center;
- To acquire, preserve and exhibit rare books and documents, objects of art, and items of historical interest having legal significance or bearing on the administration of justice; and
- To promote suitable standards of legal education.
In short, the primary reason to establish the Foundation was to conduct education, research and public service projects of the North Carolina Bar Association.
However, the Association, a 501(c)(6) professional association, also established this 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable entity for tax purposes. For instance, in connection with the establishment of the Foundation, the Association, in 1960, was completing its first Bar Center and there were a number of gifts, land and cash contributions made to the Foundation which as charitable contributions qualified for tax deductions. This would not have been possible for a 501(c)(6).
Since that time, the Foundation has become the home of the Association's Endowment and of course all of its public service activities related to pro bono and the delivery of legal services to the poor.
The North Carolina Bar Foundation Officers and Board of Directors are elected annually by the North Carolina Bar Association Board of Governors. The boards meet jointly in what appears to be a seamless running of both organizations. This is a very efficient way to manage the work of both organizations.
Of course, as it should be, the financial records, minutes of board meetings, staff payroll, etc. are carefully segmented so as not to jeopardize the charitable nonprofit status of the Foundation.
Incidentally, the North Carolina Bar Center is owned by the North Carolina Bar Foundation. The North Carolina Bar Association is a tenant in the building and pays the same fair market rent and assessments as do the other tenants.
With a Bar Center staff of more than 50 employees, approximately half of those employees work for the North Carolina Bar Association and the other half work for the North Carolina Bar Foundation.
As one would expect, those who work in the Foundation are those supporting continuing legal education, public service, development and endowment activities.
The Association and Foundation also maintain separate letterhead indicating separate leadership and committee structure. Numerous committees are clearly identified as committees of the North Carolina Bar Foundation such as Pro Bono Planning, Lawyer Referral Service, Appellate Rules Study, Administration of Justice, Development, Continuing Legal Education, Endowment and Lawyer Effectiveness & Quality of Life.
The efficient and effective structure of both organizations, to the benefit of the members of the North Carolina Bar Association and the public, has served us well. We have accomplished a great deal over the years and many of those accomplishments can be attributed to the efficient management of these two organizations.