The North Carolina Bar Association was founded in Raleigh on Feb. 10, 1899, and is based at the N.C. Bar Center, located in Cary at 8000 Weston Parkway.
Leadership is provided by the NCBA Board of Governors under the direction of a president who serves a one-year term. The president is elected to the position of president-elect at the annual meeting one year prior to his or her installation as president at the subsequent annual meeting.
Individuals comprising membership in the Board of Governors also serve on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Bar Foundation. The NCBA is a 501(c)(6) trade organization; the NCBF is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The NCBF was established in 1960 and the NCBF Endowment was established in 1987.
The president of the NCBA and the NCBF for 2023-24 is Patti Ramseur of Greensboro. The executive director of the NCBA and NCBF is Jason Hensley, who has held these positions since Jan. 1, 2017.
The first NCBA Annual Meeting was held July 5-7, 1899, in Morehead City. There have been four more presidents than annual meetings: Platt W. Walker of Charlotte, the first president, served his term prior to the first annual meeting; Hamilton C. Jones (1904) and T.L. Caudle (1929) died in office; and Linville K. Martin (1942) resigned when he was called into military service during World War II.
North Carolina is rare in that it has two statewide bar organizations serving the entire legal profession: the voluntary North Carolina Bar Association and the mandatory North Carolina State Bar. This often causes confusion among the public and sometimes even within the legal profession. In lay terms, the NCBA is a service organization for legal professionals providing continuing legal education, legislative advocacy, practice management support, and countless opportunities to lead, serve and network. The State Bar, meanwhile, regulates the practice of law. Admission to the State Bar is the responsibility of the N.C. Board of Law Examiners.
The late William M. Storey, who served as executive vice president and secretary of the NCBA for 26 years, provided the following historical insight into the establishment of the N.C. State Bar and what is now known as the N.C. Board of Law Examiners:
“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.”
The distinction between the NCBA and the NCBF was described as follows by the late Allan B. Head, who led the NCBA and the NCBF from 1981 through 2016:
“In 1960, the N.C. Bar Association established its own Foundation. 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).”
The NCBF owns the N.C. Bar Center and the NCBA is a tenant. The current home of the NCBA and the NCBF opened in August 1994 and is the third N.C. Bar Center. The original N.C. Bar Center at 1025 Wade Ave. in Raleigh was constructed and occupied in 1962; the second N.C. Bar Center at 1312 Annapolis Drive in Raleigh was purchased and occupied in 1983.
Additional highlights in the history of the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina Bar Foundation include:
1944 – The NCBA’s first continuing legal education program, or CLE, conducted.
1953 – Established the Young Lawyers Division. Charles F. Blanchard of Raleigh was the founding chair.
1960 – Established the Practical Skills Course for newly admitted attorneys.
1975 – Established statewide Lawyer Referral Service.
1976 – Established Legal Services of North Carolina, Inc. It became Legal Aid of North Carolina effective July 1, 2002.
1977 – Initiated, implemented and established Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Co. of N.C., which issued first policy May 1, 1978.
1979 – Established NCBA practice specialty sections. Original sections were Bankruptcy, Business, Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law, Real Property and Tax.
1983 – Initiated Pro Bono Project with financial assistance from the Legal Services Corp., Legal Services of North Carolina, Inc., and the American Bar Association.
1990 – Established the Senior Lawyers Division. D. Wescott Moser was the founding chair.
1997 – Established the Legal Assistants Division, which became the Paralegal Division effective July 1, 2008. Sharon L. Wall of Raleigh was the founding chair.
1999 – Celebrated centennial and published history book, “Seeking Liberty and Justice: A History of the North Carolina Bar Association – 1988-1999.”
2000 – Incorporated BarCARES of North Carolina, Inc., a statewide program providing counseling and assistance to lawyers 24 hours a day.
2002 – Worked with Lawyers Mutual and its subsidiary, Lawyers Insurance Agency, to establish the NCBA Health Benefit Trust, a self-funded multiple employer welfare arrangement.
2007 – Implemented NC LEAP, North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program, to provide pro bono assistance to low-income entrepreneurs.
2007 – The Young Lawyers Division initiated Wills for Heroes in North Carolina to provide free estate planning documents to first responders and their spouses.
2008 – Established the 4ALL Statewide Service Day to provide free legal information to North Carolina citizens utilizing a network of call centers.
2012 – Began utilizing the results of the Judicial Performance Evaluation survey as a voter resource in the election of District Court and Superior Court judges.
2012 – The Transitioning Lawyers Commission (TLC) is established, offering assistance and advice for lawyers who need to retire but do not want to; for lawyers who want to retire but are not certain how to do so: and for those in the legal profession who find themselves is the caregiver role.
2012 – The John G. Medlin Jr. Award is established in honor/memory of the former Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) CEO to recognize contributions to the administration of justice and judicial independence by a North Carolina citizen who is not a lawyer.
2013 – The Young Lawyers Division, in collaboration with the N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks (now Feeding The Carolinas) and the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, initiates the annual Legal Feeding Frenzy food and funding drive.
2014 – Members of the Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section and Elder & Special Needs Law Section begin providing pro bono legal representation to victims of North Carolina’s Eugenics program.
2016 – The Minorities in the Profession Committee establishes the Legal Legends of Color Award to honor minority attorneys whose careers and contributions have had a significant impact in North Carolina.
2017 – The NCBA Public Service Academy is established in coordination with The Institute for the Public Trust to help orient members who are interested in seeking elective office.
2017 – The NCBF established NC Free Legal Answers, in collaboration with the ABA Free Legal Answers program, to provide free, online legal assistance to low-income populations and to increase pro bono opportunities for attorneys.
2018 – The North Carolina Bar Foundation announces its largest gift ever as the result of planned gifts totaling nearly $1 million from the late Charles D. Dixon which are designated to the NCBF Endowment’s Legal Aid of North Carolina.