NCBA Past Presidents Answer 4ALL Phones From Home On NC Lawyers’ “Best Day”

Caryn McNeill hits the nail on the head, as she so often does, when she proclaims that “people helping people is what pro bono is really about.”

And that, she adds in reference to the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s 4ALL Statewide Service Day, “is why it always seems to me that the first Friday in March is the best day of the year to be an NC lawyer!”

McNeill has been on board with 4ALL since its inception, serving as co-chair of the first event in 2008 along with longtime law partner Martin Brinkley, who now serves as dean of UNC School of Law. President Janet Ward Black certainly knew what she was doing when she tabbed two future NCBA presidents to lead her effort to draw attention to the need for civil legal aid in North Carolina.

Caryn McNeill volunteers for 4ALL from home. She is pictured in front of her computer, and a window is behind her desk.

President-elect Clayton Morgan and Immediate Past President Mark Holt have also been involved with 4ALL throughout its existence, and share in the commitment to provide pro bono service to North Carolina’s neediest citizens. Morgan recently served as chair of Legal Aid of North Carolina and has been a member of its board of directors since 2014. Holt presently serves on the LANC Board of Directors and devotes a significant portion of his time to pro bono and public service initiatives.

It was both rewarding and refreshing to capture all three bar leaders in action during this year’s 4ALL Statewide Service Day. The event was held on Friday, March 4, and, as McNeill denoted, has long been conducted on the first Friday in March.

“The calls,” McNeill said, “may have changed a bit at the margins – one caller on Friday was concerned about identity theft, for example – but for the most part they are about the same everyday legal issues people tend to have (a leaky roof, faulty consumer goods, increased property tax assessments).”

The callers, she added, greatly appreciate the fact that North Carolina lawyers make themselves available on this day and do their best to help them.

“Even when it seems to me that I haven’t offered much that is truly helpful,” McNeill said, “they seem to feel better for having had a chance to talk their issue through and brainstorm next steps.

“My last caller spoke with another volunteer earlier in the day and called back to let him know that she’d solved her problem when she’d called the agency he suggested during the time slot he’d suggested. She called back so she could share what she’d learned in case it might help us help the next person.”

Like so many who were participating remotely for the second consecutive year, Morgan noted the absence of in-person camaraderie afforded by gathering at television stations and other venues.

“But the virtual 4ALL experience surely came close,” Morgan said. “The live look-in virtual rooms periodically accessed by the media throughout the day were phenomenal and gave the viewing public a front row seat of just how committed this state’s attorneys are to helping its citizenry.

“The screening process was efficient, the viewing public came prepared with succinct questions, and (to the person) every caller was most appreciative for whatever input could be provided.”

Clayton Morgan volunteers at home; he is pictured seating in front of a window with his computer.

Attorneys, Morgan added, sometimes underestimate the depth and breadth of their legal education and how much practical benefit they can offer to those in need.

“However,” Morgan continued, “once you participate in events like 4ALL, you quickly realize the enormous impact your legal education can have on easing someone’s burden or lowering their stress level.

“Whether it was a contract question, a collections action, a general business-related issue or a routine civil litigation process question, I felt the sense of urgency from each caller and wanted them to feel at ease during the conversation.”

Morgan expressed his gratitude to everyone who stepped up to participate in this year’s event, thereby helping to both maintain and heighten the public’s perception of the legal profession.

“To those who were unable to participate this year,” Morgan concluded, “I welcome you to participate next year – whether it is in person, virtual or a hybrid. After all, the rewards are life-changing for both the attorney and the public.”

The incoming president can certainly count on Holt’s participation.

“Through 4ALL,” Holt said, “people across North Carolina are able to talk with an attorney at no cost about legal questions important to them and their families. Providing this service helps the legal profession answer our highest calling, which is to serve others.”

Mark Holt volunteers for 4ALL from home. He is pictured at his desk and behind his computer, with art pictured on the wall.

This year’s callers, Holt added, had questions about housing, healthcare and end-of-life issues regarding wills and estates.

“It was a privilege to have conversations with people across the state regarding these matters so vital to their lives.”

A privilege indeed, and the best day of the year to be a North Carolina lawyer.

Russell Rawlings is director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association.