Parliamentary Procedure, Robert’s Rules, and Jim Slaughter: Award-Winning Author Discusses Two New Books and More

Jim SlaughterJim Slaughter is a white man with dark brown hair He is wearing a white shirt, black jacket and red tie. He is pictured smiling with green foliage behind him. is a partner and president of Law Firm Carolinas, which has six offices in the Carolinas and a significant real estate and community association practice. That’s his day job. In the additional hours that he remarkably squeezes from the 24-hour day, he is a frequent speaker and writer on matters of real estate, homeowners associations and condominiums. From serving on the NCBA Real Property Section’s Community Associations Committee since its inception to serving as national president of both the College of Community Association Lawyers and the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers, with multiple roles in between, Slaughter is regarded far and wide as an expert on parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order.

His first two books on running effective meetings were “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure Fast-Track” and “Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fourth Edition,” which earned the 2013 Phifer Award from the National Communication Association. Both books were extremely well received, so much so that revised editions of each, “Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track: The Brief and Easy Guide to Parliamentary Procedure for the Modern Meeting” and the “Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition,” are being published this year. Penguin Publishing released “Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track” in June and “Notes and Comments” will be released in August, all of which makes for perfect timing to conduct the following Q&A interview for North Carolina Lawyer.

Do lawyers generally need to know about running proper meetings?

Absolutely! Lawyers get pulled into meetings issues all the time, whether for clients or personally. Think of all the clients that lawyers advise that make decisions at meetings –

nonprofit associations, shareholder meetings, governmental bodies, HOAs, condos, churches, unions, just to name a few. Mishandling how decisions are made at meetings can invalidate those decisions. And about every lawyer I know serves on volunteer boards, commissions, and charities. So, yes, I think all lawyers should be aware of the basics of parliamentary procedure. Such knowledge can enhance credibility, result in better meetings, and make the difference between official actions and illegal ones. Unfortunately, parliamentary procedure is not a skill we tend to learn in law school, so other resources are needed, which is one of the reasons I write articles and books.

How significant is proper meeting procedure?

Very. Courts have held that all organizations, including business, professional, educational, and governmental, are subject to principles and rules of common parliamentary law, such as providing notice of meetings, discussion, and voting. State statutes now often prescribe specific parliamentary rules for certain entities, such as for corporations, governmental bodies, and community association (HOAs and condos). In addition, organizations often have bylaws language that requires following a particular parliamentary procedure book, such as Robert’s Rules of Order. Groups that don’t obey or act contrary to their own rules tend to end up in trouble. So not knowing or incorrectly applying parliamentary procedure can lead to embarrassment as well as lawsuits. More importantly, the benefits of a properly run meeting extend beyond questions of liability and can lead to shorter meetings where business progresses smoothly.

In this image, Jim Slaughter, a white man with dark brown hair, stands against a black background with his hand extended towards the book "Robert's Rules of Order." The book is cream-colored with a brown border on the top. He is wearing a white shirt, dark suit, and tie with dark teal and silver diagonal stripes.

Robert’s Rules of Order is almost 150 years old. Is it still relevant in today’s world?

I’ll occasionally hear that Robert’s is too outdated or ill-suited for the modern meeting. Keep in mind that a new edition comes out about every 10 years, the last in 2020. Each new work is updated for the current world. For instance, the latest edition includes about 15 new pages on recommended rules for electronic meetings. In these contentious times, better, more legal meetings are more important than ever. Robert’s is just a default set of rules that’s intended to be personalized for the specific group, and includes many protections for members, including the right to debate and to vote. By default, Robert’s allows every member to speak 10 minutes per issue and usually twice! When I hear someone complain that parliamentary procedure isn’t fair, it’s almost always that the group has deviated from Robert’s and created their own rules that limit or restrict participation.

What do attorneys and others most often get wrong about parliamentary procedure?

Two things:

First, most everyone assumes parliamentary procedure is Robert’s Rules of Order, but it’s far more than that. Robert’s is just a book on procedure, but there are many. Different groups use different books. For instance, most physician and dentist organizations use The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, a simpler parliamentary manual. Some professional groups use specific other books. Canada has traditionally used Bourinot. And any parliamentary manual yields to rules adopted by the specific organization or state statute. There has been a trend in the last 20 years to incorporate into statute specific procedural rules to follow. In North Carolina, for instance, some governmental bodies and all HOA and condo member and board meetings must follow the latest edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

Second, most people seem to think there’s one procedure for all meetings. Rules aren’t one-size-fits all. Problems tend to occur when large meetings behave too informally or when small meetings behave too formally. As a result, parliamentary books tend to provide that small board meetings and large membership meetings are conducted differently. Big meetings must be fairly formal to be fair, but that same formality can hinder business in a smaller body. As a result, Robert’s recommends less formal rules for small boards and committees that include not requiring seconds to motions, no limits on debate, and the chair usually can debate and vote on all issues. Rules should be like clothes – they should fit the organization they are meant to serve.

You just served for a month as parliamentarian at the conventions of the American Federation of Government Employees in Orlando, the National Education Association in Chicago, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Convention in Philadelphia, three of the largest meetings in the world. Where do you find the time and the energy, and most importantly, what’s that like?

Most lawyers tend to work long and strange hours, so that’s not so different. I find the convention work fascinating, and annual meetings post-Covid are being done in so many different ways. AFSCME had several thousand delegates, but all were in person. Think of a pre-Covid meeting but with lots of health and safety protocols, including regular testing and a Covid app. NEA is one of the largest deliberative bodies in the world and had 6,000 delegates – 4,000 in person and 2,000 virtually, using a hybrid model that allowed anyone in person or at home to speak, make motions, and to vote. My role is to help draft governing documents and rules, plan what will happen at the meeting, and then advise the president on procedural issues that arise at the meeting.

Convention work is similar to being in trial. For about a week, you’re completely fixated on one client and its specific issues and personality. The next week is a different organization with different governing rules, issues to consider, and people. So, you have to completely forget what you knew last week and focus on the now. It’s intense and long and afterwards you’re ready to crash, but sometimes it’s off to a new meeting!

Jim Slaughter sits at a meeting He is pictured in a lower podium that sits below a larger podium. Slaughter wears a grey suit jacket and grey tie with brown diamonds. Slaughter has dark brown hair and is looking to the right. At the larger podium is a man with grey hair and a mustache, and he is wearing a grey suit, white shirt, and grey and white patterned tie.

The new “Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track” is fascinating – a word not often associated with books on parliamentary procedure. But the way you break it down, opting for layman’s terms over legalese, leads one to believe you have struck a chord that should appeal to lawyers and laypersons alike.

The latest Robert’s Rules of Order (the 12th edition released in 2020) is 714 pages of small print. Who’s ever going to read all that? The good news is that you don’t have to. One of the reasons Robert’s is so big is because it is comprehensive. There’s an answer for every situation. But most people attending a typical meeting live within 50 to 100 pages. The goal of my books is to focus not on everything parliamentary procedure, but what you need to run a meeting or to accomplish business as a member.

My two latest books complement each other, but have different purposes. Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track is a quick go-to guide that provides details on the most used motions, appropriate informal procedures for association boards, and general advice for shortening meetings. In contrast, the Fifth Edition of Notes and Comments is a user’s guide to the new Robert’s that uses a question-and-answer format to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, especially those that apply to larger membership meetings. It includes page references to the new Robert’s for those who need to know more.


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In the acknowledgements you refer to your first experience with parliamentary procedure as a youth. Have you been interested in the subject ever since, and what was your reaction when your parents gave you a book on parliamentary procedure?

My first experience with parliamentary procedure was like a lot of people. While in high school, I attended a meeting and was run over by other members who know more about Robert’s Rules of Order. Rather than give up, I decided to learn enough about procedure to not let meeting bullies do that again to me or others. I found and tried to read some old version of Robert’s that might as well not have been in English. Then my dad, who had been active in dental organizations, gave me his copy of The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, a very respected parliamentary manual by Alice Sturgis, which is shorter and simpler than Robert’s. Everything seemed to fall into place. Since then, I’ve attended a lot of meetings, and I’m constantly reminded that those who know the basics of parliamentary procedure tend to get more of what they want accomplished and often move into leadership positions within the organization.

The addition of a new chapter on electronic meetings is certainly timely, but you are quick to point out that Robert’s requires that “everyone must be able to hear everybody else.” What else should meeting facilitators and participants be aware of when it comes to properly conducting an electronic or hybrid meeting?

Virtual meetings have many benefits, including saving travel time and allowing members to participate who might not otherwise. But as every lawyer who has lived through a Zoom meeting or hearing knows, virtual is different. It can get the work done, but there is a different “feel” to the experience. Such distinctions may lessen as technology improves and we become more familiar with online deliberations, but here are some differences between virtual meetings and in-person meetings:

  • Assume there will be technology issues, whether big or small.
  • There is a different dynamic, as electronic meetings tend to feel like hundreds of individuals sitting somewhere else doing their own thing.
  • There can be less transparency because unlike at an in-person meeting, no one really knows who’s “next in line” to speak and if a member is unruly, the temptation is there to mute or disconnect them.
  • There is generally less individual engagement, likely due to what we all do while on virtual meetings – other work, surf the Internet, make a sandwich, and complete other activities.
  • Virtual meetings bring out the worst in some people. Discussion is impersonal and can be far more negative than would happen in person.
  • Voting dynamics can be altered when someone is voting alone from home.
  • It’s harder to “work things out” online, which means that proposals more often fail.
  • It’s difficult to build a sense of community within the organization, which matters, as there is more to meetings than simply voting on business items.

Speaking of the pandemic, have there been any significant changes in state law that would impact how homeowners associations conduct their official business in North Carolina?

Several, but I’ll focus on House Bill 320, which had a short title of “Modernize Remote Business Access,” and was signed by the governor in fall 2021. The new law is 13 pages long, has complicated wording, and covers for-profit corporations, non-profits and even insurance policyholder meetings. The short version is that it allows for more transactions in community associations (HOAs and condos) as well as nonprofit associations to be done by electronic means, it authorizes membership meetings by “remote communication” (virtually) rather than in person if certain protections are in place, and it allows for decisions to be made outside of a membership meeting by electronic voting or a combination of electronic voting and written ballot in certain instances. Again, the bill has many provisions, so for details I’d recommend checking out the blog on our website entitled “Bill Adopted to Allow Electronic Membership Meetings and Voting in North Carolina Associations.”

“Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition” is also coming out this year. Please discuss what the reader can expect from this latest edition, especially as it relates to any recent changes in Robert’s.

My introductory book, Robert’s Rules of Order: Fast-Track, is intended to cover the essentials of what you need to know to participate in a meeting within a few days. Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, now in its fifth edition, is more thorough and turns the latest 714-page (and intimidating) Robert’s Rules of Order into an easy-to-use tool. The new Notes and Comments:

  • uses a question-and-answer format to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, including those that apply to larger membership meetings.
  • is updated to the latest Robert’s, with page references to important provisions.
  • has an extensive discussion of electronic/virtual meetings.
  • includes lots of practical advice from decades of professional experience working with meetings ranging from small community association (HOA and condo) boards to conventions with 10,000 delegates.
  • looks at why certain provisions are included in Robert’s.
  • contrasts and compares Robert’s with other parliamentary manuals used by different organizations.

As a recognized expert on Robert’s Rules of Order, you probably know quite a bit about Brig. Gen. Henry Martyn Robert (1837-1923), who published the first edition of his iconic manual in 1876. Beyond the information that Wikipedia has provided here, what are some things that you have found interesting about his life and work?

Henry Martyn Robert was a pretty fascinating individual. He was from Robertville, South Carolina. His father was an abolitionist Baptist minister and first president of what is now Morehouse College. Robert served in the Union Army, and eventually rose to Brigadier General in the Army Corps of Engineers. He built the Galveston Seawall.

In 1863 as a Union officer, he was asked to preside at a meeting in New Bedford, Mass., related to the defense of the city. He didn’t know how to run a meeting, but offered to do it and later said, “My embarrassment was supreme.” He decided then and there that he would never attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law. When he discovered the existing books did not fit the typical community meeting, he decided to write his own book, Robert’s Rules of Order, which was published in 1876 and was 176 pages long. Robert’s stated intent was to create a “very brief pocket manual, so cheap that every member of a church or society could own a copy, and so arranged as to enable one quickly to find when any particular motion could be made.”

You obviously have an affinity for writing and speaking. Where does that comes from and how much do you enjoy writing about your chosen field?

So many lawyers I know tell me that if they weren’t lawyering, they’d want to teach something. It clearly helps that I love my chosen practice areas – community association (HOAs & condos) and parliamentary law, and want to share that information with others. It’s easier to hunker down and write something than to plan, coordinate and get people together for training. As a result, I’ve written four books and about 500 articles on different topics. It also helps to have a great law firm with supporting attorneys who cover for me when I have to write something or disappear for a month of meetings!

Jim Slaughter is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Harry S. Truman Scholar and member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the UNC School of Law. He is also a Professional Registered Parliamentarian and Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher. He is a previous recipient of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, current and former member of the N.C. Pro Bono Honor Society, and has been a licensed real estate broker for 40 years. Learn more about Jim Slaughter here. Many free charts and articles on Robert’s Rules and meeting procedure can be found at

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