Two Amazing Mentors, One Dynamic Duo

It takes five hundred bees to generate one pound of honey. Bees in a hive fly 55,000 miles as part of this process. Because the laborers are many and the effort is tremendous, one bite of this miracle food seems like a small treasure. We reap the rewards of the bees’ efforts while the workers are themselves unseen.

Serving with others is a similar endeavor to creating honey. It takes many people to impact the next generation, and each act of service compounds to produce an abundance of goodness in the world.

Diligently working behind the scenes with the Young Lawyers Division, Arista (Ari) Sibrey and Megan Reilly-Dreas are the editors of the YLD blog. As Communications Co-chairs, they have published 23 blog posts to date, with even more posts lined up before the end of the year.

Since July of last year, Sibrey and Reilly-Dreas have teamed up to provide members and the public access to one special series titled “A Letter to My Younger Self.” The series is a rich trove of words teeming with advice and wisdom, and an offering available for attorneys at all stages in their careers, including law students, new attorneys and young lawyers.

The “Letter to My Younger Self” series was created by YLD Chair Jonathan Bogues. In the posts, attorneys reflect on where they were at the beginning of their career and write a letter to their younger selves, speaking from their experience in the present. So far, six members have contributed: Bogues, Kayla Britt, Mike McIntyre, S. Collins Saint, Chazle’ N. Woodley and Patti Ramseur.

Like each of the “Letter to My Younger Self” contributors, Sibrey and Reilly-Dreas have much to share with the next generation of attorneys. Both have learned from mentors who have inspired them and, as a result, are committed to mentoring law students and young attorneys.

Ari, a Black woman with black hair with highlights, wears a fuschia blouse and a navy suit.

Ari Sibrey, a Social Security Disability attorney, has enjoyed every minute of serving with Reilly-Dreas to publish the blog posts.

“We’re just two peas in a pod. It’s been such a great experience,” she said.

It reminds her of how serving with others can help individuals to form some of the strongest bonds. While thinking back over her career, Sibrey names an important person in her life, her mentor, Nan Hannah.

Sibrey was paired with Hannah during her third year of law school through the Campbell Connections program at Campbell Law School. Hannah, a longtime member of the NCBA, invited Sibrey to volunteer with her at the 2016 4ALL Statewide Service Day, held at the WRAL studio.

Recalling the scene as if it were yesterday, Sibrey describes the buzz of activity and the sweet sound of volunteers’ voices as they responded to calls.

“It was so impactful to me to see all of these attorneys helping others for the greater good of North Carolina residents and answering their questions. Legal services are very difficult to afford, and I just feel like this is so important. Regardless of what side of the aisle we are on, representing plaintiffs or defendants, we’re all here helping North Carolina.”

She is grateful to Hannah for her example of service, which inspired Sibrey to join the NCBA and become an active volunteer.

Hannah, a member of the Appellate Practice, Bankruptcy and Construction Law Sections, currently serves as an at-large member of the NCBF Board of Directors and previously served on the Board of Directors and the NCBA Board of Governors. She served as chair of the Construction Law Section in 2010-11 and has been a 4ALL volunteer throughout the existence of the program.

Following Hannah’s flight path, Sibrey has found her place within the NCBA. Since 2016, she has volunteered as part of the Statewide Service Day each year. Even further, in 2021, Sibrey got involved in the planning process by joining the 4ALL planning committee. Beyond working with members to organize the annual event, Sibrey has recruited others to join her in volunteering, just as Hannah welcomed her as a new volunteer eight years ago.

This year, Sibrey invited her mentee, Lauren Mayben, a law student at Campbell Law School, to 4ALL. It was Mayben’s first time to volunteer at this event, and while she was there, Mayben met Hannah.

Lauren Maybin, a white woman with brown hair, wears a dark green shirt with black and white flowers and a black sweater. Ari, a Black woman with black hair, wears a black flowered scarf in her hair and a black dress with a neon green scarf. Nan Hannah, a white woman with light brown hair, wears a pale blue turtleneck.

Lauren Maybin, Ari Sibrey and Nan Hannah pictured at 4ALL – Lawyers on Call, March 1, 2024.

It was a special day, one that brings to mind another meaningful moment. During a Zoom session with the 4ALL planning committee, Sibrey was thrilled that one of her first mentees, Walli Driggers, was on the call.

Sibrey describes what it felt like to introduce Driggers to Hannah. Hannah’s response says it all.

“Nan says, ‘Wow, I feel like a grandmother.’ And it was such a cute moment – a full circle moment. Here is Nan who fostered this level of commitment to 4ALL and service, and Ari is now introducing her mentee to it,” said Sibrey.

“Nan definitely made such a big impact on my work, and I’m sure she didn’t even realize it. And I think that is one of the most powerful things about mentorship. You really take for granted the impact that you do have on someone. And I tell her all the time that was certainly something that was very special to me.”

Sibrey recalls seeing her mentor, Hannah, give back through simple acts of service. Having a mentor was important to Sibrey because, through it, she realized the power of joining together to give back even before she began her career. Now, she has had even more opportunities to lend a hand.

Walli Driggers, left, and Sibrey, right, answer legal questions at the October 2022 North Carolina Bar Foundation Free Legal Answers Power Hour.

As she reflects on her law school days, Sibrey recounts that finding a mentor was particularly impactful in her life. She shares that a few weeks before she began law school, she experienced a deeply personal loss. Her father unexpectedly passed away. Sibrey’s father, who was an attorney, inspired her to go to law school and become a lawyer.

“The first year of law school was pretty rough. I had a lot of family support, but not his support. The one person who I was following in his footsteps – he wasn’t there,” she says.

At the time, she felt alone, but finding a mentor during her 3L year made a big difference.

Sibrey says she tells others her story so that they will know that they are not alone. Her example demonstrates how a mentor bridges the distance between themselves and another person. This act helps others to think about the steps they can take to move forward – in their careers and in their lives.

And, now, Sibrey does what she can to pay it forward. At present, she is involved with the NCBA’s YLD as a liaison with the Elder & Special Needs Law Section. She also volunteers with the Campbell Law Connections program and has mentored several law students. She gives back to the next generation, in part, because she knows why it matters.

In April of this year, Sibrey attended the Campbell Law Connections ten-year anniversary.

“It’s been wonderful. Zach Ansett and I last year were the first Campbell Law alums to move meticulously into the program as mentors previously having been mentees,” she said.

A commitment to mentorship is something to applaud, and so is a recent milestone in her career. In 2024, Sibrey celebrated five years as a Social Security disability and Veterans Affairs disability attorney.

As she recalls the mountains and valleys in her career trajectory, she pinpoints two moments she did not anticipate before going to law school. The first moment occurred after she had graduated from law school, when after taking the bar exam for the first time, she fell short of passing by three points.

Following the results, she took some time off and was not sure when she would take it again. After a brief break, she decided to take the bar exam a second time.

“Finally, I said, you know what, I’m going to take it just one more time. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Fortunately, I had a different mindset. I almost had a nervous breakdown the first time I took it. It got into my head. I lost my confidence that first time, and I know that’s exactly what happened. The second time I went in just confident, and said, ‘I know this material,’ and I passed,” says Sibrey.

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Remarking on her experience taking the bar exam, she explains why attorneys should share their stories with others.

“It’s meaningful to me because you never know the impact or if someone needs to hear about your story. I was doing a panel for the Professionalism for New Attorneys with the Wake County Bar, and I was telling my story. At the end of the Q&A, someone stood up and said, ‘Thank you. People don’t really get a grasp of how being a second-time bar exam taker or multiple bar taker is. You feel embarrassed.’

“It’s just a different type of mentality, and for someone to be so open about it, I think it really gives people encouragement. At the end of the day, no one’s going to ask you, ‘What was your score? Did you pass?’ You have a license, and you’re good.”

The second moment took place after Sibrey became a family law attorney. Eight months into the role, she was unexpectedly let go. It felt devastating at the time, and after it happened, she took a year off to work in document review. She had her son, and, not much time later, came across a job ad for her current role.

It was exactly what she was looking for.

“I was on Craigslist and found this job, and it said, ‘Do you like to travel and help people?’ And I was like, yeah. I had no clue what Social Security disability was. And it has been such a great learning journey.”

She hopes to encourage others to keep going even if they encounter a setback, and, also, to lift others up.

“I’m always happy to talk to students and give them some advice on what they are doing, share my story and how not every path is linear. Not everything that you think about is what you’re going to do, and you never know what will happen, so keep an open mind.

“It shows that lawyers aren’t in this neat little box. We all have our different stories, our different experiences. And if I could talk to someone who feels like, maybe I’m not the cookie-cutter type lawyer that people think of, or she’s just like me, or I can relate to Ari and her story, that is why it is meaningful to me.”

Speaking of sharing stories, this may be why the “Letter to My Younger Self” series has been a hit. After reading the letters, Sibrey says she has started to imagine her future even more clearly than before.

“I think about myself from 10 years ago, and I look at myself now and ask, ‘Who are you?’ It’s so interesting how our paths form,” she says. “I cannot wait to contribute and write my own letter to my younger self. It’s so powerful to see people reflect on their journey and where it is and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. It’s awesome.”

What advice would she give to law students or new attorneys who encounter obstacles?

“If I was a young law student, I would say, don’t give up. You know there will be some hard times ahead, but it is all worth it as a young attorney. I would tell them, you’re great, and keep going.”

Megan, a white woman with brown hair, wears a black blouse and a blazer with off-white, purple and dark purple flowers.Megan Reilly-Dreas also enjoys empowering the next generation.

Reilly-Dreas graduated from Elon University School of Law in 2021. Since 2022, she has served as the judicial law clerk for Judge Julee T. Flood at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Reilly-Dreas’s role has provided avenues for her to mentor new law students who serve as interns at the Court of Appeals. As she began working with students, she discovered how much she enjoyed it. Because of her newfound interest in mentoring, she began to look for more opportunities to impact future attorneys. In March of this year, Reilly-Dreas began teaching first-year legal writing and communications at Elon University School of Law.

Serving as a mentor is meaningful to Reilly-Dreas for many reasons. One of those is engaging in a dialogue on a topic and, through that process, seeing the topic in a new light.

“It is an opportunity for me through being asked why something operates a certain way to reflect on my own intellectual or knowledge-like deficits. It’s not a one-way relationship. We are both learning from one another. It just so happens that we’re seated at different positions,” she says.

“I like that because it teases out the power a little bit. I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not hiding the ball. We are going to continue this conversation together and figure out the answer together.”

Reilly-Dreas has experienced the rewards of rich conversation and learning opportunities not only through being a mentor but also through being mentored.

One of her mentors is Judge Flood, whom she met when Reilly-Dreas was an intern for Judge Jeff Carpenter. At the time, Judge Flood was a supervising law clerk to Reilly-Dreas. Judge Flood’s mentorship empowered Reilly-Dreas to hone her skills as a legal writer. Now, as a clerk for Judge Flood, Reilly-Dreas has continued to grow in the profession through working with her.

“She is like the coolant to my fiery energy. She’s calm, cool and collected, and so, she’s taught me how to slow down, be more precise, and consider both sides,” says Reilly-Dreas. “In addition to having a Ph.D. in education, she’s an educator, and she’s very thoughtful.”

Reilly-Dreas has continued to excel in her legal writing abilities, and even further, now has the chance to share her knowledge with the student interns and externs who work at the Court of Appeals.

A core part of her role as a clerk is to provide law students the experiences they need to improve as writers.

“Judge Flood likes to hire a robust team and make it a teaching experience for the student while also having that student work benefit the judicial economy of our chambers. I would guess 50 percent of my job is mentoring the law students in Chambers and giving them feedback on all of their written work, helping them prepare for oral presentations, things like that.

“If you do not delight in teaching, you probably shouldn’t work in Judge Flood’s chambers,” she says with a smile. “So that’s how I got involved. I really enjoy it.”

In this photo, Megan, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair and glasses, wears a black blouse and black suit. She stands with a group of approximately twenty people, including other law students who participated in the Away Court Session.

On 6 April 2024, Elon School of Law hosted judges for the annual Court of Appeals “Away Court Session” where students heard oral arguments for two cases being presented before the court. Reilly-Dreas is pictured in the front row, fourth from the left.

The work is significant because she is sharing knowledge with the next generation.

“Teaching 1L’s how to be effective legal writers not only sets me up for success later, because we are basically funneling people in through the legal system, so if I continue to clerk at the Court of Appeals, eventually these students are going to be writing briefs that make it to the Court of Appeals, and I want them to be written well.”

While looking back on how she became an attorney, she thinks about what initially interested her in the profession.

“I don’t know what gave me this idea, but I said, I want to write laws. I had no idea how to do that. I had no idea how laws were even written. I didn’t know if you had to be a lawyer to do that. And then, now, I write laws. Case law, not statutory law, but still.”

At the time, Reilly-Dreas was a fundraiser for the nonprofit Los Angeles LGBT Center, where she worked for three years. There, she met another person whom she considers a mentor in her life. She says her supervisor at the center, Jacob, modeled intentionality and leadership, along with compassion and candor.

In the fall of 2019, Reilly-Dreas moved to Greensboro from Los Angeles to attend law school. The move from being fully employed to being a full-time student was one of the most prominent changes. Then, not even a year after beginning law school, the pandemic took place.

It was challenging to be a law student during that time, but Reilly-Dreas was determined to accomplish her goal of becoming an attorney. As a law student, she served on the Moot Court Board and was recognized for completing over 75 hours of pro bono service during her time in law school. She also served as a teaching assistant for Assistant Professor Caroleen Dineen’s first-year legal writing and communications class.

Reilly-Dreas says that she is fortunate to have been in learning environments that pushed her to excel. A native of Los Angeles, Reilly-Dreas credits her teachers as being early mentors in her life. They prompted her to pursue the topics that interested her – something that strengthened her desire to learn, and, especially, write.

One of those teachers helped Reilly-Dreas and her class of eighth graders to create individual time capsules, which remained closed for years until her teacher recently opened them and sent them to her students, including Reilly-Dreas.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Reilly-Dreas describes how receiving the time capsule made her think about what she could do to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I will spend my career investing in people the way teachers, parents, friends and mentors invested in me,” she said in the post.

During our conversation, Reilly-Dreas speaks of her gratitude to have had teachers such as these.

“I would not be the person that I am today if it weren’t for my parents and my amazing underpaid, overworked public school teachers, who somehow managed to muster caring about me on like an extracurricular level. There were some teachers in particular, and Ms. Pakradouni was certainly at the top of that list. Along with that was Ms. De Ladurantey, who was my eighth-grade social studies teacher.

“They would pay attention to what I was reading and the things that I was saying, and then they would supplement it for me.”

After one of her teachers noticed Reilly-Dreas was reading Dorothy Parker, the teacher provided her other books about feminism and poetry. This kindled Reilly-Dreas’s love for reading and writing.

“And so it’s important for me to think about them and reflect on those influential folks. Because through identifying them and the ways that they helped me succeed, I can kind of turn around and do the same for somebody else.

“If I’m ever lost at trying to figure out a place to start – say I want to be of service, and I just don’t know where to go – I can think about, OK, well, how about the times that I was the recipient of the service, and maybe reverse engineering it will help you figure out how I can turn around and do the same now.”

Megan, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair and brown glasses, wears a black blouse and suit. She stands with a man, a professor named Srikanth Reddy, who has black hair and black glasses and is wearing a blue button-down shirt and grey pants.

Reilly-Dreas, right, and Srikanth Reddy, left, professor of legal writing at Elon, pictured at the “Away Court Session” at Elon.

Mentorship is an act of service, and so is writing. In November 2023, Reilly-Dreas authored a post with five tips for law students and new attorneys. She wanted to recount some of what she had learned in the first few years of her career.

What other suggestions does she have?

“Write thank-you cards. David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors, and in his most recent book, he mentions offhandedly that he writes thank-you cards to just about everybody who writes him a letter because you’d be surprised how few actually do it. And I was like, wait, I’m part of the few. David Sedaris and I both will sit here and write thank-you letters.

“And I have to say people do remember it. It leaves a lasting impression and it’s a great way to sort of be like a steward of your own brand.”

Reilly-Dreas is grateful for many things, and for many people. Reading the “Letter to My Younger Self” series is one of them. In reflecting over the series, she pinpoints a key characteristic of the posts: authenticity.

“One of the biggest reasons that these blog posts perform so well is because it is a moment where you can see what’s going on behind the scenes of this successful attorney who’s established in their career, who seems to have it all going on. A young lawyer or a law student, they covet this, and so they wonder what’s the behind-the-scenes mechanism that helped get them to where they are.

“The letter to the editor, in that way, is that candor that I think could be more prevalent in this profession and be for the better.”

Like Sibrey, who recognizes how paths can be different from person to person, Reilly-Dreas also observes how the letters are a testament to one’s individual experience within the profession.

“I love reading the stories of those people who have been gracious enough to share their time and their stories with us. It’s humbling. And it makes you realize that there’s no one prescribed path forward. And that there’s a little bit of everyone in all of us.”

Sibrey and Reilly-Dreas demonstrate how stories and knowledge, when shared with the next generation, can make a mighty and meaningful impact.

Jessica Junqueira is communications manager for the North Carolina Bar Association.