Comments Delivered by President Clayton Morgan at the Beginning of the NCBA Annual Meeting Sessions on June 23, 2023

Good morning and welcome to the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Before we begin our long-anticipated programming today, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge concerns surrounding the recent NCBA leadership decision to cancel an event planned by our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee and underscore our commitment to instituting policies and practices to guide the way forward to ensure our committees, divisions, and sections can advance their missions in an equitable and transparent way.

I want to start by acknowledging that the decision to cancel this event has negatively impacted and hurt members of SOGI and the broader NCBA community.

This impact is real, has lasting effects, and acknowledging that is critical for our ability to come together.

As an individual, I am intimately familiar with the lack of inclusion, intentional discrimination, and fear-based decision making that exists around us in society and work hard to make sure that our Association centers principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the way we operate.

It is critical that we remind ourselves that we have a shared goal to be stewards of the NCBA’s mission and to ensure our continued ability to advocate on behalf of all of our members, and ultimately the people we serve.

The North Carolina Bar Association is made stronger by our diverse membership. The unique perspectives and lived experiences of each of our members are invaluable assets to our mission of furthering the practice of law and legal services in our state.

With regards to a path forward, let me say that over the past few weeks, we have held space to hear from SOGI.

We share a deep commitment to ensuring that the NCBA is an inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our members, and we have valued SOGI’s past input to leadership and to the Board and into our path forward.

The work of leadership and the Board is far from complete.

We are committed to ongoing engagement with SOGI and all of our sections, divisions, and committees to explore meaningful recommendations to deepen the Association’s approach to inclusion.

Over the past weeks, leadership has taken steps to begin planning a task force to develop recommendations on policies and processes to avoid future hurtful scenarios as this, and that will rebuild trust and ensure fairness and equity.

During yesterday’s Board of Governor’s meeting, NCBA Leadership unveiled a preliminary outline of this Task Force, which the Board has agreed that I can share, as follows:

  • There will be 2 Past Presidents – one of whom will be the Chair. Past President LeAnn Neese Brown has agreed to be the Task Force Chair.

LeAnn’s service has included the following:

    • NCBA Board of Governors from 2010-2013 (board member) and 2018- 2021 (officer).
    • She’s a past chair of the Audit & Finance Committee, Membership Committee, CLE Committee, Zoning, Planning and Land Use Section, Dispute Resolution Section, and Antitrust and Trade Regulation Section, and a past co-chair of the Legislative Advisory Committee.
    • LeAnn currently chairs the Talent Development Committee.

With this background, LeAnn has a unique understanding of running both Committees and Sections; and knows many of the challenges facing both groups. Her Talent Development Committee experience also brings into account the challenges facing NCBA staff as well. Her vantage point is both wide and deep.

In addition to 2 Past Presidents, the second to be named at a later date, the Task Force will also be made up of:

  • 2 NCBA Board Members
  • The Chair of the Legislative Advisory Committee
  • From our affinity Committees, at least one person from each: SOGI, MIP, and WIP
  • One person each from two of our large sections.
  • One person each from two of our medium-size sections.
  • One person each from two of our smaller sections.
  • One person from either the Membership, CLE or Annual Meeting Committee.
  • At the Chair’s discretion: Two at-large members from the general NCBA membership.
  • Divisions – One person each.
    • The Divisions, Committees and Sections will be provided general criteria to help them make recommendations. Examples include: diversity, such as differences in perspectives and experiences and past leadership.
    • A formal “Charge” will be developed for the Task Force.
    • An aggressive, yet realistic, timeframe will be established for an initial status report plus for future check-ins and a final report.
    • Such a big Task Force will enable robust staffed subcommittees which will have enough people to do the work.
    • It will all be done in a transparent manner.
  • NCBA Staff Representation from the following areas: Diversity & Inclusion; Communities; CLE; Membership; and Governmental Affairs.
  • NCBA Leadership: President, President Elect and Immediate Past President.

This Task Force will work diligently to put forward recommendations that will have a lasting and meaningful impact.

So, as you can discern, this Task Force will include a diverse cross section of members.

Also during yesterday’s Board of Governors meeting, leadership set forth an outline to begin the work necessary to eventually bring forth a report, akin to the Report on Systemic Racism that we will hear more about today, to try and capture the concerns raised by SOGI in their Resolutions and which looks at the experience of the LGBTQ+ community in the legal profession and in the NCBA. Obviously, such an endeavor will take time to properly scope and plan; but this Association is committed to beginning that important work. In particular, we will begin considering the options and framework for such a process.

  • Key questions for this process include:
    • How best to tackle this report?
    • What needs to be considered?
    • What resources do we already have?
    • What resources need to be acquired?
    • What external third party is best suited to help?

A Report will help bridge understandings.

For both the Task Force and the report, leadership will work with SOGI in thinking about the depth/breadth of each to help ensure each is properly framed.

Lastly, leadership also informed the Board yesterday that certain items in the SOGI Resolutions that relate to Governance must be referred to the Governance Committee for review, discussion and consideration. That process will begin during the new Bar Year.

I would like to personally thank the Board members for very thoughtful and contemplative discussion and concurrence on these next steps.

The Board has a deep love for our organization and all of our members.

So, as we end this Bar Year and look forward to the next, please know that we are committed to everyone’s success in the Association.

Our “Power of Association” is real and includes everyone.

With that, let’s begin our slate of informative programming; and I now welcome Rob Harrington to the podium.