Duke Law Celebrates “Legacy of Leadership”

Duke Law graduates to lead the NCBA include, from left, Judge Allyson Duncan, Charles Becton, Caryn McNeill, Charles Burgin, John Wester and Gray Wilson.

In conjunction with the recent installation of Caryn Coppedge McNeill as president of the North Carolina Bar Association, the Duke University School of Law paid homage to 13 of her predecessors who also earned their law degrees at Duke. Assisting in this endeavor, the NCBA Communications Department compiled the following snapshots of the women and men comprising the law school’s “Legacy of Leadership” at the NCBA, which was celebrated during the law school reunions at the recent Annual Meeting.

Robert F. “Bob” Baker (L’61) of Durham served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1982-83. During his term he took special pains to inform the entire membership of every aspect of the organization, treating each committee, section, division and department with his trademark respect and humility that served as a hallmark of his career as an attorney, mediator and arbitrator. Baker was also ahead of his time, broaching the controversial subject of judicial performance evaluation through his appointment of a Judicial Evaluation Study Committee. It took three decades for such a program to come to fruition, a testament to Baker’s foresight and his willingness to tackle tough topics head on. He has also devoted significant attention to worthy causes throughout his life, providing volunteer leadership to the IOLTA Board of Directors and many other organizations, including the American College of Trial Lawyers, where he is a Fellow and former state chair.

John Quincy Beard (T’56, L’60) of Raleigh served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1986-87. His term was marked by a commitment to professionalism, continuing legal education, minority participation in bar activities, the endowment, and strengthening the presence of the legal profession in the General Assembly. Beard’s legacy endures to this day in his commitment to providing liability insurance to the association’s members. A decade before he became president of the NCBA, Beard chaired the Committee on Group Insurance and joined then-Executive Director Bill Storey in leading the fundraising effort to establish Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina in 1977. He served as Lawyers Mutual’s first president, serving part-time during this period, and later served in a full-time capacity from October 1993 until his retirement in December 2001. Beard participated in the management of Lawyers Mutual throughout his career, also serving as chairman of the board.

Charles L. Becton (L’69) of Durham served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 2008-09, the first African-American man to serve in this capacity. He devoted his year as president to the areas of education, service and professionalism, and encouraged the NCBA’s sections and divisions to formulate injustice initiatives that would ensure fair and equal treatment of all citizens. Membership responded in overwhelming fashion with a myriad of projects and programs, including Wills for Heroes which provided, and continues to provide, free estate planning documents for first responders, and the North Carolina Legal Feeding Frenzy that subsequently aligned itself with the Office of the N.C. Attorney General and N.C. Feeding America Food Banks. Serving as he did during the Recession of 2008, Becton took the bold step of prevailing upon the Board of Governors to award a one-time unrestricted gift of $100,000 to Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Janet Ward Black (L’85) of Greensboro served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 2007-08. She initiated the 4ALL Statewide Service Day that recently marked its 10th anniversary. On the first Friday of every March, lawyers from across the state, totaling upwards of 500, volunteer at call centers and provide free legal information to N.C. citizens. Approximately 10,000 calls are fielded annually. The event was established to raise interest in the critical need for pro bono civil legal assistance in North Carolina, a cause that she continues to support vigorously. Black convened the first Summit on Civil Access to Justice in North Carolina during her term, bringing key of stakeholders in North Carolina’s judicial system, including six members of the state Supreme Court, together to address the unmet legal needs of North Carolina’s poorest citizens. Yet another highlight of her presidency was a special event, “The Changing Face of Justice: A View from the Bench,” which brought Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to North Carolina to keynote a two-day program hosted by the NCBA’s Women in the Profession Committee.

Charles E. Burgin (L’64) of Marion served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1993-94. During his term the NCBA directed its attention to administration of justice issues, the education and training of lawyers, and the state of affairs between the public and the legal profession. He assessed that the civil and criminal justice systems were at the crisis stage and redirected the Administration of Justice Committee into task force status to study and recommend improvements to the judicial system. Burgin convened a conclave of law school representatives, members of the judiciary and practicing attorneys for the purpose of ensuring that future students of the law knew what was in store for them when they transitioned into the practice of law. He was also a staunch advocate for public service and pro bono activity, serving as both a participant and spokesman for the Pro Bono Project.

Judge Allyson K. Duncan (L’75) served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 2003-04, the first African-American to hold that distinction. Her year as president was marked by another historic event when, by a vote of 93-0, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become the first African-American woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Duncan’s tenure as president featured three significant events: the 50th anniversary of the NCBA Young Lawyers Division; the Celebration Honoring the First One Hundred Women Attorneys in North Carolina, which included the release of a similarly titled book and remarks by Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund; and the NCBA’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In a year in which bar associations across the country joined the ABA in commemorating Brown, the NCBA’s extensive two-day program was hailed as one of the nation’s best.

J. Mack Holland Jr. (L’37; deceased) of Gastonia served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1970-71. It was during his term as president that, in response to a request from the governor, he established the North Carolina Penal Study Committee to improve the prison system in North Carolina. The committee issued its interim report in March 1971 and was asked to continue its good work by Gov. Scott. Holland also took the groundbreaking step of appointing a committee to “undertake a study to determine the feasibility of making available to the North Carolina legal profession facilities for computerized legal research, a program this is now being successfully operated by the Ohio Bar Association, one that I have seen demonstrated and personally used with success to obtain citations with twenty minutes on a legal question that had taken me hours to research.” History has clearly affirmed his vision.

James B. Maxwell (L’66) of Durham served as president in 2000-01. During his term he stressed professionalism, diversity and public service at every turn. He encouraged every NCBA section, division and committee to develop a public service or pro bono project. On this subject, Maxwell led by example throughout his career and was recognized nationally for his volunteer involvement in high school athletics. A 2010 inductee into the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame, Maxwell served as the NCHSAA’s legal counsel for many years and coached the Jordan High School boys’ and girls’ swim teams for 29 years, earning five state championships. In addition to leading the NCBA, he served as president of the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers and as board chair of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

James M. Poyner (L’40; deceased) served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1967-68. During his tenure as president, Poyner placed precedence on two fledgling programs: the establishment of a committee on “Retirement Plans” and a study of state law firm partnerships. Perhaps Poyner’s most enduring legacy is his relationship with the construction and funding of the NCBA’s first bar center. In 1960 he chaired the steering committee that spearheaded construction of the bar center and was serving on the NCBA Board of Governors when it was dedicated on Oct. 26, 1962. Then, as he assumed office, his first act as president was burning the mortgage and declaring the first N.C. Bar Center as debt-free. Poyner also encouraged NCBA members to take an active role in the recruitment and support of qualified candidates who would fill 73 new District Court judgeships that were being contested in 1968.

Clarence W. “Ace” Walker Jr. (T’53, L’55) of Charlotte served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1978-79. Walker played a substantial role in the formation of NCBA Sections, which bring together legal professionals from specific practice areas to focus on their shared issues and initiatives. Borrowing from his experience with the American Bar Association, Walker served on a committee that was tasked with “bringing the NCBA into the 20th century,” which included the implementation of the highly successful sections program shortly after his term as president ended. Walker was also prominent in the success of Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company, which was in its infancy when his term began. He would serve on the Lawyers Mutual Board of Directors for 25 years and later served on the ABA Board of Governors.

John R. Wester (L’72) of Charlotte served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 2009-10. Throughout his term and beyond, Wester has advocated tirelessly for merit selection and the appointment of judges and justices, adequate funding for the courts and fair compensation of its judges. To that end, he urged the NCBA to maintain its voice in the General Assembly and its “support of injustice initiatives and expanded funding for Legal Aid of North Carolina and other legal services providers.” When the North Carolina State Bar adopted Rule 6.1, Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service, he applauded the decision and tasked the appropriate committee to guide the NCBA’s efforts in this noble cause. Wester also took special care to maintain existing programs that served the greater good of North Carolina, including the North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Project (NC LEAP), Law-Related Education and the Judicial Performance Evaluation program.

G. Gray Wilson (L’76) of Winston-Salem served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 2004-05. “Target the youth,” he proclaimed at the annual meeting, concurring with the ABA that such a strategy was the best way to improve the image of the legal profession. Under his watch, the NCBA instituted the Justice Teaching Institute to introduce high school teachers to the justice system and encouraged N.C. law schools to increase their emphasis on ethics training programs. The NCBA also opposed the mandatory $50 public campaign financing assessment on N.C. attorneys, Wilson stated, because it “unfairly taxes the legal profession to disproportionately fund a program that benefits everyone in this state.” Construction of the Liberty Garden at the N.C. Bar Center and organization of the NCBA’s international attorney exchange program transpired throughout his term and came to fruition the following year. Wilson currently serves as vice president of the N.C. State Bar and, pending his election as president-elect, will serve as president in 2018-19.

William F. “Bill” Womble (T’37, L’39; deceased) of Winston-Salem served as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1966-67. It was under his leadership that the NCBA integrated its membership, a historic step brought about in part by the decision of the Duke Law School faculty to discontinue their support of the NCBA and its continuing legal education program until “all applicants are accepted for membership … without discrimination based on race.” “My sole desire,” Womble wrote to the membership, “is that we shall do that which is in the best interest of the Association, particularly as we look to the future and anticipate the growth and influence of which the Association is capable. I am confident that the Board of Governors will proceed, in good faith, to achieve that objective.” In addition to ushering the NCBA through this important transition, Womble also led the campaign that raised more than $1.5 million to establish the NCBA Foundation Endowment in 1987.

Researched and written by Elizabeth Hodges and Russell Rawlings