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Installation Address: President LeAnn Nease Brown

Installation Address: President LeAnn Nease Brown

LeAnn Nease Brown of Chapel Hill was installed as president of the North Carolina Bar Association on Saturday, June 22, at Biltmore in Asheville. She is the 125th president of the NCBA and also serves as president of the North Carolina Bar Foundation.

The swearing-in ceremony was conducted during the 121st NCBA Annual Meeting. Brown, a member/manager of Brown & Bunch, PLLC, succeeds Jacqueline D. Grant of Asheville.

The oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the N.C. Supreme Court. Brown’s husband and law partner, Gordon Brown, held the Bible as his wife was sworn in. Her children and grandchildren also joined her on rostrum.

Brown has served as chair of three NCBA Sections (Antitrust & Complex Business Disputes, Zoning, Planning & Land Use and Dispute Resolution), as chair of the Membership Committee and CLE Committee, and as co-chair of the Legislative Advisory Committee.

She served on the NCBA Board of Governors and the NCBF Board of Directors and the Audit and Finance Committee in 2010-13. As president-elect in 2018-19, she chaired the Audit and Finance Committee.

Brown is a three-time graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history in 1977, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from the School of Medical Allied Health Sciences in 1981, and a juris doctor from the UNC School of Law in 1984.

Following her installation and recognition of the outgoing president, Brown presented the following address:

In the rustic style of our mountain home, we have a small wood-framed quotation on our wall: “There are two things you give your children, one is roots and the other wings.”

I researched the origin of this pearl of wisdom – most sources credit Hodding Carter II circa 1953 – he gave credit to a “wise woman” who shared it with him.

Why do I share it with you tonight? Because the importance of providing roots and wings applies to every leadership role. Reaching full potential means knowing not only who you are and where you have been but envisioning what you aspire to be. The Association and Foundation require both roots and wings.

Our roots, grounded, since our founding in 1899, are our obligations as a profession to promote the rule of law, facilitate the administration of justice and elevate the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy that define us. And, as we continue to rely upon these “roots” – our shared values – we must provide the Association and Foundation opportunities to soar toward the future for our profession and our members.

The last few years have been a time of self-examination and growth for the Association and Foundation. Following a summit of former CLE chairs about bundling CLE and the need to house it in the Association to do so, Past-president Shelby Benton created the Foundation Funding Task Force headed by Nan Hannah.

After extensive analysis, the Association and Foundation Boards adopted the task force recommendations and authorized the sale of CLE to the Association. Shifting CLE gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate the Association’s delivery of CLE to our members and the Foundation’s ability to focus on its work as a charitable organization.

Wings.

With these new wings, Past-president Caryn McNeill created a Membership Value Task Force chaired by Patti Ramseur to analyze our dues model and our membership experience. Utilizing professional consultants, focus groups, detailed data analysis and sheer hard work, this Task Force evaluated our members’ wants and needs.

Under the leadership of President Jackie Grant, with the leadership and vision of our Executive Director, Jason Hensley, our Senior Director of Membership Experience, Erik Mazzone, our Director of Membership, Josh McIntyre, and our entire NCBA team, the result was a proposal for a new dues model unanimously adopted by the Board of Governors this spring.

Early results suggest great enthusiasm for the dues model we adopted. Registrations are already up year over year. Members lost are coming back. These new wings serve our members.

The NCBA must remain relevant and valuable to our profession, the public and our members. That means we must bring lawyers and legal professionals who never joined us or who left us back “home” to the NCBA community. We use the term community deliberately. Community is the feeling of fellowship and kinship with others from sharing common interests, and goals.

As I look out into this room, I see a community: friends and colleagues we know because of NCBA. Friends to trust. Friends to call upon in practice. Friends to call upon personally. Friends who share the desire to achieve NCBA’s mission “to encourage and support the highest standards of integrity, competence, civility and well-being of all members of the profession.”

Jason Hensley, Josh McIntyre, Membership Committee Chair Jake Epstein, Vice Chair Stephanie Crosby and I plan to take our message of the value of joining the NCBA community across the state. Help us spread the word to folks where you live and work – the NCBA is a place of being and belonging for all lawyers and legal professionals in North Carolina. As we look at our community, we see the depth and breadth of our work.

Our 31 Sections reflect practice areas from A to Z (really—in alpha order we start with Administrative Law and bring up the list with Zoning, Planning and Land Use). Our Divisions – Law School Division, Young Lawyers Division, Senior Lawyers Division and Paralegal Division – provide a home in our Association for so many of our members.

Our 30-plus committees and task forces reflect our shared affinities, our interests and our work.

Members work within and across Sections, Divisions and Committees as we pull together for common purposes that ignite our passions as professionals. We are a place to network, a place to continue our legal education, a place to develop practice management skills, a place to learn to lead, a place to work on legislation that promotes good government, a place to volunteer, a place to make a difference.

NCBA and NCBF reflect the tapestry of our professional goals and desires and provide the means for us to reach them. Our mission is reflected in the words “seeking liberty and justice,” … “to serve the public and the legal profession by promoting the administration of justice.”

We must continue to advance the rule of law and advocate for our system of justice through challenges and opportunities. That means we must respect our roots but also have the courage to embrace change and have the wisdom to judge how best to proceed; when to push and when to pave the way with patience and perseverance.

To that end, I have combined our committees focusing on the judicial system into one committee: the Judicial Independence and Integrity Committee. I am so pleased that Justice Robert Edmunds has agreed to chair this combined committee for 2019-20.

The Committee’s charge is to strive through educational and public information efforts to increase awareness across all stakeholders of the importance of an independent judiciary and the critical role of the judicial branch. This committee supports the integrity of the civil and criminal justice systems in North Carolina by monitoring and addressing important issues affecting the judicial branch such as funding, overcrowded court dockets, new courts, public defender offices and other court needs.

The mission to increase awareness is underscored by information Justice Robin Hudson shared with us about the public’s lack of understanding of the judiciary (only 30 percent can name the three branches of government). She also shared information about the National Association of Women Judges’ project to change that statistic.

The Informed Voters, Fair Judges Project, begun in 2012 in Florida, has moved the needle on public education. We can learn from it. This year, a subcommittee chaired by Past-president Hank Van Hoy began excellent work to bring a similar educational effort to North Carolina.

Our Civic Education Committee in the Foundation is working with the Judicial Independence and Integrity Committee on this project. We are coordinating through Past-president Alan Duncan with the Department of Public Instruction to help foster an educational effort here.

The Judicial Independence and Integrity Committee will continue the good work started this year to help educate the public about the importance of an independent judiciary and continue to monitor and address issues affecting our judiciary.

Our theme at this Annual Meeting has been Professional Wellness. We are in a profession of helping others but to help others, we must take care of ourselves. Last year, President Grant combined our committees focusing on Professional Wellness.

This year, Erna Womble will chair the committee with a focus on the well-being of legal professionals – from the beginning of career to winding down, to retired, not only on the stresses of the profession but on the joys of our life experiences: on living while lawyering. We have renamed the committee the Professional Vitality Committee because vitality is the state of being strong and active; it is the power of enduring, the capacity to live and develop.

We celebrate the humanity of our profession, not only as lawyers and legal professionals but as parents and grandparents, musicians and rock climbers, hikers and stamp collectors, painters and poets, dreamers and dancers. Vitality is having the strength in ourselves and our community to have full lives as lawyers. Advancing the well-being of our members and our profession gives us wings.

On the Foundation side, the CLE shift created the opportunity to rethink the Foundation’s identity and its approach to fundraising. Past-president Caryn McNeill created an Oversight Committee chaired by Bonnie Refinski-Knight to analyze the Foundation’s strengths and needs.

After much research and analysis, this all-star committee recommended a new Board structure, one that provides an opportunity to add Foundation board members who are well-positioned to further the development goals of the Foundation, carry out the Endowment’s grantmaking responsibilities, and provide program oversight and direction to the Foundation’s pro bono and public service programs while maintaining the strong relationship between the Association and Foundation.

Our Governance Committee, chaired by Alex Dale, considered these changes, presented them to the Board of Directors and these changes to the Foundation Bylaws were approved. Our Foundation Board for 2019-20 is the inaugural Board under the new model. With roots and wings the Foundation is poised to realize its mission of “uniting the talent and generosity of our profession to be a power of greater good for the people of North Carolina.”

Our pro bono work through programs like 4ALL, Lawyer on the Line, NC Free Legal Answers, Disaster Relief Services, and Civic Education impacts North Carolina in powerful ways. We seek liberty and justice by good work. We lead through our deeds. This work lifts not just the individuals served but the lawyers and paralegals providing the service. We are better for the opportunities we create that allow us to make a meaningful impact.
We are called upon to lead through opportunities and challenges.

I never expected the honor of serving as President of two organizations I hold close to my heart. My work with the Association and Foundation has been powered by passion for our profession, for what we can do together, for who we are as lawyers, and for what we can contribute to the betterment of our society.

One hundred and twenty-four presidents have preceded me. Each of us serves in the role for a short time. We each hope to be steady on the path, continuing the progress of the leaders and volunteers who preceded us and advancing us farther.

Sitting in that meeting of former CLE chairs, I could not have envisioned that our musings about embracing change would be a catalyst for a repositioning of our resources and our opportunities in such a powerful way.

Shelby led us to begin a critical rethinking of our structures, Kearns shepherded us through a year of change. Working with Jason and his vision to make the Association and Foundation stronger, Caryn embraced the opportunities presented and the hard work that taking advantage of real opportunity requires.

This year, Jackie led us to the culmination of this multi-year heavy lift.

The Association and the Foundation are poised to fly. Rooted in the principles that make us great, we are ready to grow these organizations to meet our professions’ needs for years to come. We are people with a passion for justice and for liberty. We seek the best in ourselves and the profession, and we seek to give back.

Let’s fly to new heights together.