2020 Leadership Academy: Leadership in Times of Transition

Editor’s Note: In 2020, the NCBA Leadership Academy celebrates its tenth year as a transformative program for leaders in the field. During the third week of March, when COVID-19 closures were in full effect, nine members of the 2020 Leadership Academy offered their time by giving phone interviews on the topic of leadership in a time of change. Read ahead to hear their thoughts on the value of being present, demonstrating authenticity, going on the journey with others, and serving as advocates for others. As leaders in the profession who are honing their abilities, they are making a significant difference in their practices and communities.

On March 6, when the 2020 Leadership Academy convened for its first meeting at the N.C. Bar Center, the participants did not yet know it would likely be their only in-person meeting this spring.

Not even a week after the Academy’s first meeting, the United States was faced with managing and limiting the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the country. On March 10, Governor Roy Cooper issued a State of Emergency in North Carolina, the state experienced school and work closures in order to minimize the spread of the virus, and schools, businesses, and groups faced many difficulties.

In the coming weeks, the Leadership Academy members would encounter new challenges: attendees in small, large, and solo firms began to figure out how to work from home while serving clients who were faced with so much unexpected change. These members were prompted to demonstrate leadership both in their work and their lives at home, despite the shifts taking place all around them.

For the 2020 Leadership Academy members, the occasion to meet in-person that first weekend was an even more meaningful opportunity than they first imagined. Following the government-issued stay-at-home order, meeting face-to-face was no longer possible. Although the young lawyers who met together on March 6 did not know what changes stood in the distance, the conversations they had and connections they made would inspire them to think about what leadership looks like in times of change and to live in light of these truths.


To Create Positive Change, Be Present

Betsy Gold

Betsy Gold, Moore and Alphin, PLLC, Durham

Betsy Gold, a Jacksonville, Florida, native, is a senior attorney at Moore and Alphin, PLLC in Durham. She has practiced for nine years. She also is a mom of two. For Betsy, the kind of leadership needed most in our changing times involves both compassion and courage. She describes a leader as “someone who is empathetic and a good listener. Someone who is confident and portrays boldness. Even when they are not feeling confidence, a leader takes steps forward anyway. A good listener relates to others and is able to listen to and understand how others’ individual experiences fit within larger goals.”

Regarding listening and leading well, two challenges we face today make it difficult to be present. Betsy identifies these two obstacles: distractions and expectations from others. To be good listeners, we must focus on each other rather than our devices. Showing thoughtfulness for others by minimizing distractions can help us to become better leaders. “A good leader respects others’ time. Technology is not needed 24 hours per day. We can’t ignore the benefits of technology, or what it provides to our clients, but it’s important to think about what will be best in the moment.”

Many distractions present themselves on a daily basis. Sometimes these can occur when others expect us to be or act a certain way, which can pose difficulties for leaders. Betsy specifically mentions the pressure to meet these expectations.

“In our modern world, there are many challenges that we face. Especially as women, we are expected to do it all: we are expected to perform, as well as to be nice and friendly. Women can do well in both areas, at home and at work, but we must find a balance between the two,” she says.

“Sometimes,” she continues, “we must place limitations upon ourselves to find that balance. Often, after putting the kids to bed, I stay up afterwards to get work done.” Betsy finds that in our world, we are becoming more flexible with these expectations.

Ramona McGee

Ramona McGee, Southern Environmental Law Center, Chapel Hill

Another member of the Leadership Academy, Ramona McGee, describes the process of reflection as central to what she is learning. An attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, Ramona heard about the Leadership Academy from two of her colleagues. After working for four years and having a daughter in 2018, she was driven to think about how she might grow as a leader in her community while learning to prioritize her child and her work. Professionally and personally, it was the right time for her to take this step.

After only the first Leadership Academy session, she found herself thinking in new ways about what it means to be a leader, particularly during times of transition. “We discussed the key difference between living by default, or being reactionary, versus being conscious and proactive.” Ramona wants to learn how to exercise this mindset, which she says can help to mitigate fear during times of change.

“Over the past couple of months, it feels like too much has been changing, and mostly in the scary territory. A lot of the change has been out of our control, which creates fear and anxiety. But we all can choose how we respond to those changing circumstances by making conscious choices about how we change our own lives.”

After reading Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman, a book that the Academy members discussed on March 6, she was inspired to start asking herself how she wants to be remembered. She recalls guest speaker Joe Cheshire in the Friday luncheon session, who remarked, “What do you want people to say about you?” Reflecting on Cheshire’s words, Ramona says, “Thinking about how others will remember us was a thought-provoking exercise, because it forces individuals to think about the kind of leader you are, as well as what you have done.” Remarking on the session, she says, “I already feel like I’ve had some serious revelations about myself and my leadership style. In particular, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of being authentic in all aspects of my life—including acknowledging, and at times, embracing vulnerability.” This kind of awareness of ourselves and others allows us to create the positive change we need in order to become who we hope to be.

When asked what quality is most needed in leadership today, Ramona says, “Being present. Often, we are distracted. We are inundated with needs from others, whether that may be the need of a client or the interruption of a day care call. We can’t escape—we need to know how to prioritize by unplugging, turning from the screen, and communicating in person.” Like Betsy, Ramona considers distraction to be one of the greatest enemies to leading well. In particular, the mode of communication really matters: “So much can be lost in sending a text or an email. Tone of voice and person-to-person interaction is really important.”

Serving others is another important part of leadership. As a child, Ramona often volunteered alongside her mom, and Ramona continues to prioritize helping others in her position at the Southern Environmental Law Center. She leads the intern program at the Law Center, where between 8-10 law students work during the summer. “I want to give them the most helpful advice that I can,” she says. As part of her role, she also speaks at career fairs and law school classes, which she enjoys tremendously. Her own mentors have taken time to help her during law school, and she wants to pay it forward.

“I have been proactively thinking about and reflecting on being a leader. The investment in time will pay dividends in helping to make me more efficient to lead different teams.” She continues, remarking on how she hopes to grow through her work in the Academy: “I hope to change how I approach the different demands and responsibilities in my life, and in particular, how I respond to change or the unexpected. I want to be able to better serve—professionally, within my family, and in my community. I think being able to do that means being clear with myself about my priorities and acting intentionally from there.”


To Lead Well, Be Authentic

Jessica Marie Major

Jessica Marie Major, Solo Practitioner, Durham

Jessica Marie Major, a solo practitioner, works in family law and established her practice in Durham. After 5 years of leading her own firm, she began thinking about what was next for her. She decided to apply to the Leadership Academy. The first day of the Academy was also her birthday. “Hearing Charles Becton talk about the purpose of life and where you go from here on my birthday—it was special.”

A pivotal moment for her during the first weekend was talking with others about authenticity. Jessica says, “You must be authentically you.” Thinking about the power of authenticity was freeing; she and her fellow members discussed how often, when we show up, we put on masks to direct the narrative.

Jessica recalls a moment in law school where she was taught how to control what she allowed others to see. “There was a day that we entered the classroom, and it was filled with tissue boxes. You were asked about a tough period in your life, and you cry, and break that down, and learn to take the emotions out.” Then, she and her colleagues learned how to use that process in their practice.

“Showing up as my authentic self was not something that I thought of,” she said. Jessica always wanted to be a lawyer—specifically, a prosecutor—and she practiced at a defense firm prior to her solo career.

What are the most important qualities in a leader? “Compassion,” she says.

“The world is hurting everywhere, and leaders who understand care about others.”

Thinking about others is important, and so is thinking ahead. “A good leader also shows preparedness. If leadership is not necessarily natural, you can grow and progress. A leader is willing to work at it.” Excellent leaders bring together humility and instill strength in others. Jessica reflects on a moving scene from “The King’s Speech,” when the future king, played by Colin Firth, pulls together his resolve to speak clearly, despite struggling with a speech impediment. “In that moment, he communicates to bring confidence to the people.”

In addition to compassion and humility, hard work is necessary. Jessica thinks back to the tragic loss of a basketball legend who exemplified this value. “We are still mourning Kobe Bryant. We can look at what it took for him to get there—he had a rigorous workout schedule and was serious to the end about his training.” It is this kind of work ethic that is needed today.

As Jessica looks ahead, she anticipates her next steps. “I am open to go where I am called next.”

Tyler Russell

Tyler Russell, Ward and Smith, P.A., Raleigh

Tyler Russell, who practices at Ward and Smith, P.A. in Raleigh, has been a lawyer for 10 years. More recently, he has built a practice area that didn’t exist. The 2018 Farm Bill opened up a new world of regulatory issues for individuals and businesses, and over the past two years, Tyler has established an area of practice in hemp and cannabinoids. In doing so, he learned firsthand the effort needed to create a practice area. “When you build your own practice area, you are responsible for the development, sales, and marketing support, as well as building the brand and profile. You train people internally. It can be challenging and stretch you thin. The hope is that you continue to build success.”

The opportunity to have a career in which variety is present is one factor that drew him to this profession. “Every day, something is different.” Perhaps this makes lawyers uniquely gifted for moments such as these. In times of change, leaders must rise to the challenge. To succeed in seasons of transition, leaders must be both strong and willing to modify their methods. Tyler says, “We live in a world of rapid change. And to be effective, leaders must be able to manage it. But change is hard for us all. It makes us feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Leaders must be able to guide others toward their organizational goals through communication and motivation. And they must ensure their employees are positioned to be able to use and maximize their talents and commitment within the organization. But there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Strategies and approaches must change and adapt to address the current trends and difficulties faced by an organization.”

As he continues, he mentions the power of authenticity.

“You have to have some vulnerability a leader, which opens up trust. That trust is something necessary as you guide people and help them to adapt.”

Establishing this kind of trust enables a leader to fulfill their goals of helping everyone to move forward in one direction. “A leader needs to be able to have a clear vision—to communicate pathways to get there. They help everyone to get on the same page. A leader is a great communicator. Where interpersonal communication can be lacking, guidance from leaders is needed.”

To lead with excellence, learning and connecting with others is crucial, and he hopes to progress as a leader through his work in the Leadership Academy. “We are never done growing or progressing. The way to grow is to engage with others and to learn.” Tyler defines a leader as someone who is able and willing to listen to people and their concerns. “I recently read a quote from Milton Friedman that read, ‘The more people are anchored in communities where they feel connected, protected and respected, the more people are ready to reach out and experiment. The less they feel connected, protected and respected, the more they’ll want to build walls to protect themselves from change.’ This rang true to me. Through my Leadership Academy experience, I hope I can grow my ability to foster trust, mutual respect, and inclusiveness as a leader. Without those foundational qualities, it is difficult to lead others and gain the consensus necessary to implement true changes and reforms, large or small, within an organization.”

To be able to create change, one must be honest about where growth needs to occur. Through the Academy, he is learning about his strengths and weaknesses. “I have more awareness about the need to recognize and realize my weaknesses. We must be willing to change ourselves.” For Tyler, experience is the best way to learn, and he looks forward to learning more with his fellow members.


In Times of Change, Bring Others Together

Patrick Spaugh

Patrick Spaugh, Womble Bond Dickinson, Charlotte

Patrick Spaugh, who litigates complex business disputes for Womble Bond Dickinson in Charlotte, first heard about the Leadership Academy during his senior year of undergrad. As part of an internship, he attended the 4ALL service day. He remembers seeing the bright-eyed attorneys in suits as they volunteered their time to serve their community. Patrick says, “I looked at them and said, ‘That will be me one day.’” Two of Patrick’s friends, Edward Griggs and Jasmine Pitt, also took part in the Leadership Academy. They shared with him how the Academy gave them opportunities to practice working within a team and pausing and evaluating before moving forward. Patrick says, “As a lawyer, we often work toward the next brief, the next meeting and the like, rather than taking an opportunity to reflect before taking the next step.”

He defines a leader as someone who knows what motivates and inspires others—someone who sees the potential in individuals and helps them to realize it. “I can’t help but bring together the idea of a leader with the role of a coach.

Different people are motivated in different ways. Good coaches know what works best for each individual, and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is a difference between offering support versus challenging someone.

For the really successful coaches, understanding this idea is important.” He relates the idea of coaching to leading well. “The best leaders are able to identify the strengths of individuals, help those individuals maximize those strengths, and then put those strengths to use in a team setting to achieve a common goal.”

As the world, nation, and state faces a pandemic, working with one another is needed now more than ever. Patrick hopes our society will continue to focus on what brings us together. “Our communities are increasingly diverse, but that doesn’t mean we are all different from each other. We all desire friendship, stability, a great place to live, good health and education, and we need leaders who focus on these commonalities. We are stronger that way.” Patrick turns his thoughts to global change: “How can countries with diverse and sometimes divergent cultures, backgrounds, and interests set aside those differences to work toward common interests? It does not require a loss of identity, which people so often conflate with change. Growth is therefore a better fit.” The COVID-19 pandemic offers us the chance to come together in a new way. “While the current pandemic is tragic at all levels, times of crisis may provide the greatest opportunity for growth because they prompt serious self-evaluation globally, politically, and internally. Thus, I am hopeful that when later generations read about COVID-19 in their history books, one of the key takeaways will be growth as a result of individuals, communities, and countries synchronizing their strengths not only to defeat the pandemic, but also to prevent future pandemics and tackle other pressing issues.”

Patrick observes how we can be driven apart through online communication. “In the online community, our thoughts can be quickly broadcast to millions. We don’t fully appreciate the impact that those thoughts have. We need to pause, but often, this pause can get lost, because there is an urge to have the fastest and most biting reaction, rather than to say something that is unifying.”

He observes how our responses are beginning to change in light of the pandemic. “Attorneys in the past week have put aside gamesmanship and offered more understanding in order to show there is nothing more important than personal health. We are all working together.”

He is one of the younger members, and during his first weekend, he enjoyed the open and accepting atmosphere, which challenged him to consider areas in which he hopes to grow. A particular exercise helped participants to learn about different leadership styles. “Law school does not have leadership courses. While it is not a primary focus in law school, working with a team is important. In the community and tradition, lawyers are leaders.” Through the first meeting, he learned about how he works within a team. “A lot of time we can think about our strengths, but we must face our weaknesses to better utilize them. This weekend helped me to see what those weaknesses were.”

Patrick looks forward to deepening the friendships he has made in the program and learning from other members in future meetings.

Leann Walsh

Leann Walsh, K&L Gates, Cary

Leann Walsh, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, now practices in Cary at K&L Gates. Good leadership requires leading by example. How does one model leadership? “Through going on the journey with others,” she explains. “I ask myself, ‘How can I become the boss I have always wanted to have? How do I go on the journey with people?’ A role model should be in the trenches with others.” She points out this is a part of the profession that is often overlooked. “While being a lawyer can seem glamorous, and there are certain aspects to the job that are, thriving in this profession involves really hard work and being part of a team.”

Leann highlights a favorite quotation. “A boss says ‘go,’ while a leader says ‘let’s go.’” The difference between the two has been on her mind since she was recently promoted to partner at her firm.

This perspective on leadership was also inspired by her mentors in Boston, where she first became a lawyer. The senior lawyers in the firm were role models who practiced the kind of leadership they professed. “They encouraged us to be passionate about learning the law, to keep up with the law as we maintained that passion, and to look for updates to the law. And they actually did that.” In these instrumental years, she and her colleagues diligently trained to stay up on the law. “We were rapidly trying to become experts together,” she remembers. This camaraderie helped her to work as part of a team in order to accomplish their goals.

For Leann, her experiences laid the foundation for her present drive to become a leader by example. During the first Leadership Academy session, Leann spent time thinking about being authentic, as well as combatting imposter syndrome. “It’s common to feel like you haven’t earned it.” She suggests that a core quality of a leader is someone who notices and brings out others’ strengths.

“A leader is someone who is intentional—someone who takes time to remind people and make them aware of the great job they are doing.”

She recalls being promoted to partner: her colleagues responded with “well-earned” and “well-deserved.” These words help to remind others of their hard work and effort. “When good things happen to people, it’s nice to remember to say this to others. A leader is someone who thanks people and is encouraging to people. We should remind and make people aware of the great job they are doing.”

Part of the hard work involves reflecting on what kind of a leader you are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are, she says. “A good leader is sensitive to how others might feel—sensitive to others’ emotions. Someone who recognizes what is happening. It is important to be mindful of people and cultivate an awareness of feelings and be intentional. This helps to avoid times when one’s values are not aligned with those of someone else.”

Leadership takes drive and determination, as well as sensitivity to others, and her experience in the Leadership Academy has helped her to think about her leadership style. “We should be able to be our natural selves in the workplace.” For Leann, a leader should talk to clients as friends, and resist the temptation to get caught up in the urgent.

One way we can demonstrate sensitivity to others is by thinking about intergenerational change. “Millennials and people in their 70s have different technological experiences. How do we build a team when we are all from different generations? It takes practice, and we need to be intentional about our method of communication. Whereas some people need a more straightforward communication style, others prefer a conversational and informal tone. It’s important to stay true to who you are and to think about your audience.”

Leann is thankful for the opportunity for self-reflection and to get to know her fellow members in the upcoming weeks.

Nate Pencook

Nate Pencook, Shanahan Law Group, Raleigh

Leadership means going on the journey with others, and a successful journey takes commitment to core values, personal goals, and the community. Nate Pencook of Shanahan Law Group in Raleigh became interested in the Academy after hearing about the program from his friend, Jeff Kelly.

Nate, who litigates complex business disputes, explains how leading well is important in his day-to-day practice. “My work involves teams of people. When picturing a litigator, people often think of the lead or trial attorney, but that attorney is part of a team. It takes good leadership to succeed. Our clients are looking to us for leadership.” Providing clear direction to clients and support to colleagues is crucial for his role, and Nate looks forward to the personal growth he will experience as he participates in the program. Taking time to become more aware of his strengths and weaknesses will help him in future roles.

This willingness to develop self-awareness and grow helps leaders as they anticipate change on the horizon. Nate explains the value of thinking about contingencies and planning the best possible response. “Excellent leadership is especially important now. We are in a time of unprecedented opportunities and unprecedented risks.” He continues, “People who are intuitive see the risks and opportunities. Leaders at all levels need to be prepared to identify and address the challenges in order to capitalize on the opportunities and overcome challenges. It takes wisdom, discernment, good judgment, and determination. A leader should be aware of an issue but hope that it doesn’t come. As leaders see potential challenges, they have foresight to act on those issues.”

Prudence paired with insight enables leaders to make good decisions. But in planning ahead, leaders cannot lose sight of the people who will be impacted. Leaders are not separate from others who are impacted by their decisions. Looking to the horizon is not enough; leaders must both look forward and move forward with others. This is accomplished with others and for their good.

Nate describes, “Service is central to leadership. Some individuals see it as a way to direct people to do things. There is leadership, and there is effective leadership. It is an equal playing field. Leaders should serve alongside the team, rather than having the team serve them.”

One challenge to leading well is taking time to pause and reflect. After the first few meetings, he has started to incorporate this concept from the program in his workday. “I am reflecting on how things have gone throughout the day. In the legal field, time is the most valuable resource. Lawyers spend time researching, polishing briefs, and practicing arguments. Everyone struggles with finding balance, but it leads to better outcomes.” Reflection is useful in finding balance. He says, “In the ebbs and flows, we have to accept that things are ebbing.”

Thinking about the COVID-19 crisis, Nate weighs in on how it will impact others. He considers the effect it will have on our relationships. “We are in a global experiment of working from home. We are very social creatures, so we will see how this will impact social interactions. Our economy is related to our structures of being social creatures.”

Through his experience in the Academy so far, he has learned more about his strengths and weaknesses. Seeing these characteristics written down helps him to think about how he responds in different situations and has made an impact on his team at work. “During this time, we are growing more connected and finding solidarity in that we are all participating and learning about ourselves with vulnerability. Lawyers are not supposed to show vulnerability. There is strength in being vulnerable, but that vulnerability must be shown at the right time.”

He anticipates all that he will discover through his experience in the program. “The biggest change I hope to experience is within myself—learning more about myself in order to better serve my community, workplace, clients, and family. By gaining a better understanding of my strengths and shortcomings as a leader, I will be able to maximize my impact with my teams and better equipped to affect external change.” Nate considers how his present experiences will play a role in his future plans: he hopes to run for office one day.


In Changing Times, Advocate for Others

Aviance Brown

Aviance Brown, Solo Practitioner, Raleigh

Aviance Brown, a criminal defense attorney, started her own solo practice in Raleigh and hopes to carve a path as a leader in her community. This goal led her to apply to the Academy. “I have been asking myself, ‘Where do I fit in the structure of the leadership of North Carolina legal system?’” She hopes to continue growing in her personal journey by deepening her self-awareness and connecting with others in the program.

Creating her own firm was the right choice for her, because she values individualism. Her solo practice allows her to control her schedule while also making it possible for her to use a sliding scale based on clients’ needs and abilities. For Aviance, remaining true to one’s values is a core quality of a leader. She explains, “A leader is someone who serves others, and who is diligent in service by showing what to do. They lead with integrity and have core values and ethics. A leader sticks to those values on a daily basis.”

In order to demonstrate these principles, a leader must recognize the values they hold dear, and the Leadership Academy has empowered her to gain a greater sense of self. After the first weekend’s activities, which involved introspective thinking, she has been reflecting on bringing together her different strengths. “In my values and passions, I am high on the individualistic scales; freedom of thought is important. Both my altruism and economic scales are high, but I am trying to reconcile them.” She enjoys giving, serving and helping, and at the same time, as the first attorney in her family, long-term generational financial health is important to her.

Another key takeaway for her during the first weekend was a conversation about listening to respond versus listening to understand and to connect. She recalls a meaningful quotation: “Take the space you need, while also remembering that you must give space.” For leadership to thrive, it is significant to think and process while also offering a listening ear to others.

As someone who wants to be a leader in her community, Aviance pinpoints two problems she has observed, reading information too quickly without taking time to process it, and making incorrect assumptions, especially those based on gender. She discusses how our communication as a society is changing through our access to technology. “Social media use is connected to massive fear. We are constantly receiving information, and it is amazing how rapidly information can be read. But is it accurately processed?”

Another important change she hopes takes place is a decrease in sexism in the profession. She mentions a recent article in the North Carolina State Bar Journal, which discussed sexism in the courtroom, something she has personally experienced.

“Often in court, I am mistaken for the paralegal. As a woman and a black woman, I have been skipped in line. Now, women are using their voice to effectuate change in the community.

“Standing up for what is right in a difficult situation is a core quality of leadership. It’s important to speak up when something is wrong. Sometimes it requires us to ruffle some feathers in order to create positive change.”

Mentoring others is one way she plans to give back to the community. “I hope to mentor law students. As I am establishing myself, I want to pull up another woman, another young girl. I want future young women to use their voices.” As Aviance demonstrates, leaders offer support to others by advocating for them.

She has enjoyed meeting other young lawyers in the profession through the Academy. She met another solo practitioner who practices right down the street from her. As she anticipates the next meeting, which likely will be virtual, she looks forward to continuing to connect with others.

Whitney Young

Whitney Young, Solo Practitioner, Elizabeth City

Whitney Young, who also established her own firm, resides in Elizabeth City, where she is a family law attorney; she has practiced for four years. On her path to becoming a lawyer, Whitney experienced a season of transitions, spanning geographical, personal, and professional change. Prior to her law career, she worked as a music teacher for at-risk middle school students in Elizabeth City and Tennessee, where she became interested in pursuing law as a career. She wanted to be an advocate for others.

She was living and teaching in Tennessee, and she decided to transition into the legal field. After Whitney applied for law school, her husband, who was on active duty in the U.S. Army, learned he would be stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. They lived apart during her first year at Regent University Law School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where her in-laws also lived. She feels fortunate to have been close to family, but it was hard to be apart from her husband.

At first, she did not plan to specialize in family law, but several events confirmed it was the right direction for her. After she received an achievement award in family law and an internship in the same area, she began to pursue this area. Following law school, she moved back to Elizabeth City, where she founded her practice; she works in DSS litigation and child custody.

In her role, she offers emotional support as well as legal advice. “Cases in family law can stir up emotions,” she says, and she can relate to her clients because of her personal experiences. Her parents are divorced, and she has a stepdaughter. What is best for a family is crucial. Whitney says, “It is important to ask, ‘What is right for you right now?’ and when children are involved, ‘what is best for your child?’” She continues, “It can be possible to work towards reconciliation,” and she protects that right even if reconciliation does not happen. As a lawyer, Whitney has realized her goal of becoming an advocate for others.

For her, finding balance is one of the most important traits in leadership. She navigates balancing her clients’ needs as an advocate and a litigator, as well as managing many cases at once. Striking this balance is something she strives for both in and outside the courtroom. To achieve it, one must listen well and model patience. “Taking time to hear your clients’ concerns is important. Despite having a full case load, you need to take time to listen and give good instructions. Being patient with others, too, is another quality.” Leaders must also remember to stand firm in their resolve.

“We are in an unprecedented time with global change. You have to be an advocate for yourself.”

Whitney has enjoyed her experiences in the Leadership Academy. “Our group is diverse in terms of our skills, backgrounds, and life experiences.” To be able to connect with others and to hear from them in group discussions has made an impact on her. “It has been helpful to gain perspective and to take that back to your own practice. As a teacher, reflection was something I was familiar with. As a lawyer now, it is nice to carve out time and learn about yourself. It’s really powerful,” she says. “The results are learning more about your own strengths. We don’t focus enough on being leaders in our field or community. We are legal analysts and litigators, and many of us hope to be community leaders and politicians.”

The Academy offers members the opportunity to acquire skill sets to be community leaders. “My smaller community is going through change,” she mentions. She is particularly hopeful as she anticipates what is next for her community. Residents have begun to rally around the downtown area, and economic growth is happening within certain industries. She looks forward to watching the city continue to develop and hopes to see even more development and to make a difference in Elizabeth City.

2020 Leadership Academy

The NCBA Leadership Academy Class of 2020, front from left: Leann Walsh, Allison Garren, Meisha Evans, Jessica Marie Major, Doug Colvard and Patrick Spaugh. Second row: Andre Board, Ramona McGee, Aviance Brown, Claire Dickerhoff, Whitney Young and Anderson Shackelford. Back row: Nate Pencook, Gray Wilson, Matthew Lenora, Betsy Gold and Tyler Russell.

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

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of North Carolina Lawyer. Access a curated view of NC Lawyer or view the table of contents.