Trial Briefs

Andy Banzhoff: My Journey Is Your Journey

August 23, 2023   |   Andy Banzhoff

The Things Trial Lawyers Do Make a Difference

NCAJ President Andy Banzhoff delivered these remarks at NCAJ Convention 2023 on June 17 in Charlotte after he received the presidential gavel from Past President Valerie Johnson.

I am a trial lawyer. The things I do make a difference.

I stand before you today as the president of NCAJ. Like all of you, I am a person with different facets — a husband, a father, a child and a friend. But I stand before you as NCAJ president for one reason — because I am a trial lawyer.

I primarily help people who are accused of a crime. I primarily defend them in courtrooms. I defend them against false accusation. I defend them against overcharging and overreaching by the state. I defend the Constitution by defending their constitutional rights.

This work is not easy. It demands long hours. It demands mastery of the law and the facts of a particular case. It demands standing up to opposing counsel. It sometimes demands standing up to judges who have a different idea of fairness.

But it always demands tenacity, determination and patience.Over the last 25 years, I have learned about the law. I have learned about the legal system. I have learned about the people who are a part of the system, and I have learned about the people who are in the system. But above all, I have learned how to try cases.

Learning the art of trial practice is a journey unto itself. I have been fortunate to watch masterful trial lawyers in action. I have also been fortunate to learn from masterful trial lawyers. As a member of this organization, I have learned from and met the best trial lawyers in this state. I learned from the teachings of many of the people in this organization who I consider my friends: Joe Cheshire, Gordon Widenhouse, Bill Powers, my partner Sean Devereux, among many others. If David Teddy were not a trial lawyer, he would have made a great coach because nobody gives a motivational presentation like him.

My Journey Is Your Journey

We are trial lawyers — the things we do for our clients make a difference.
It is important to remember that learning the art and craft of trial work is but a means to an end. The purpose and the goal of this undertaking is ultimately to help other people. It is to make a difference for our clients. It is to make a difference in the world.

The mechanics of a trial are fairly straightforward — presentation of evidence, attorney arguments, fact-finding and judgment. But it is the individual passion, cunning and artistry that each of us bring to our cases that make the difference.

There is a reason that it is called the “practice” of law. It takes time and experience to truly understand and identify the critical aspects of a persuasive argument. Or how to effectively cross-examine a key witness. Or how to reframe the bad facts in a case into good facts. We learn these skills from each other, but we hone them in the courtroom through repetition.

But if we are honest, we would acknowledge that our failures are our greatest teachers. As Lincoln said, “I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful.”

As we gain these experiences and hone these skills, we are better positioned to try our client’s case, and therefore, we are better positioned to make a difference on behalf of our clients.

Our Common Bonds

We are NCAJ — the things that we do together through NCAJ make a difference.

The members of this organization participate in legal proceedings in different venues, in different locales and before different tribunals, but we are all zealously advocating for the rights of our clients. While we are unique amongst trial lawyer organizations nationally, the common thread that binds us is that we all fight on behalf of individuals against institutional power. It is this shared common bond that allows us to work together for the mutual benefit of our clients, our practices and ultimately the people of the state of North Carolina.

NCAJ makes a difference through the ways that it supports its members.

This organization is uniquely positioned to provide CLEs to our members on advanced issues and strategies because we literally have members who are the experts on these issues. During my term as president, I expect to see a refocusing and a revitalization of our CLE programs to focus on CLE offerings that are truly informative and beneficial to our members.

This organization makes a difference for our members by providing important opportunities to stay connected to our community. Whether it be catching up with old friends or making new ones, NCAJ events allow our members to engage with each other on a personal level. Our membership department has been completely revamped, and I am excited about the new directions that our membership outreach will take. NCAJ is coming to you, all across the Great North State!

This organization also makes a difference in its advocacy efforts. It is no secret that the appellate courts have changed dramatically in the last year. We will continue to pursue our advocacy efforts through our amicus program, but with a very strategic and intentional purpose.

In the legislature, we have made tremendous strides in our efforts to reach legislators from both parties. We are steadily rebuilding our reputation and credibility on Jones Street as an organization that can provide expert information and insight to the legislative process. We have worked hard to move from an organization that was seen by some as an enemy to an organization that is called upon to provide input on bills under consideration. This is a sea change for our organization. We will continue this important work, and I am confident that we will see laws changed in a way that makes a difference for our clients.

It’s Who We Are

As I was writing this speech, I looked around my office. Aside from the pictures of my family and diplomas that hang on the walls, there are two other things of which I am extremely proud: an Ebbie Award that sits on my desk and an award for “Most Outstanding Advocate” that I received from the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers during my last year of law school.

The Ebbie Award is a strong reminder that this organization is only as strong as the contributions of time, energy and money from our members.

The award from the Academy is a reminder that “trial lawyers” is not just what we do, but who we are.

I am Andy Banzhoff. I am a trial lawyer, and trial lawyers make a difference.

We are NCAJ. We are trial lawyers, and we make a difference.