Trial Briefs

State of the Association: NCAJ On Firm Footing As Pandemic Ends

Tags: NCAJ News
June 23, 2021   |   Kim Crouch

This article is based on a speech delivered at NCAJ 2021 Annual Meeting. 

This past year has been a challenging one for all due to the COVID pandemic. Despite the challenges we faced this year, I am pleased to report that the financial health of NCAJ remains very strong.  

Pandemic Response  

Under my leadership, NCAJ successfully pivoted all programming to address the pandemic. We continued to provide member value with timely and relevant member programming, and we adapted quickly to use the technology available to deliver targeted CLEs in a seamless manner. We held over 30 member programs over the course of the year. In the beginning, we focused on helping members use digital tools – Zoom, Slack, Jabber, Box, etc. Over time we moved on to mental health and social programs along with more substantive topics.  

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NCAJ also took advantage of an opportunity from the federal government available due to our nonprofit status and applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. We are expected to secure an additional $150,000 of funding for programming needs next year 

Regular Programming and Operations 

NCAJ is on track to end the year with a balanced budget.

NCAJ CLE income is on pace to surpass its goal of $672,000 and come in closer to $720,000.  

Skills Academy has been a positive program for the organization and remains well attended and successful in terms of member engagement and revenue.

NCAJ membership numbers and revenues are on track to meet goals, too. We had 2,154 members and $1.28 million in membership revenue for the 2021-2022 year. 

NCAJ continues to work hard to showcase member benefits despite the pandemic. We are reaching out to members in a variety of ways, including a revised membership packet for everyone who renews this year. 

NCAJ continues to support the Diversity and Inclusion Committee with monthly member programming. We also held our third annual Diversity and Inclusion conference virtually in the fall of 2020.  

Strategic Planning and Advocacy 

NCAJ continues to implement the NCAJ Strategic Plan adopted by Board of Governors in December of 2019. The plan remains a guidepost for NCAJ leadership and staff as we focus on sustainability and relevancy and our mission of empowering the next generation of trial lawyers.  

The NCAJ Strategic Plan was so successful that leadership decided to embark on an advocacy strategic plan in the fall of 2020 to prioritize our policy matters and more effectively advocate in all three branches of government.    

Then President-elect John McCabe served as chair of the task force and worked tirelessly to keep the plan on track despite the pandemic and many Friday afternoon Zoom calls. We hired advocacy consulting firm Daniels Advocacy Group, which also assisted greatly with the plan. The NCAJ Board adopted the Advocacy Strategic Plan in December 2020, and DAG began to deploy training on the plan and to create strategy charts on key issues for the organization. This spring, NCAJ began cutting its teeth with the Contributory Negligence bill and leveraging its relationships on both sides of the aisle.  

For the first time in over a decade, the NCAJ advocacy program had a chance to proactively advance two of its most important legislative priorities: Bill v. Paid and Contributory Negligence.  

NCAJ has devised a Contributory Negligence working group and deployed significant grassroots efforts and media outreach as part of a lobbying campaign to repeal contributory negligence. We are grateful for so many of you who supported us by calling upon your client databases. NCAJ is also engaged on various pieces of legislation for the criminal defense bar, most notably DWI and remote proceedings legislation.   

Building Sale, New Space 

After the NCAJ Board approved the sale of our building at Annapolis Drive last January, NCAJ began the work of identifying leased office space for NCAJ. This included working with a property management company as well as real estate attorneys to successfully secure the right space for NCAJ to call home.  

After securing the space located at 700 Corporate Center Drive, we then turned our attention to the overall construction and layout of the new space. This included everything from office layout and technology requirements to the selection of furniture, carpet and paint.  

I am pleased to report that we remain on track and are hopeful that staff can be in the new office space this summer. We are now just watching the variants of the virus and awaiting the furniture.  

Financial Update 

The sale of the building prompted NCAJ to secure an investment firm to manage its investment portfolio. Cardinal Capital now oversees all of our investments, and they hold quarterly Finance Committee meetings with NCAJ leadership to review the financial statements and the investment portfolio. Additionally, the NCAJ president and president elect meet with me monthly to review the finances as prepared by our accountant. 

Here a few highlights on the investments and other extraordinary financial items: 

  • NCAJ has combined investments of about $7.8 million as of Jan. 31, 2021. Of those combined net investments, gains were $771,000 for the past seven months. 
  • The gain on the sale of the property came to $3.045 million; with proceeds of over $4 million. 
  • Net assets of the combined organizations at Jan. 31 were just over $8.5 million. 

Entity Reorganization and Internal Structure  

NCAJ has worked with nonprofit tax lawyers and accountants to review the relationship between the NCAJ Association and the NCAJ Foundation and to advise on the best approach going forward. Tax attorney Jean Carter of McGuire Woods and Certified Public Accountant Alex Lehmann of MPC have been terrific in helping us assess all angles. We decided to move CLE to the Association as a member benefit and that the Foundation will repay the existing debt to the Association. The Board approved both actions in January 2021. 

NCAJ has streamlined its membership model to be more simplified and equitable, a key action item in the NCAJ Strategic Plan. It was approved by the Board at its April meeting and by the membership at our Annual Meeting in June.  

NCAJ retained a nonprofit attorney to review and update the NCAJ Association Bylaws to bring them current to 2021 standards. The revised bylaws were approved by the Board at its April meeting and by the membership at the Annual Meeting in June.  

Transparency and Communication  

NCAJ has completely revamped its weekly Community View membership newsletter. It has also upgraded the quarterly Trial Briefs magazine to focus on promoting and informing our members. Additionally, NCAJ now has a robust social media presence on all the most-used platforms.  

NCAJ will next move to the creation of NCAJ videos and podcasts. We launched our video efforts with a video memorializing former President Emeritus Charlie Blanchard at convention. I am very excited to kick this off.  

As executive director, I hold quarterly meetings with the past presidents and keep them informed and engaged in the organization. I have also begun reaching out to sustaining members on a regular basis and will continue this practice. And I hold weekly meetings with the president and president-elect to assure continuity in leadership and provide timely updates 

Future Engagement  

NCAJ NEXT, a leadership program, will launch in the fall of 2021. I have been working with four volunteer co-chairs to create the curriculum and criteria for acceptance into the program. This program will develop the next generation of trial lawyer leaders within the organization.  

NCAJ will launch a new and improved website and brand awareness campaign. The leadership received a “sneak peek” at the spring’s Board meeting. We will roll out the website this summer.  

In conclusion, NCAJ has been through much transformation these past few years. It has had to wrestle with many tough questions and make many difficult decisions. But each bump in the road has allowed NCAJ to grow stronger than ever before and to prepare itself for an incredibly bright and successful future.  

I want to thank the NCAJ staff for its passion and tireless dedication to the organizational mission. And I want to thank each of you for your continued support. It has been a pleasure to lead this organization through this transformational time in its history. 

Kim Crouch has served as executive director of NCAJ since 2017. Crouch holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy and public relations from Syracuse University and a juris doctor from the University of North Carolina School of Law.