The Road To the Future Differs From the Path We’ve Traveled
Reflections As NCAJ Celebrates 60 Years
It is no secret that when I came to NCAJ in 2017 to serve as your executive director, I was different than my predecessor.
I looked different.
I was a 39-year-old female. I had a one-year-old baby and another one on the way. And I was a registered unaffiliated voter.
I brought different working relationships and different experiences.
I had worked at the North Carolina Bar Association as lead lobbyist for close to a decade. I was surrounded by a diverse group of legal practitioners – plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers. Candidly, I was a bit of an unknown entity for many of our members. However, I was well-known in the political world for having relationships on both sides of the aisle. Most notably, I recall during the interview process being asked if I had the cell phones of Republican legislators in leadership at the General Assembly. Of course, I did.
I was also asked why I wanted to lead the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, which was an easy answer for me. I had great respect for the organization’s long history of protecting the vulnerable and seeking fair treatment for everyone under the law. I wanted to further the legacy NCAJ has built in its first six decades.
And while my goals for the organization were akin to those of previous EDs, I acted differently.
I pushed for hard conversations among and within and sought transparency and collaboration between the leadership and the executive director. I tackled issues head on, restructured the organization and built the staff to take NCAJ in to the future.
Intellectually, I knew that my differences had motivated the leaders of this organization to hire me in March of 2017. Yet, when I came to NCAJ, I did what I am ashamed to say many mid-career females do. Rather than celebrate those differences and promote my value, I simply did the work and sought to let the results speak for themselves.
Truth is, I had spent close to 15 years working at the North Carolina General Assembly surrounded by men. I had gotten pretty good at working hard, delivering results, and avoiding self-promotion at all costs. No lobbyist wants their name tied to a piece of legislation. It’s the results that count.
However, as we embark upon our 60th year, I find myself reflecting on some of the lessons I have learned as NCAJ’s executive director these past five years and thinking about my hopes for its future.
Two of the most valuable lessons I have learned in this role:
- Celebrate your differences.
- Promote your value.
The search committee was right. Because I looked different, brought different relationships and acted differently, I was able to bring a new perspective and that perspective has allowed me to accomplish much for this organization. In the spirit of self-promotion, here are a few highlights from 2021:
Some of our accomplishments to note:
- Last year, NCAJ adopted its first Advocacy Strategic Plan, a tool that empowers the organization to weigh each advocacy decision against NCAJ’s long-term mission and goals. We have already begun using the plan as we navigated the tricky political landscape of 2021.
- Prominent on that landscape was a reprisal of our decades-long effort to replace North Carolina’s contributory negligence standard with the more modern, more reasonable comparative negligence standard. We came as close as we have ever been to achieving this milestone change, and the groundwork we laid will provide a strong foundation for the inevitable battles to come on this front.
- We transformed our website, the NCAJ’s most visible face, into a sleek, clean tool for members that focuses on telling NCAJ’s story and makes the user experience smooth and engaging.
NCAJ has much to be proud of as we look back on the past. And we have much to get excited about as we prepared for our future. Again, in the spirit of self-promotion, here are a few highlights of what is to come in 2022:
- After more than two years without a membership gathering, we will be together again in person at Annual Convention in Charlotte where we will celebrate NCAJ’s 60th anniversary and renew our connections to one another.
- Last week, we launched the NCAJ NEXT program, a course designed to identify the next generation of North Carolina’s trial lawyer leaders and give them the tools and connections they need to step up and move NCAJ into the future.
- This spring, we will begin a Foundation Development Plan where we will evaluate the Foundation and Endowment structure and develop a comprehensive development plan for relationship building, solicitation, and donor recognition and retention.
NCAJ is a passionate group of lawyers zealously committed to protecting their clients. This passionate group rarely agrees on anything, including me, but that division and difference of opinion is a beautiful thing if embraced and promoted clearly and consistently.
The ability of NCAJ leaders to harness this passion is one reason the organization can now celebrate 60 years of protecting the vulnerable and seeking equitable treatment.
NCAJ will continue that legacy.
We just might do it differently.