The Litigation Section Needs You!

By Philip Isley

For the entire 26 years of my practice, I have been a litigator. While my practice also includes non-litigation matters such as lobbying and “legal crisis management” (a fixer, so to speak…), the core of what I do – and what I’ve done for my professional career – is litigate. I’ve also had the honor of being a local elected official for eight years, and I can tell you that being a litigator certainly helped me with the transition into politics/advocacy/service to others. Politics also made me a better litigator by teaching me that relationships matter – whether with your opposing counsel, the judiciary, the courthouse staff, or anyone else you may run into on a regular basis. Politics also taught me this very valuable lesson: You can accomplish a great deal if you do not seek or crave credit for your accomplishments. This lesson has probably done more for me in the past ten years than anything else.

Help us plan for the future at the Litigation Section strategic planning meeting Aug. 17. Click for details.

If someone had asked me what a litigator was supposed to do when I graduated from law school, my answer would have most assuredly been, “A litigator is a fighter.” I probably felt this way for the first six to ten years of practicing law. I did not recognize that in addition to fighting, litigation is also supposed to be about solving problems. When asked today what I do as a litigator, my response typically is, “I try to fix problems whether litigation is involved or not, because at the end of the day, litigation sucks!” Perhaps that is a little too strong, especially given that is what we all do in our chosen profession. But, in all seriousness, how many times has this thought run through your head since you’ve been practicing law? I bet you’ve thought this when you’ve had to deal with your obstreperous client, or when your opposing counsel drives you crazy, or the costs to litigate have grown exponentially, or the judge has ruled against you, or WHATEVER problem du jour you are dealing with that erupts in any case that you are currently handling. Let’s face it, litigation can be challenging, frustrating, expensive, unfair and long – even if you win your case. But often, it is also the best tool trying to fix (or end) civil disputes.

The Year Ahead

I am proud to serve as the 2018-19 Chair of the Litigation Section Council. We’ve added some great new members to our Section who I believe will bring some new perspectives. I hope all of us – members new and old – can work together to improve our value to any and all litigators in the North Carolina Bar Association.  Anecdotally, we are hearing that the Section is too broad to be valuable to some members who have asked to switch sections from the Litigation Section to the Appellate Section or the Construction Section. So, my questions to the members of the Litigation Section is this: Do you feel this way? Does the Litigation Section matter? How can we improve it?

There are several things that I’ve observed in all my years with the NCBA as well as the Litigation Section – we don’t necessarily recognize litigation areas such as collections, condemnation work or certificate of need work as large parts of a litigation practice. I also feel like we may need some new Council members and committee chairs to help bring new ideas to our Section. In addition, I want to build upon the great response we’ve had with several of our Section meetings, coupling them with a CLE hour of practical court information, as well as networking opportunities. We’ve had a great response with these meetings/networking opportunities in Charlotte and Raleigh, and my goal is to bring these successes to parts of the state that do not necessarily have meetings outside of the Annual Meeting.  As such, we will be hosting our October 2018 Section meeting in Asheville (Van Winkle law firm will host) and our May Section meeting in Wilmington (Ward & Smith law firm will host). We will also have a December Section meeting at Duke Law School, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to have our February Section meeting at the U.S. District Courthouse in Charlotte. Of course, all meetings will include at least an hour of practical CLE for all of our practice areas, in addition to a fun networking opportunity.

What I Need From You

I would like to hear your thoughts about my ideas and any answers you have as to how to make this Section stronger and more valuable. To help with this, the Litigation Section is going to meet Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. at the Bar Center in Cary. Come to NCBA HQ if you can, and if you can’t, call in. As part of this meeting and beyond, I also want to discuss our committees, what they do, and how to maximize their potential (head’s up: more on this in our next blog post). If you would like to participate on any of these committees or otherwise serve the Section, please contact me at pisley@bmlilaw.com prior to our August meeting. I am certainly not trying to push out any current committee chair, but I do think that for some of our long serving chair(s), some may welcome handing the reigns over to a new person, or better yet, perhaps you’d like to serve on a different committee. Regardless, I want us to invigorate this Section, and that’s going to require combining the experience of those who have gratefully served with the new ideas that come with new blood.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not speak to the awesome assistance we will have with our staff liaison, Elizabeth Hodges. She recently took over for Julianne Dambro – who has now moved to a larger role with the NCBA and other sections. We will still have access to Julianne too, but our day-to-day help will be provided by Elizabeth.

We have lots of exciting events and activities planned for the coming year. I look forward to seeing you at a Section event in the near future!

Philip Isley is the new Chair of the NCBA’s Litigation Section. Isley was born and raised in Martinsville, Virginia, and graduated from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and the University of Mississippi School of Law. He has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1992. This is his first blog post – ever.