2020 Pro Bono Awards Announced

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The winners of the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2020 Pro Bono Awards have been selected. The recipients were chosen by members of the NCBA Pro Bono Committee, chaired by Emily Moseley and Jennifer Mencarini.

Congratulations to each recipient and their nominators, who provided the background and biographical information included below for each honoree.

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2020 Legal Legends of Color Honorees Announced

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By Sharita M. Whitaker

The word “change” has various definitions, but my favorite expression of change is “to shift; to undergo transformation or transition.” We can certainly say that “change” is inevitable in all aspects of our lives. Thus far in 2020 alone, we have witnessed how COVID-19 and other events have caused many of us to adjust when, how, and where we work and interact with others. Also, the NCBA has had to shift its 2020 Annual Meeting in Charlotte to an online, virtual program. But “change” presents us with an opportunity to reflect on and learn from our experiences and the experiences of others in order for each of us to evolve for the better.

Although we are unable to celebrate together at the Annual Meeting in Charlotte, and we are adjusting to the change by celebrating in other (virtual) ways, we are proud to announce our 2020 Legal Legends of Color honorees: Judge Yvonne Mims Evans, Senator Dan T. Blue Jr., Attorney Anthony Fox, Professor George R. Johnson Jr., and the late Attorney J. Kenneth Lee. In order to be named a Legal Legend of Color, such person must be (1) a lawyer of color practicing (or one who has practiced most recently) in North Carolina for at least 15 years, (2) have had a legal career with a significant impact in North Carolina, (3) have demonstrated a high level of service to his/her local community and/or on an statewide basis, and (4) be a member in good standing of the North Carolina State Bar (active or inactive). These five attorneys have more than satisfied the criteria for being named a Legal Legend of Color, and, further, they have all effected significant positive change in the North Carolina legal community and beyond. We are honored to share snippets of their distinguished careers with you:

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A Geezer Lawyer’s Letter to a 3L

By Franklin Drake

UNC School of Law ’78

Dear Megan,

Congratulations on completion of your 2L year! The rest of your law school career will pass a lot faster than you might think it will. The tedium of your 3L year will quickly give way to terror of the bar exam. I predict you will pass. Your license will mean you can begin to learn how to make a living as a lawyer. Word has it that you will choose to enter private practice, preferably as an associate in a law firm. Good.

Law school has done a good job of teaching you how to think. I doubt it has done a good job of teaching you how to build a law practice. I know my law school did not. Those hard lessons came later for me, with a painfully high tuition of experience. You are at the threshold of a long legal career, just as I am concluding one of 40+ years. It’s time someone whispered the secret truths and showed you the secret handshake. Let me.

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BarCARES is Here for You

By Ann Anderson

Do you need a listening ear during this time? BarCARES is here for you now and always to provide support during any difficult time. Available 24/7 via telehealth (video + audio) or telephone, BarCARES is a confidential, short-term counseling program, cost-free, for members of the NCBA and law students at participating schools.

BarCARES can help all of us as we try to manage and balance family, work, and study in the face of the unknown future. Skilled professionals available through BarCARES assist in dealing with depression, anxiety, financial concerns and marriage and family conflicts, as well as professional stressors. In these challenging and uncertain times, why not utilize a benefit of your NCBA membership and ask for guidance?

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Chief Justice Beasley’s COVID-19 Task Force and the Practice of Family Law

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By Wade Harrison

These are tough times. We have been forced to deal with the uncertainty and disruption surrounding this public health threat. Some of us have lost a loved one without the opportunity to communicate with them or publicly celebrate their lives. We deal with our clients’ stress and the financial stress this has caused. The Chief Justice issued emergency orders necessary to protect our health and safety and that of our clients and court personnel. Our practices have slowed to a crawl, and we are nostalgic about interminable calendar calls because of a bat bite in China. What is next?

Chief Justice Beasley appointed a Task Force to recommend how and when she should ramp up operations in the North Carolina Judicial Branch during this pandemic. She appointed me to represent the family lawyers. Prior to accepting this job, I secured a pledge for assistance from the leadership of the Family Law Section and the North Carolina Chapter of the AAML. I need your help to represent you effectively. Here is how I am representing you and how the Task Force operates.

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New Office! Wedding Venue! Say What?

By Bettie Kelley Sousa

Recently, Smith Debnam introduced attorney Liz Blackwell, who joined Smith Debnam alumnus and “rejoinder,” Ron Jones, in the newly staked out Charleston, SC, office. Church Street in Charleston may be known for the many beautiful old churches. But move over old money; there’s a new wedding venue in the historic district!

Zoom on. You see, the first closing held in the new Smith Debnam office wasn’t a land purchase or a commercial loan. It was Liz’s contract of marriage! Conducted by Charleston County Probate Judge, Irv Condon, via a Zoom conference, Liz and hubby Graeme Ross, a Canadian physician currently completing a critical care fellowship in Kingston, Ontario, decided to go ahead and tie the knot. But there wasn’t a knot to be seen in a black tie or bow tie. Graeme wore scrubs as did three of his medical buddies, who all connected by videoconference. Liz was radiant in the Smith Debnam conference room, which, by the way, needs some wall hangings. No hand-holding, no eye gazing, no kissing of the bride. But a lovely, sweet, albeit quick ceremony warmed the hearts of those few “in attendance” and those with whom the video has been shared. Afterwards, the Smith Debnam Charleston office folks enjoyed a champagne toast, and the groom was back to the important work of providing health care.

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Prioritize Preparedness: Hurricane Season Preparation During a Pandemic

By Elizabeth B. Savage

This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 3-9), and although COVID-19 is dominating our news channels and conversations, we should not let it overshadow the upcoming hurricane season, which begins June 1, 2020. COVID-19 has certainly taken a toll on the State of North Carolina, with the most recent NCDHHS laboratory confirmed case count at 12,256. On May 5, Gov. Cooper announced that North Carolina will start Phase I of a reopen plan on Friday, May 8. This announcement comes almost two weeks after the governor first announced the three-phase plan. The United States has not faced an infectious disease disaster like COVID-19 since the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic; while our nation and state continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic response, North Carolina must also prepare for hurricane season.

Hurricanes and severe tropical storms have historically wreaked havoc along the North Carolina coast. These natural disasters are sudden, catastrophic, and have a disparate impact on vulnerable populations, and this season’s hurricane activity is forecasted to be above normal. The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project recently published a forecast of the 2020 Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity that predicted sixteen named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes.

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Why Do I Care More Than They Do? A Young Lawyer’s First Attempt at Coaching High School Mock Trial

By Amanda Perry

As lawyers, we preach philanthropy and public service on a regular basis, but we often are so overburdened with deadlines, paperwork, and research that philanthropy can often turn into a charitable donation. While in law school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., I was an avid and cutthroat competitor in our trial advocacy competition team, so when I was stationed at Fort Bragg to start my career as a Judge Advocate with XVIII Airborne Corps, I wanted to find a way to combine that advocacy competitiveness and my philanthropic core principle. Enter: becoming an attorney advisor for a high school mock trial team through the North Carolina Mock Trial Program.

When I first met with the team in September, I had to remind myself of one major underlying principle: these are high school kids, not law students. As a law student competitor, we practice relentlessly and often; we find a way to balance the rigors and demands of law school with the demands of honing our advocacy skills. It’s expected that you will be emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically exhausted, but at the same time, every person in that room is there to win. None of those things are expected of a high school team nor, more importantly, should they be.

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May is NCBA Member Appreciation Month!

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By Alejandra Villegas

Just because we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t mean we forgot about Member Appreciation Month. This May, we are celebrating you for the whole month just to thank you for being a member! Member Appreciation Month is an NCBA tradition that started two years ago and will occur over the next five weeks. We hope you take advantage of all the remote resources and giveaways we have in store for you.

First, we are bringing back Free Fridays. On May 1, 8, 15, and 29, we will be teaming up with our Center for Practice Management (CPM) to provide free LinkedIn and Social Media Profile Reviews and a limited-edition workshop entitled “Build a Business Development Plan.” In this free workshop, CPM Director Catherine Sanders Reach will give insight into law firm marketing tactics. She will discuss different types of business development endeavors from websites to social media to networking to help you strategize what works for your practice. Space is limited, so be sure to register soon.

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Educated Users Are the Best Defense Against Phishing And Ransomware

By Eva Lorenz 

Ransomware has been an ongoing threat to law firms for years.[1] Once impacted by this form of attack, law firms struggle with issues such as how to pay ransom, which often requires some form of cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoin). Alternately, if the firm elects not to pay the ransom, the issue becomes how to provide continuous service to its clients while staff cannot access important files from a down computer network.

While ransomware is a more recent threat compared to other forms of malware, the delivery vehicle used for such attacks has been around for decades. Most ransomware attacks start with a phishing email. Prior to ransomware, most phishing emails captured account credentials that attackers then repurposed for spam attacks. But with the advent of ransomware, attackers found a more lucrative outlet for their “creative” ideas. Studies predict there will be a ransomware attack on businesses every 14 seconds by the end of 2019, and by 2021, it’s projected that attacks will increase to every 11 seconds.[2] Educating users not to click on phishing emails is more important than ever and is a critical first step in preventing ransomware attacks. But what is the most effective way to train users to avoid the 1.5 million new phishing sites that are created each month?[3] In addition to regular security awareness training that explains how to pick a strong password, companies should amend their training to include phishing awareness.

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