New BLS Director Shares Opening Thoughts
“Well, this is different.”
That was my stand-out thought after attending the Board of Legal Specialization’s Annual Retreat and the subsequent board meeting in April 2018. Earlier that month I was announced as the State Bar’s new director for ethics and special programs – that role, among other responsibilities, named me as the new director for the Board of Legal Specialization. (Of course, this new role also gave me the unenviable task of following the great Alice Mine, who has served as director to the board for the past two decades, and who has guided the program to the success it is today. But I digress.) To be honest, this was my first extended interaction with the specialization program, and specialists for that matter. You see, during the ten years prior, I spent my time investigating and, if necessary, prosecuting claims of lawyer misconduct as deputy counsel in the State Bar’s Office of Counsel. Despite what you may think, I met some of the finest lawyers our state has to offer though the disciplinary process, whether they were opposing counsel on a case or the respondent him or herself. However, I also dealt with lawyers who did not live up to the standards we as a profession hold so dear (including those that did not display the best of attitudes). But there I was, at the specialization lunch, observing, speaking with, and learning about a room full of lawyers who voluntarily chose to meet a heightened standard of proficiency in their practice. We celebrated both lawyers who recently achieved board certification, as well as lawyers who had maintained this heightened standard for many years; and we honored three board certified lawyers for their incredible contributions to their communities and the profession.
Yep. This is different.
I’ve been in this new position for two months now, during which I’ve had the good fortune to work with board members, specialty committee members, and the incredible staff who make this program the great success that it is: Assistant Director Denise Mullen and Executive Assistant Lanice Heidbrink. I’ve learned a great deal about not just the program, but the purpose for which specialization exists and the driving factors for why lawyers choose to put themselves through the arduous process of becoming a board certified specialist. This experience has impressed upon me the importance of our program and the valuable assistance this program can provide to the people of North Carolina and our profession in the coming years.
The North Carolina State Bar exists to protect the public. As part of carrying out that mission, the State Bar Council created the Plan of Legal Specialization in 1983 “to assist in the delivery of legal services to the public by identifying to the public those lawyers who have demonstrated special knowledge, skill, and proficiency in a specific field, so that the public can more closely match its needs with available services; and to improve the competency of the bar[.]” 27 N.C. A.C. 1D, .1701. These are lofty ideals, but in the short time that I have worked with the board, the specialty committees, and the staff, I’ve seen these goals sincerely pursued and emphatically achieved by everyone involved with the specialization program. I have watched specialty committees take great care in objectively reviewing the qualifications of applicants; I have worked with committee members as they pour over the specialty exams, analyzing every word in a question to ensure the question is fair and accurate; and I have observed the board engage in spirited debate about topics ranging from streamlining the application process to the appropriate use of program funds to increase the visibility of the specialization program to both lawyers and the public. I am proud to report that this program is guided by individuals who genuinely value and intently pursue the very purpose of this program: to protect the public by assisting in the delivery of legal services to the public and by improving the competency of the bar. I feel strongly that our lawyers can be proud of their designations as board certified specialists because certification truly does mean something – it objectively reflects the substantial proficiency acquired and demonstrated by the lawyer, and it instills confidence in the profession by the public.
The specialization program will continue to provide a great service to the people of North Carolina, and I look forward to joining in the collective efforts to maintain the heightened standards of practice for the benefit of the public.
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