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I recently had an opportunity to talk with Barbara Christy, a board certified specialist in commercial real property law.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

I met and married my husband Rick while we were both undergrad students at Appalachian State University. After earning a degree in criminal justice, I was accepted to UNC Law School, so we moved to Saxapahaw (a tiny mill village about 30 minutes from Chapel Hill). Shortly after graduating from law school, we bought about 90 acres of land in Snow Camp (Alamance County) with a 100-year-old farmhouse where we happily raised our children and an assortment of animals. I have worked with the firm of Schell Bray PLLC in Greensboro, NC, for the last 34 years, and spend my commuting time listening to podcasts and audiobooks. We are very involved in the life of our church and local food pantry, but when we do get away, it’s usually to spend time with family at Badin Lake.

Q: With an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, how did you become a real estate lawyer?

For the first three years of my law practice, I worked in a two-person firm doing a little bit of everything. I found that I really enjoyed everything about a real estate closing. Unlike litigation, where one party wins and one loses, in real estate and other business transactions, everyone is aiming for the same goal—closing the deal. When I joined Schell Bray in 1987, I moved from residential to commercial real estate.

Q: Why did you decide to become a board-certified specialist in 2005?

I realized that most of the real estate attorneys I admired and respected were certified specialists, including my partners, Bill Aycock and Holly Alderman. With their support and encouragement, I decided to seek certification.

Q: Has this certification been helpful to your practice? If so, in what ways?

Certification has been helpful to my practice in many different ways. I get a lot of business from attorneys in other states who have clients that are doing real estate transactions in North Carolina. I believe that my certification as a specialist in commercial real property law provides a certain level of credibility for attorneys that may not personally know me.

Certification has also helped me meet the criteria for inclusion in some national organizations such as the American College of Real Estate Lawyers. Additionally, because of my certification I have been asked to serve as an expert witness in a few real estate related lawsuits.

Q: What career accomplishment makes you the most proud?

I would have to say that my selection to serve as an officer of the State Bar is the pinnacle of my career. Since beginning my service as a State Bar councilor in 2009, I have had the opportunity to work with lawyers from all over the state, from solo practitioners to members of large multi-state firms, and in every practice area. I have witnessed over and over again the dedication of the attorneys in this state to providing the best legal services possible for the benefit of our citizens. They are tireless advocates, wise counselors, and work hard in both their jobs and their communities. What makes me proud is to be a part of this profession.

Q: How does your work as president of the North Carolina State Bar entwine with your real property law practice?

I have found that many of the attributes that are required to have a successful real estate practice are attributes that serve me well as a State Bar officer. Closing a real estate transaction requires bringing together several parties, reaching an agreement on the essentials, developing common goals, working through issues, and closing the deal. I need to be a good listener and to understand the positions and concerns of other parties in order to effectively solve the problems that inevitably arise.

Q: What book, music, movie, etc. has most influenced the person you are today?

I have always been a bookworm, even though most of my “reading” these days takes place while listening to books or podcasts in my car. I believe I learn something from almost every book I read, though I confess to enjoying an occasional romantic comedy or mystery. The book that most influenced me, that continues to influence me, is the Bible. I try to read through it at least every couple of years, and each time I learn something new and am changed.

Q: Who is your hero and what makes them your choice?

At this moment I have a group of heroes on my heart—parents of chronically ill children. I have a couple of good friends that have children battling cancer, and I am filled with admiration for the way they handle unimaginably hard decisions. We lawyers could learn a lot about fierce advocacy from a mother fighting for her child.

Q: How has the COVID19 pandemic affected the practice of real estate law?

Real estate practitioners, like everyone else, had to shift to remote work almost overnight. Fortunately, many of the tools needed to conduct a virtual closing were already evolving. Most land records in the various offices of the registers of deeds are available online, and E-recording has become widely available in the last few years. The legislature moved quickly to provide temporary authorization for remote notarization, and lawyers found novel ways to get documents signed without close contact, i.e. the “parking lot closing.” We have all suffered from the enforced separation from family, friends, and colleagues, but I have found a few bright spots as two of my adult children have permanently switched to remote work, which has allowed them to relocate back to this area. I am beyond excited at the prospect of having my grandchildren close by!

Q: What would you say to other lawyers to encourage them to pursue certification as a specialist?

I would tell them not to do it just because they think it will attract clients. If that happens, it is an added bonus. I did it because I believed I was in fact a specialist, and I wanted to show my commitment to my practice area. Completing the process of specialization was a professional achievement that I value. I was also able to spend a few years on the Real Property Specialization Committee and really enjoyed that connection with some of my colleagues in the practice area. Specialization is well worth the initial time and commitment, and I would definitely encourage others to participate. 

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