Leslie Carter Rawls, Board Certified Specialist in Appellate Practice
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Leslie Carter Rawls, a board certified specialist in appellate practice, from Charlotte. Leslie began her education as a Chinese major at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete a bachelor of arts in international relations. She received her law degree from UNC School of Law as well. While in law school, Leslie served as executive editor of the UNC Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, confirming her love of writing and setting her on a path that combined writing and the practice of law.
Leslie started her career in trial courts and switched to handling appeals exclusively in 1995. Over the years, Leslie’s work has been mostly research- and writing-intensive, punctuated by arguing cases in the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and the North Carolina Supreme Court. When the separate appellate specialty certification was created in 2011, she was one of the first to become board certified. Becoming a specialist provided a way of letting the legal community know that she was dedicated to the practice area and available to assist clients and other lawyers with complex appellate issues. Leslie’s comments on her legal career and specialty certification follow below:
Q: What were your favorite things about law school?
I was on staff and, as a 3L, served as executive editor of the UNC Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation. I enjoyed everything about working on the journal. Academically I had two favorite classes—Mr. Aycock’s real property class and Dean Broun’s evidence class were engaging, amusing, and interesting. Both courses have also been invaluable in my law practice.
Q: Were there any early indications that you would choose a writing-intensive career path?
Writing and editing are important in appellate work and run in my blood. My grandmother emigrated from Wales and taught the King’s English in the North Carolina mountains. Much later, my mother attended a law school class with me. I answered a question in contracts that day. When she started taking notes, I imagined she was memorializing my brilliance. After the bell rang, I learned she was memorializing my grammar mistakes—“Loan is a noun, lend is a verb...” (Yes, that’s the British rule.)
Q: Why did you pursue board certification with the State Bar?
Appellate attorneys get very little feedback, and sole practitioners like me tend to be somewhat isolated. Our work is mostly research and writing with occasional forays to Raleigh or Richmond for oral argument. I started my career in trial courts and was known by judges, trial lawyers, and courtroom personnel. In 1995 I switched to only appeals and became less known in the community. When the separate appellate specialization was created in 2011, I jumped at the chance. Becoming a specialist was a way of being better known for my work, which helps me be a trusted resource for clients and other lawyers.
Q: How has certification been helpful to your practice?
Other attorneys, clients, and even I have more confidence in my knowledge. More prospective clients and referring attorneys contact me to handle appeals in part because of that confidence. Former clients and other attorneys who know my work have been solid referral sources, and occasionally an opposing party even refers someone to me because of my work on their opponent’s behalf.
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
Many! With the support and suggestions of the NC Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Section, the appellate courts recently approved a program to provide pro bono appellate attorneys to pro se indigent civil parties who appear to have a non-frivolous issue. If needed, the program will pair the pro bono attorney with a mentor. Appeals are not cheap, and civil litigants are not entitled to appointed counsel. The program will help provide access to justice for pro se parties.
In addition, the appellate rules have been amended a lot the past few years, so it’s important to be current. The legislature’s recent reduction in the court of appeals judges is also likely to have an impact on the judges’ workloads as well as the time it takes to resolve an appeal.
Q: What do lawyers who don’t handle appeals need to know from an appellate practice specialist?
Always read the Rules of Appellate Procedure and be sure it’s the current version. When in doubt, ask someone who regularly handles appeals. The appellate practice community is a collegial group. We know quality appellate work benefits everyone.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
My Rules of Court are always within reach, and I refer constantly to the Rules of Appellate Procedure. I also participate in the NC Bar Association’s annual appellate seminar, scheduled for September 28 this year, in addition to other CLEs on substantive law, legal writing, and appellate issues. I frequently brainstorm with other appellate attorneys, and I check the state court website and pay particular attention to decisions that hinge on appellate issues.
Q: I understand that you also lead mindfulness meditation seminars as a Dharma teacher. Could you explain what that means?
For almost 30 years, I have been a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk, author, and peace activist. I was also one of his editors in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2009 he gave me dharma lamp transmission, authorizing me to teach in the Mahayana Buddhist lineage.
Q: How does your focus on mindfulness impact your work as a lawyer?
Mindfulness has the general benefit of reducing stress and promoting calm. One of our former federal judges used to always introduce me as “the most peaceful lawyer in Charlotte.” His description was not always accurate, but mindfulness helps me maintain equanimity in my practice. Mindfulness also increases concentration, which is useful in my research and writing.
Q: What are a few things that a lawyer can do to help bring more mindfulness into his or her daily life?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in this moment, and breath is a good tool to bring us into the now. The mind can travel through space and time though the body never moves. Mindfulness brings mind and body together. We can practice awareness of walking—to the office, the courthouse, our homes. These days, our watches invite us to take a breath and a mindful pause. At stop lights, we can take our hands off the steering wheel and see what’s around us. Through this practice, I’ve discovered the most beautiful three pine trees at one stoplight. This is a short answer. Around ten years ago, I offered a mindfulness CLE to the Mecklenburg County Bar and wrote much more than a paragraph.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
Certification tells other people you’re highly qualified in your practice. It gives you something to reach for. Go for it!
For more information on appellate practice specialists or to learn how to become certified, visit our website at nclawspecialists.gov.