State of the Bar Address from President James Kilbourne

From James Kilbourne, Bar President 2018-2019, at the 6-12-2109 Annual Meeting:

Ladies and Gentlemen, the State of the Buncombe Bar is excellent!

I want you to take a minute to look around this room at your colleagues, men and women, younger and older, large firms and solos, litigators and transactional attorneys.  Together we represent the best.  We are the Buncombe Bar!

They have said that Buncombe is a different kind of place.  It was so different, it even entered our language as an adjective.

In the 16th Congress in 1820 Representative Walker insisting on making a speech when everyone else wanted to proceed with the voting on a bill. He knew that he had nothing of importance to say, but explained that he must make a speech “for Buncombe”—that is, so that the people of Buncombe, who had elected him, might know that he was doing his duty by them. And so the expression bunkum came into use.

The word came to mean “insincere talk” or “claptrap.”

It had staying power: A hundred years later H.L. Menken described insincere flattery as the surest way to reach an American, saying: “he never fails to swell out his chest when he hears that buncombe.”

You may ask why I would talk about a long dead politician making unwelcome and insincere speeches intended merely to please local constituents.  (The irony is not lost on me at this moment.)   The fundamental truth is that Buncombe is still a different kind of place and our bar reflects that difference in all its glory.

Judge Clark in Taylor v. Bailey once wrote about the difference of practicing law up here:

“My colleagues of the majority are mountain men.  The land in question is located in the mountains.  It is possible that their opinion is based on “mountain law,” a body of law peculiar to western North Carolina which permeates the innermost recess of the minds of those who live in that rarefied atmosphere and which may not be fully dispelled from the minds of some mountaineers despite exposure to law of general application throughout the State.”

This is a different kind of place.  It is our place.

When I stood before you 365 days ago, I was sincerely humbled by the confidence you shown in me by allowing me to serve as President of the Bar.  I called this bar “a jewel of value worth preserving and protecting.”  Today, I believe those words even more strongly.

It has been a great year:

  • We have gathered in fellowship: hosted eight luncheons to present educational programming and encourage collegiality among Bar members.
  • We have gathered in fun: hosting the annual Spring Picnic at the Governor’s Western Residence, and the Tourists Baseball game at McCormick field, for all Bar members and their families.
  • We have gathered to learn: with 42 hours of low-cost continuing legal education for members, including a free, 12-hour CLE mandated by the NC State Bar called Professionalism for New Attorneys.
  • We have gathered to welcome new members: conducting a joint Federal and State court swearing-in for new Bar members; and Sponsoring lunch-and-learn programs for the Bar’s Summer Intern Program.
  • We have gathered to say goodbye to those members who left us too soon….
  • We have gathered to honor: nominating several local attorneys for Pro Bono Awards at the state level. In a few minutes we will honor the best among us with the Centennial Award, Professionalism Award, Distinguished Young Lawyer award, and Lifetime Achievement award.
  • We have gathered to heal: Through the Wellness Committee offering website information and links, CLE, wellness activity groups, and low-cost YMCA enrollment; Through renewed access to the Bar Cares confidential counseling program for all members of the 28th JDB; and the third year of our ground breaking “Mindfulness Meditation” CLE series, which has been adopted by Lawyers Assistance Program statewide.
  • We have gathered to celebrate: Hosting a holiday party for all Bar members, helping members to donate a truckload full of toys for less fortunate children involved with Santa Pal.

Most importantly… WE HAVE GATHERED.

In these disconnected times, lawyers of the Buncombe County Bar still get together; we still value the face-to-face contact provided through the programs of the Buncombe County Bar.

For the last year and many years before, the lawyers of Buncombe County have been engaged — engaged in the bar; engaged in the community; and engaged in our future.

We honored that engagement last month with our pro bono program. We will honor that engagement with plaques and applause in a few minutes, but much of the work of the members of the Buncombe County Bar goes unheralded.

I want to take a moment to thank each of you for all you have done for me and the Buncombe Bar this year, and for all you do for the community and for the future.

There is something special that “permeates the innermost recess of the minds of those [lawyers] who live in [this] rarefied atmosphere.”

Buncombe may have once meant “insincere talk or claptrap.”  But I can testify there is nothing insincere about the members of Buncombe County Bar.  You are the finest lawyers in North Carolina, and You are members of the finest bar in the state.  Thank You.