State Bar Councilor Update

Dear Friends and Colleagues of the Buncombe County Bar –

I hope you are all hanging in there.  Please find below my informal report of the October 2020 NCSB Quarterly meeting.  As you probably expect, we met via Zoom.  All meetings open to the public were also livestreamed on the NCSB Youtube page, should you wish to see them.

Notable points of interest include the following:

*We bid farewell to C. Colon Willoughby, Jr., originally of Tabor City, currently of Raleigh, as our President.  He led us wonderfully during this especially difficult year.  Chief Justice Beasley swore in our 86th president, Barbara R. Christy, of Greensboro.  Barbara earned her BS magna cum laude from Appalachian State University, and her JD from the University of North Carolina School of Law.  A member of Schell Bray PLLC, in Greensboro, North Carolina, her practice focuses on commercial real estate transactions.  Her professional activities include volunteering with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Lawyer on the Line initiative and the Pro Bono Resource Center. She is also a North Carolina State Bar board certified specialist in real property law—business, commercial, and industrial transactions, a fellow with the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, and a member of the Piedmont Triad Commercial Real Estate Women. Additionally, Barbara is involved with her community, serving on the Board of Directors for Southern Alamance Family Empowerment, Inc., and is a past member of the UNC Law Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors.

*The Bar passed a motion adopting the CLE Board’s proposal for a publication of rule change to require 1 hour of CLE on Diversity, Inclusion, and Elimination of Bias Training be added to the CLE requirements for active members of the State Bar.  Because the CLE Board is currently studying ways in which the reporting requirements might be more efficiently managed, the proposed rule is a temporary measure that only requires all active lawyers to take a 1 hour course in 2022.  It is anticipated that eventually the Board will propose a rule requiring the course on some periodic basis, like once every 3 years.

*The Ethics Committee Report included:

  1. Due to the great number of comments received , the amendment to Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct regarding inclusion of anti-discrimination language is being sent to a subcommittee for further consideration.
  1. A proposed new comment to Rule 1.1 (Competency) regarding awareness of implicit bias and cultural differences will continue to be studied by an ethics subcommittee.
  1. The subcommittee tasked with studying whether the North Carolina State Bar should add language to Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct making discrimination and harassment while acting as a lawyer professional misconduct  is continuing its work.

The Council adopted 2 Ethics Opinions:

  1. 2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 3 Solo Practitioner as Witness/Litigant – This opinion rules that a solo practitioner/owner of a PLLC is not prohibited from representing the PLLC and testifying in a dispute with a former client.
  2. 2020 Formal Ethics Opinion 4 Investment in Litigation Financing – This opinion rules that a lawyer may not invest in a fund that provides litigation financing if the lawyer’s practice accepts clients who obtain litigation financing.

Fees and Dues for 2021:

Each year the Council must set the amount of the annual membership fee. Dues are currently $300, which is the statutory maximum. The Finance and Audit Committee recommended, and the Bar Council agreed that the same amount be charged in 2021.

Client Security Fund:  The fiscal year for the Client Security Fund ends on September 30.  For 2020, the assessment imposed by the Supreme Court was $25 for each active member. The Bar Council recommended a $25 assessment for 2021.

*For those of you who may be interested in statistics, please see below.

Ethics Committee Stats:

The Ethics Committee responded to 1086 inquiries this third quarter.

Bar Exam Stats:

In terms of new lawyers for the year, 1300 applications were received for the 2020 North Carolina Bar Examinations, a decrease from the 1443 applications filed for the 2019 North Carolina Bar Examinations.  The February 2020 bar examination was administered to 402 applicants. Of the 116 first-timers from North Carolina law schools, 84 passed for a rate of 72.41%. The overall pass rate for the examination was 50.75%.  The July 2020 bar examination was administered in-person to 668 applicants on July 28 and 29, 2020.   The Board granted testing accommodations to all applicants who filed a request for accommodations due to immunocompromised conditions, and to applicants who filed a request due to having an immunocompromised member of their household. Fourteen applicants were granted a private testing room with a dedicated proctor.

The overall passing rate for the July 2020 Bar Examination was 83.08%. The passing rate for first-timers from North Carolina law schools was 91.82%. For out-of-state law schools, the passing rate for first-time applicants was 84.92%.

Attorney Client Assistance Program Stats:

During the third quarter of 2020, the Attorney Client Assistance Program staff responded to 778 phone calls from members of the public and placed 186 calls to lawyers in an effort to resolve their concerns. Staff also responded to 1,251 emails from members of the public and from attorneys and responded to 613 letters from inmates.

The State Bar opened 91 requests for fee dispute resolution during the third quarter, all of which were assigned to the two State Bar facilitators.

Grievance Stats:

In 2016, 1,375 grievance files were opened. In 2017, 1,305 grievance files were opened. In 2018, 1,247 grievance files were opened. In 2019, 1254 grievance files were opened. Through October 15, 2020, 770 grievance files were opened. As of October 14, 1052 grievances were pending. One hundred-forty-three grievances were stayed. Seventy-eight pending files were in the judicial district grievance committees or had been returned by the district grievance committees within the past 30 days. The OOC had made its recommendation in 168 of the pending cases and the cases were ready for the Grievance Committee’s decision. Of the remaining 663 files in which no recommendation has yet been made, 137 were more than six months old. In the third quarter of 2020, 156 files were dismissed by the Grievance chair or by the Grievance chair and a vice chair.

There were no inquiries about lawyer advertising in the third quarter of 2020.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you at the Council, and please let me know if you have any concerns, questions or criticisms!

Sincerely, Anna Hamrick