Update from State Bar Councilor Anna Hamrick

Dear Members of the Buncombe County Bar –

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the new year!

The NCSB Council recently held its first quarterly meeting of the year. You will get a more detailed report from the Bar, but in the meantime here are some brief updates:

One of the big pieces of news is we are one step closer to being able to do all of our required CLE online. The proposed rule changes which would allow this are being drafted and will go to the Supreme Court for approval within a couple weeks. Hopefully it will not take a long time for the Court to review the proposed amendments and let us know their thoughts. I will keep you posted.

You may have heard of the proposal regarding use of the term “specialist.” The Ethics Committee declined to endorse the proposed language as it was determined a large number of board-certified specialists did not support it. Unlike many states, NC has a board-certified specialization program, so the use of the term in NC carries more weight than it may in states which do not have such a program.

The NC IOLTA Report to the North Carolina State Bar Council has some positive news: While all 2018 IOLTA income from participating banks that hold IOLTA accounts will not be received and entered until the end of January. Participant income through November 2018 was more than $2.5 million, an increase of 64% over the same period in 2017. This increase during the same period from 2016 to 2017 was only 2%. We hope this positive trend will continue into 2019 to enhance availability of funds for grantmaking. At the November 30 grantmaking meeting, the IOLTA trustees approved 2019 IOLTA grant awards. Regular 2019 IOLTA grants totaled nearly $1.85 million: $1,447,000 to support providers of direct civil legal services, $305,000 to volunteer lawyer programs, and $112,500 to projects to improve the administration of justice. An additional grant of $998,000 was made to the Home Defense Project Collaborative to support foreclosure prevention legal services provided by six organizations across the state. This grant was made with funds from the national Bank of America settlement.

The IOLTA trustees also dedicated funds to rebuild the reserve fund which has a current balance of $367,201. Though the amount will not be finalized until all 2018 income has been received, we anticipate a contribution of at least $500,000.

One of the goals of the NCSB is to make itself and its functions more transparent to our members and the public. We recently started to show the full council meeting live on Facebook (this is the meeting that usually starts on the Friday of the quarterly meetings at 8:30 am). If you follow the NCSB’s Facebook page, you can be part of the action. In the interest of trying to help with increased transparency, I thought I would start doing a short segment focusing on one part of the Bar. In this edition, let’s get to know the Office of Counsel.

The Office of Counsel (“OOC”) is the legal department of the North Carolina State Bar. It consists of disciplinary staff, authorized practice staff, the investigations department, the Attorney/Client Assistance Program (ACAP) staff, and the trust account compliance program. The OOC reports to the Grievance Committee upon all grievance files opened by the State Bar involving allegations of professional misconduct by North Carolina lawyers. It investigates and tries claims of professional misconduct and disability. The OOC assists the Authorized Practice Committee by investigating and reporting upon complaints concerning the unauthorized practice of law, including representing the State Bar in lawsuits to obtain injunctions prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law. It provides legal counsel to the Client Security Fund Board of Directors and pursues subrogation actions for recovery of funds paid by the CSF. It coordinates the appointment of trustees to wind down the practices of deceased, disabled, and disbarred lawyers and obtains court orders to disburse funds in the trust accounts of disbarred and suspended lawyers. The OOC represents the State Bar in litigation in federal and state trial and appellate courts and provides legal opinions on issues of interest to all departments, committees, and boards of the State Bar.

The ACAP staff helps members of the public resolve problems with lawyers other than matters involving potentially serious violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The ACAP staff also provides information about the grievance process, the courts and the justice system, and helps resolve fee disputes between lawyers and their clients.

The OOC includes sixteen lawyers, one of whom serves as trust account compliance counsel, one administrator, ten investigators, one random auditor, eight paralegals, four administrative assistants,one investigative assistant, two investigative clerks, the ACAP director, who is also a fee dispute resolution facilitator, a second fee dispute resolution facilitator, and two public liaisons. After this brief introduction, if you have questions about the OOC, please let me know and I will try to get you the answer.

If you need any ethics CLE, I will be doing a one-hour CLE presentation created by the NCSB on Friday, February 22, 2019 from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. It covers the basic workings of the State Bar. Just FYI, it is the same one given last year when the Supreme Court came to town.

Lastly, I would like to let you know how much I appreciate your reelection of me to represent you in this office. I hope to be of use to our Bar, and welcome any ideas you may have how I can improve . For this year, I have been assigned to the following committees: Communications, Distinguished Service Award, Executive, Legislative, and Grievance (Vice Chair, subcommittee II). Please let me know if there is any way I can be of help to you in State Bar related matters, or if you have any questions, concerns, or criticisms. My email is Hamrick@gtalaw.net.

Anna R. Hamrick