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Thursday, March 26, 2020

“The legal profession is a group of people united in a learned calling for the public good. At their best, lawyers assure the availability of legal services to all, regardless of ability to pay, and as leaders of their communities, states, and nation, lawyers use their education and experience to improve society.”

-Preamble to the NC Rules of Professional Conduct

Dear North Carolina Lawyers,

I write to you today during this unprecedented moment for the legal profession, our state, and our country to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation for your efforts. In times of crisis and uncertainty, lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society by ensuring the survival of due process and the rule of law. Additionally, our skills as lawyers translate well into the public-service leadership roles many of us undertake in our communities on a daily basis. These skills, and our commitment to use these skills for the betterment of our struggling state, are more important now than ever. 

While these are uncertain times for the citizens of our state and we are called upon by our professional duty to be leaders, instill confidence, and dispense wise guidance, I understand that you as individuals, parents, employees, and business owners are equally uncertain about your short-term futures. Earlier this week, the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Bar Association sent letters to Governor Cooper asking him to consider the critical need for legal services when ordering additional prohibitions and restrictions. It is our belief that legal services are “essential” and should be exempt from any local or state-wide “shelter in place” order, as has been the case in other states across the country.

Lawyers are most essential, however, when we hold true to the commitment reflected in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct to “provide community service, community leadership, and public interest legal services without fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, in such areas as poverty law, civil rights, public rights law, charitable organization representation, and the administration of justice.” While it may be exceedingly difficult at a time when you are faced with so many competing obligations, I encourage you to increase your pro bono efforts during this period of crisis.

The State Bar’s Office of Counsel continues to regulate the profession for the protection of the public. The present economic circumstances increase the risk of fraud and theft from lawyers’ trust accounts. Please monitor activity in your trust account frequently and thoroughly, consider eliminating access to your trust account by anyone other than owners of your law firm, and do not fall victim to criminals attempting to divert money from your trust account through wire fraud scams. State Bar ethics lawyers (ethicsadvice@ncbar.gov) are available to provide confidential ethics advice, and the Trust Account Compliance Counsel (lhodge@ncbar.gov) is available to answer trust account questions.

Additionally, the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (nclap.org) is available to provide confidential assistance with mental health and substance abuse issues and other life stressors that may impair our ability to practice law in this difficult time.

North Carolina has many challenging weeks ahead, but I am comforted by the fact that the lawyers of our state stand ready and able to provide the wise counsel and leadership that our citizens desperately need. Please stay safe, and thanks again for your service.

Sincerely,

C. Colon Willoughby Jr.
President, North Carolina State Bar

Filed Under: General News

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