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President's Column
President's Column
M. Gray Styers, Jr.
Tenth J.D. Bar and Wake County Bar Association

 
 
FISHING PIERS & BLUEGRASS FESTIVALS
  
The word "community” is used in a variety of contexts – both nostalgic and hopeful – "a neighborhood community,” "a community of family and friends,” "a professional community.” Many of us express concern about the "loss of community. ”Former WCBA President Christie Roeder often referred to the goal of "making our large bar feel small” – to create a greater sense of community among lawyers practicing in Wake County. Working toward that goal is also a priority of my tenure as president. But what do we mean by "community”? I would like to suggest that two very different, ad hoc, temporary "communities” may provide some guidance as we seek  the value of "community” among attorneys in Wake County. 
 
A "spot” is a small, hand-sized fish found throughout the year in the surf along the North Carolina coast but school and migrate in large numbers at various times in the fall. These "spot runs” can provide for a frantic and bountiful harvest for fishermen onthe few piers still remaining along our coastline. (Small bluefish, "taylor blues,” also school in large numbers, creating similaropportunities).During a "spot run,” hundreds of fishermen stand shoulder-to-shoulder along the north side of the pier – the very young (my nephews went when they were five or six); the very old (my father, at age 78, is not nearly the senior-most person on the pier); white(although decreasing in number over the past 30 years); African American (now compromising a sizable majority); and (increasingly)Latino. A young, white teenager sporting a cap with the Rebel battle flag stands next to a middle-aged, African-American woman wearing a t-shirt with the image of Jay-Z on it. I can go on, but you get the idea. Despite these differences (and some good natured competition as to who can fill their cooler the fastest before the frenzy stops in the wee hours of the morning), there is definitely a"community” on the pier. Multiple fish on multiple lines just a few feet apart inevitably crisscross each other, requiring the fishermen to weave in-and-out with one another to keep the lines from getting tangled. When lines do get tangled, one of the more experienced anglers patiently traces each individual line with his fingers and passes the rods over and under until each line is separated and disengaged from the others. A request for a pair of pliers or a little assistance to remove a hook will quickly be met with four or five offers to help. If you take a break to go to the snack bar, there is no hesitancy to ask the person next to you (formerly a stranger, now a companion with a common pursuit) to watch your line while you are gone, with the knowledge that if a fish hooks itself on your line (a common occurrence), the neighbor will reel in your rod, un-hook your fish, and place it in your cooler (perhaps along with one of two more of his own, if you haven’t caught quite as many that night). If you are running low on bait, the grandmother standing next to you will likely notice and casually observe she has an extra mullet that she doesn’t need and was wondering if you would like to use some of it. If someone gets lucky and hooks a large drum, the neighboring fisherman will immediately reel in their lines to give the fortunate angler room to fight his game, will watch and encourage the struggle, and volunteer to lower the drop net to the surface to assist and hoist the caught fish up and over the pier railing. When the drum is finally placed in the cooler, all celebrate the successful catch, without jealousy or suspicion, and ask the successful fisherman to share his secrets and advice, which he freely gives.
  
Toward the other end of the state, at crossroads like Union Grove (The Ole Time Fiddlers’ Convention) and in towns like Wilkesboro (Merlefest) – and now in Raleigh, with the upcoming IBMA World of Bluegrass – another type of community forms for a few days for bluegrass music festivals. Many of the attendees will camp in tents in campgrounds close to the festival venue. Around the campfires and picnic table, three or four or more musicians will gather for an impromptu jam session. The group mayinclude a lawyer, a doctor, a school teacher, a farmer, an auto mechanic and an off-the-grid ex-hippie – but their respective wealth oreconomic class is irrelevant. Their ages and experience are also irrelevant; the 70-year-old fiddler slowly shows a teenage first-timer a chord sequence needed to play an old standard. The hot, young-gun banjo picker shares a new riff to the admiration of the old-timersas they follow along. Even the beginners are welcome: "Play a ‘G’ major chord at the start of every other measure and a ‘D’ during the chorus; you’ll pick up the rest.” All are welcome.The better groups will have a mix of instruments that complement each other – a fiddle, a banjo, a guitar, perhaps a string bass.Each musician knows his or her part that they may have played hundreds of times before, but they welcome the opportunity to learn anew variation or approach that improves their skills and adds to their repertoire. If one musician – say, the bass player – needs to return to the stage for a competition, another bass player steps into the group, asks which key the next song will be in, and is welcomed by the others as part of the ensemble. Their common love of music and their genuine joy and fellowship of working together creates the "community” these musicians share.* * *What can these other communities – so unlike our legal profession – teach us about the values that make a community? How dowe respond when our "fishing lines” (communications) with opposing counsel get crossed and tangled? Are we bothered by ourgrowing diversity or do we welcome and celebrate the opportunities to learn from one another? Do we teach (mentor) young"musicians” (new attorneys) who may be new to our county and who are trying to learn "the old standards” (courthouse routines)? Dowe help, and celebrate, when a colleague or a peer hooks and lands "the big fish” (perhaps a promotion or a large contingency fee)?Do we blend our instruments, or skills, or talents, with those playing alongside us (on a transactional team or with litigation co-counsel),and do we take turns playing the lead on different verses? If we see someone with a troublesome hook (a novel legal argument), or needing help tying on a new leader line (piecing together disparate facts in discovery), are we quick to lend a hand (or teach a CLE class)? Do we enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship (at social events or over lunch) that flow from shared interests and common goals? Are we willing to improve our skills by learning a new tune (a developing area of the law) or watching the well-placed cast by an experienced fisherman (attending a Breakfast-at-Campbell discussion)? Do we offer a few of our caught fish to those less fortunate (through pro bono or public service projects)? Do we find joy from the experience of the moment – whether in the sound of the surf, the reflection of the moon or the feel of the sea breeze, or perhaps from the smoke of the campfire, the harmonies from well played instruments, or the legacy of long-remembered music, handed down from generation to generation? Do we enjoy the practice of law, with its noble traditions, its call to service, and its professional standards? Within the answers to these types of questions lie the values, the common experiences, the camaraderie and fellowship, that make a community – whether on a fishing pier, at a bluegrass festival, in the courthouse or in a bar association. That feeling of belonging to a community of professionals is my hope for all attorneys practicing in Wake County.
  
The upcoming "Wake County Bar Awards” production is a wonderful event that brings us together and defines us as a "community.” Please place it on your calendar for October 21 and plan to attend. The Bar Awards is a funny, satirical, musical show by your community (Wake County attorneys), about our community (life as an attorney), to our community, for the benefit of Legal Aid of North Carolina in our community. The event showcases some incredible (and often unknown) musical talent within our community, and, while the "awards” given during the show are strictly for entertainment purposes, they also honor the very real accomplishments and contributions of distinguished members of our Bench and Bar. For more information, see the article on page 3, and don’t miss this
evening of hilarious comedy, great music, and fun fellowship. WBF
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