Maria M. Lynch, Lynch & Eatman LLP
The 2019 recipient of the Joseph Branch Professionalism Award is Phyllis B. Pickett. Phyllis is an outstanding lawyer, bar leader, community leader and occasional fountain pen surgeon. Phyllis started her legal career working for Legal Aid in southeastern and northeastern North Carolina. From Legal Aid she moved to Wake County and served as an assistant county attorney for four-and-a-half years. In 1991, Phyllis was recruited to join the staff of the General Assembly, in part because of her expertise in local government law and county issues. She has been a staff attorney at the General Assembly ever since.
Phyllis serves as the principal legislative analyst and staff attorney for the Legislative Drafting Division. While her initial focus at the legislature was county law, today she primarily handles appropriations and information technology issues, as well as employment law. Employment law is the one constant throughout her legal career. As a legal services attorney she represented plaintiffs, as an assistant county attorney she represented the county as a defendant, and at the general assembly she drafts labor and employment laws. The Legislative Drafting Division is non-partisan, and as a staff attorney Phyllis deals with people from all walks of life with various political viewpoints.
Phyllis is a double Tar Heel, having obtained her undergraduate degree in 1979 as a history major and James M. Johnson Scholar, then her law degree in 1982. Throughout her legal career, Phyllis has been involved with local, state and national bar associations. At our own Wake County and Tenth Judicial District Bars, Phyllis has served on the Leadership Development Committee, the Nominating Committee and the Grievance Committee. She also served as Secretary of the WCBA and Tenth for two years.
Phyllis has also held a number of leadership positions at the North Carolina Bar Association. She has Chaired the Endowment Committee, served on the Board of Governors, has Chaired the Membership Committee, the Administrative Law Section Counsel and served as Co-chair of the Committee on Women in the Profession. Phyllis has also been heavily involved with the American Bar Association where she has chaired the Judicial Division Lawyers Conference and the Perceptions of Justice Steering Committee. She served on the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress and served as Section Advisor to the Uniform Law Commission Drafting Committee on the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act.
When asked what she does for fun, Phyllis says “I’m a baby boomer… work is my fun.” She does, however, enjoy traveling with her spouse LaVie. They are active at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, and Phyllis served four years as a delegate to the annual convention of the North Carolina Episcopal Diocese.
In writing this piece, I learned a lot about her main hobby. She collects and uses mostly modern and some vintage fountain pens. She is especially fond of Japanese and Italian brands, but apparently there is an emerging brand based here called Franklin-Christoph. She has visited their factory in Wake Forest. She also repairs pens, including performing delicate ink bladder “surgery.” The Triangle has a very active fountain pen community and hosts an annual pen meets in Durham and Raleigh.
Phyllis believes one of the most important aspects of professionalism is mentoring, both being a mentor to others and having mentors your entire career. She cites among others who have been mentors to her, Lisbon Berry and Jim Wall, two civil rights lawyers she admired for their grit. In her mid-career, former Wake County Attorney Mike Ferrell and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson gave her insight and calm in framing issues. Gerry Cohen at the Legislature was always a willing teacher.
One aspect she loves about the law is working closely with diverse lawyers; not just in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and political views, but also generational diversity. Phyllis says she learns so much from her younger colleagues. They have affected her worldview and her perspective on issues and problems, but I believe she has had an even more profound effect on theirs.