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Harness the Power of Feedback

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Monday, March 26, 2018

Whitney Waldenberg, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.

When we think about communications with our clients, we are often focused on our obligations under Rule 1.4 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.  As a result, we often view communication with a client in somewhat clinical terms: reporting information to the client, advising the client about his or her rights, explaining the pros and cons of pursuing a claim or defense, and obtaining the client’s consent to a particular course of action.  But have you ever considered expanding the scope?  For example, would you consider asking your client for feedback on how you are doing?

Extending an invitation for feedback from your client may not seem like a fun exercise and may even feel a little uncomfortable.  After all, most of us strive to be self-assured, and asking for feedback may feel like self-doubt.  However, asking for feedback may not only enhance the relationship you have with your client, it may also avoid misunderstandings, improve your practice, and importantly, provide some welcomed affirmation.

Consider this: just by extending the invitation for feedback, you will have communicated to your client that you care about him or her, that you are interested in what he or she has to say, and that you are listening.  The invitation will likely be well-received, appreciated, and may reinforce your client’s confidence in you.

Further, by giving the client an opportunity to provide some feedback, you may uncover a misunderstanding of which you were previously unaware.  Such a discovery provides a key opportunity to address a relatively small issue early on, before it potentially snowballs into a larger problem.  Many disciplinary complaints stem from breakdowns in communication between the attorney and client and addressing concerns in a proactive manner may just prove to be the stitch in time that saved nine.

If the client is forthcoming, you may learn about areas for improvement. For example, you may learn that while email communication is easiest for you, your client is not computer-savvy and prefers to receive phone calls.  Or you may learn that your client was expecting to hear from you every day, and you now have an opportunity to manage that expectation.  Receiving this type of feedback may flag common issues that you can address across your practice to enhance your relationship with all clients.

Finally, you may actually get some positive feedback, and who doesn’t want that?!


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Do Help The Elderly Person Cross The Street But Be Careful Crossing Back

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Thursday, March 1, 2018

by: Ted Smyth, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog

I imagine most every lawyer at some point finds herself or himself in the position where she or he has been asked about a topic or issue, while at the curbstone, the BBQ picnic table, the restaurant line or most likely on a telephone call.  Inevitably, someone is seeking legal advice or assistance, in a situation where it is readily apparent, perhaps due to the size of the fees, that your representation is impractical.  In my particular arcane area, it is often a phone call seeking representation for something such as: obtaining loss arising from diminished resale value as part of an automobile collision claim; or an inquiry as to whether the homeowner’s insurer can ask the policyholder to give a recorded statement under oath.  My fellow insurance law geeks know what I’m talking about here! Often, you simply observe that it is not really a circumstance where it would be economically prudent to represent the person.  However, sometimes the impulse arises to spend an extra 5 or 8 minutes on the telephone and give a brief tutorial on that process or issue, perhaps as do-it-yourself suggestion for the person on the other end of the phone. 

Patiently spending an extra 5 to 8 minutes is a frequent occurrence when you are speaking to friends or friends of friends.  Sometimes the person on the other end of the line has absolutely no connection to you, and it is simply a cold call business inquiry.  Even then, I sometimes find myself breaking out the 5 to 8 minute tutorial, when it is highly likely I will never see, hear from, or connect with the person on the other end of the phone ever again.  I would like to think that this impulse arises from the basic desire to have the general population believe that lawyers are good people, and like doctors, we would like to assist a person in immediate need.  That is an excellent and noble reason to spend the extra time on a voluntary basis on the telephone with people who need assistance - to build trust in lawyers as a group. 

I believe that subconsciously, I execute a sliding scale approach to participating in such things depending on my perception of that person’s relative poverty-challenged circumstances, willingness to work hard, and sense of appreciation.  Honestly, it also depends on whether I got a good parking space that morning and don’t have a brief due at 5 o’clock.  I believe that somewhere in the cosmic karma of the universe, when a good thing happens, a tiny vibration bounces out into the world and causes others to do the same.  It is the next best thing to sitting at a phone bank at a Bar Association 4All call-in Friday, a pro bono clinic, or another affirmative commitment to be at a specific place at a particular time to render free legal services.  It is kind of a bite-sized helping of helping.  It is organic, it is random, and it will not make or break a day.

Of course, you want to safely get back to the other side of the street after you have assisted the grandmother in the crosswalk.  I have a couple of internal processes I try to follow in these circumstances.  First, if I decide to take the 5 to 8 minute tour of some arcane area, I have already decided I am not going to charge a fee for the information.  If there is going to be a fee involved, it is an entirely different conversation for me and would need to be structured like any other formal retention of a client.  Second, if the person seeking assistance offers to pay me for my time, I always say no.  Along those same lines, I try to say at least three or four times in the course of this brief discussion that I am not the person’s lawyer, I am just talking to that person today about some general things that might be helpful.  I do not prognosticate on chances that X or Y will likely be the outcome of their efforts, or otherwise handicap how things will progress for them going forward.  I always warn them that there are statutes of limitations and repose, even if I don’t believe there are any such pressing matters.  I always say they could call another lawyer or two if they want for different perspectives.  Even after stating that you are not this person’s lawyer, a letter to the person on the other end of the line confirming you are not their lawyer should be utilized to impress that point on the person with whom you are speaking. 

Additionally, I do not suggest that this telephone call be the first installment of a multiple call series of advice, and I do not invite a periodic call back.  When I get off the phone, I do not expect to ever hear from the person again.  The North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct are instructive on these matters.  For example, Rule 1.2(c) and Comments [6], [7], [8] and [9] are instructive on an interaction with a client that is limited in scope; Rule 1.16 and Comment [1] are instructive in declining or terminating representation; and Rule 1.18 is instructive on duties to perspective clients, and in particular, the notion that information shared - even in that brief encounter - is subject to privilege.  Finally, one needs to be mindful that in these limited interactions, issues relating to conflict of interest with other firm clients or matters may arise.

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Choosing to Light Lamps

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Wednesday, February 14, 2018

by: Deanna Brocker, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.

I recently attended a funeral for a friend’s mother, and was moved by the service and the remarks made about this wonderful woman.  I learned that my friend’s mother lived by these words: “Attitude is everything. You can either choose to curse the darkness around you, or you can choose to light lamps.  Always choose to light lamps.”  I love this metaphor.  I certainly see darkness in my profession from time to time.  Attorneys are angry about grievances filed by clients they believe are ungrateful or unreasonable.  The State Bar issues discipline against attorneys who are not managing their trust accounts as the rules require, and the feeling is that the punishment is too harsh. Lawyers are losing their licenses to practice law for lapses in judgment that cause harm to the profession.

I have also seen lawyers who have taken the grievance process and disciplinary proceedings in stride.  Instead of cursing the client who brought the grievance, the attorney took the opportunity to re-evaluate her law firm’s client service and responsiveness, and make positive changes in her practice.  Instead of cursing the State Bar staff or the grievance process, another attorney found out something he did not know before.  As part of his written response to the State Bar and given the nature of the allegations against his character, we advised the attorney to get character letters from his colleagues and those in the community to support his good character for truthfulness.  The outpouring of support was uplifting, and the attorney learned how well his peers and others thought about and appreciated him.  Without the State Bar grievance process, he may never have known how much he was loved and respected.  In another instance, where an attorney faced losing his law license, he reconsidered whether the practice of law was truly his calling, and ended up finding more joy by following his passion to another profession.

These attorneys are just a few examples of those whose attitude made all the difference.  They chose to light lamps rather than curse the darkness.  I believe they came out better for having done so.

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Professional Relationships – How Important is it to Be “Right?"

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Thursday, February 1, 2018

by: Crystal S. Carlisle, The Brocker Law Firm P.A.

Raising a very strong-willed seven-year old daughter definitely has its challenges.  One of the many life lessons that we want her to learn is the lesson of how to properly interact with her peers.  One concept we recently discussed is when it is okay to not be “right.”  For example, our daughter often corrects her friends when they say or do something that she knows isn’t correct.  Sometimes it is helpful, and sometimes it is frankly annoying.  We have tried to explain to her that unless it is something very important, it is okay to let mistakes go.  She was very confused by this statement.  It is hard for her to grasp the concept.  If something isn’t right, shouldn’t it be corrected?  I asked her if she would rather have good relationships with her friends or always be right.  She stated, “I want both.”  We have some work to do.

This conversation made me think about our interactions with each other as professionals.  Have you ever had a conversation with a peer who corrected you constantly?  Are you the one who constantly corrects other professionals?  Their pronunciation of words?  When you know what the person meant, but they used the wrong word?  Have you ever corrected the word “your” to “you’re” in an email where it was not critical?  Is this behavior professional?  It probably depends.

Correcting a small issue that will not affect anyone else is probably not a good idea, particularly in public.  You may embarrass your colleague which will not foster a great professional relationship.  However, if the person’s mistake could impact others in a negative way, it may be necessary.  If that is the case, perhaps you should attempt to point out the mistake in private, if possible.  It is also helpful to avoid using words or phrases that come across as pompous and condescending.  For example, instead of saying, “actually, it is pronounced voir dire,” you could say, “I have always had a hard time with those Latin words.  I heard the judge pronounce it “vwar dir.” 

Manners are a huge part of professionalism and are not something we should focus on only as a child.  If you catch yourself correcting someone for something relatively unimportant, you may want to pose the same question to yourself that I asked my daughter?  Would you rather have a good relationship with your fellow professionals, or be right all the time?  You likely cannot have both. 

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Professional New Year’s Resolutions

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Tuesday, January 23, 2018


by: Douglas J. Brocker, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.

It’s the time of year when people make personal resolutions for the coming year – eat less, exercise more, lose weight, spend more time with family, spend less time watching television, don’t sweat the small stuff, etc.  Personal resolutions are a good way to remind yourself of important goals to set for the upcoming year.  It’s also a good time of year to turn off the electronic devices temporarily, engage in some essential self-reflection, set certain professional goals, and most importantly lay out detailed, specific steps to achieve those essential professional goals in 2018.

Professional goals, just like personal resolutions, are individual and the results of introspection about your most important core values and priorities.  Adopting somebody else’s resolutions would defeat the essential purpose of the exercise. Setting aside some time in January to reflect on your 2018 professional aspirations will be well worth the investment, in my experience. 

The following are just some examples for you to consider to spark some thought in developing your own core professional values and goals for 2018:

• Listen more, talk less: as the saying goes, you have two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in relative proportion. 

• Live balanced: set boundaries for your clients/patients and your employer/supervisor and stick to them.

• Work smart: find your most productive period of day and set aside that time to do work that requires concentration and protect it from interferences, except true emergencies.

• Take vacations and time away from work every week to recharge and disconnect completely.

• Write brief personal notes or letters to others on a regular basis; set a realistic goal and calendar a reminder.  

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Thank You, Doug Brocker

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

by: Ashley Campbell, Immediate Past President WCBA/Tenth J.D. Bar

In December, Doug Brocker completed his sixth year as Chair of the Professionalism Committee of the Tenth Judicial District Bar.  He has been a model chairman and an example to all of us of exceptional leadership.

 Under Doug’s leadership, the Professionalism Committee has thrived.

In 2013, the members of the Committee established the Connections Mentoring Program, in collaboration with Campbell Law School to promote and maintain professionalism within the Bar.  The Program was fully implemented in 2014.  Just two years later, the American Bar Association awarded the Program the esteemed E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, which award recognizes exemplary and innovative professionalism programs.   The ABA said that the Connections Program “embraces best practices and stands as a model bar/law school partnership for others to follow.”

In addition, the Professional Committee has continued to publish its well-regarded Professionalism Blog, shining a light on topics of interest to the profession.  The committee also leads a professionalism roundtable discussion every fall, which is held during the October luncheon and is always well-attended.

During his final year as Chair, Doug led the celebration of our Bar Association’s Creed of Professionalism.  The Creed is a statement of our values and our commitment to Professionalism.  In it, we each affirm:

“To the public and our profession, I offer service. I will strive to improve the law and our legal system, and to make our legal system more accessible, responsive, and effective for all. I recognize the importance of contributing my time and resources to the Bar, public service, community and civic activities.”

Through his commitment to the Professionalism Committee, and to our Bar Association where he served as President of the Tenth Judicial District Bar in 2009, Doug has modeled the professional value of service to our members.  We are grateful to Doug for his generosity and service to our Bar.

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Career Mentoring

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Friday, December 15, 2017

by: Leanor Bailey Hodge, Deputy Counsel The North Carolina State Bar

Career mentorship is one of the main functions of a mentor/protégé relationship.  Career mentorship really focuses on experiences that positively impact the protégé’s opportunity for future advancement and compensation.  While this seems to be an ambitious goal, research shows that individuals who have been mentored report greater career outcomes, including higher compensation and increased job satisfaction.[i]

This type of mentorship can be accomplished in a number of ways.  Mentors can provide protégés with favorable and challenging work assignments as a way for a protégé to gain not only the skills necessary to accomplish the particular task but build confidence in their abilities to perform.  Another example can be found in talking about the “unwritten rules” of law practice.  I learned early on from my mentor that just because you can do something according to the rules doesn’t mean that it is the way you should practice law.  Other ways to provide career mentoring include networking, teaching the value and how to do it well; time management, how to balance and structure a work day effectively; and career planning, how you got to your current spot and how you handled challenges along the way.  One important thing to remember in any type of mentoring experience is to embrace and learn from mistakes.  Mistakes happen to us all, how they are handled is what is important.

It is also important to note that career mentoring will look different depending on which stage the protégé is currently in within their career.  For example, a newly-minted attorney may need more guidance or coaching whereas a seasoned attorney may seek more alternative ideas, support, or reassurance from their mentor. 

We are always looking for qualified mentors that can provide these meaningful experiences for our protégés in the Campbell Law Connections Mentorship Program.  For additional information on the program and requirements, please contact Megan West Sherron at


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Professionalism During the HoliDaze

Posted By Sarah L. Justice, Wake County Bar Association, Friday, December 1, 2017

By: Howard A. Marsilio

Tis the season for two types of people, those who putter and those who scramble. Who is cooking the turkey? When is our flight? Should we drive or fly? Where’s Kevin? For those of you like me, that find yourself scrambling more than puttering, now is the time to sit down and make a list (and check it twice).

You could make a quick phone call to anyone to say I’ll be out of the office between X and Y now to avoid disappointment or resentment later. You could take a moment to get co-workers, associates, and assistants up to speed on your matters now to make them feel prepared for your absence and not dumped on later. Of course, let’s not forget the clients. Clients’ reactions may vary when they receive an out-of-office reply stating “Happy fall y’all! See ya next year!” to their burning questions about their case.

During a time of year when the professional world seems to slow to a crawl, it is nice to remember opposing counsel, co-workers, judges, court clerks, hearing officers, clients, etc. are likely all scrambling behind the scenes too. Professionalism and courtesy is a gift worth giving, and more often than not it will lead to being on the professionalism nice list in 2018. Happy holidays!!!!

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Let It Be More Than a Creed

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Friday, November 17, 2017

By Edd K. Roberts III, Roberts Law Office, P.A.

            This past February marked the 20 year anniversary of our Creed of Professionalism. The creed states, in part: “As lawyers, we are guardians of our legal system, and we have an important professional responsibility to recognize, honor and enhance the rule of law. We are in a privileged position and therefore, we work under special obligations. To forget or to set aside these obligations is to dishonor our profession.” (Creed of Professionalism of the North Carolina Wake County/Tenth Judicial Bar, 1997).

 These words are the result of a collaborative effort of intelligent men and women who understood the obligations of those called to our profession, and who desired to charge those of us who are honored to practice law.  As a newly minted lawyer I was given a copy of this creed, which I promptly framed along with my various degrees to display on my bare office walls.  Despite the fact that these words hang only a short distance away from where I regularly work, I am guilty of not reading them as much as I should or giving them the contemplation and reflection that they warrant.   In fact, in today’s environment especially with the evolution of the smartphone, everyone seems to be in a constant communication rush.  I am routinely guilty of multi-tasking with texts and e-mails to clients and other attorneys when walking between the office and the courthouse, not taking the time I need to focus on how to best honor my profession.   Instead of interacting with colleagues in my immediate surroundings while I’m in court waiting to speak with a prosecutor or go before a judge, I too often am on my smartphone checking and returning e-mails.  My client interactions seem to be less face to face and more emailing and text messaging.  I find myself dealing with attorneys, judges, and court personnel more through emailing and text messaging now more than ever.  There seems to be a constant draw for me to check for new emails and text messages now that I walk around with a computer in my pocket 24/7.  While I want to keep up with the advances in the way we communicate and have it compliment me in my practice of law, this need to provide an immediate response frequently interferes with the opportunities that surround me.  Thank goodness I don’t know how to tweet, snapchat, or instant message via Facebook or I wouldn’t have time for anything else during my day.  Reflecting on all this, I have to ask myself, “Am I taking time during my day to embrace these guiding beliefs or losing sight of them with all this constant communication?” For me the only way to know for sure that I’m diligently following these guiding beliefs is to keep the creed fresh in my memory. Knowing this, I have dusted off my framed creed and repositioned it on the wall in my office above my writing desk, so that while seated I can plainly see these words every day which make me more likely to read them. In doing so, I hope to remind myself as I work hard to succeed and prosper that the practice of law is a profession and not a business. To always remember as I go about my profession that I have certain responsibilities to my clients, to the public, to my colleagues, to the courts, and to opposing counsel. To digest this creed on a regular basis is the best way for me to ensure that I don’t lose sight of these responsibilities.  And if you would like a copy of the creed……text me and I will email you one….or you could just simply ask me for one too. 



 *Any opinion or views expressed in blogs posted on this site are those of the identified author and not the Committee as a whole.

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Attorney-Lobbyists --- Ethics Rules Apply

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Thursday, November 2, 2017

By David Ferrell, Nexsen Pruet PLLC

Many of us handle matters for clients that may not seem to meet the definition of practicing law – particularly when it comes to state government lobbying. With lobbying, we’re not filing a complaint; not in a courtroom, not drafting a contract, and not representing parties at mediation. There are certainly non-lawyers that advocate for clients before the legislature and government agencies. However, a large number of lobbyists are attorneys, and a good bit of what you do as a lobbyist seems to cross over into the practice of law – or at least could. And we are certainly dealing with clients, possibly opposing parties on the issue, and ultimately advocating a position.

With this in mind, the question arises as to whether the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) apply to attorneys while conducting lobbying activities. The short answer is “yes.” Although some rules directly deal with conduct of the attorney outside the practice of lobbying, such as conduct toward the tribunal, advocacy in court, etc., most of the rules of the RPC have general applicability to an attorney’s practice of lobbying. By way of example: Rule 1 -  scope of representation, confidentiality, conflicts; Rule 4 – truthfulness in statements to others, communications with persons represented by counsel; Rule 8.4 misconduct (just to name a few). And certainly our personal standards of right and wrong apply as they would in the general practice of law. An attorney-lobbyist should read these rules periodically.

There is a professional trade association for lobbyists: North Carolina Professional Lobbyists Association (NCPLA). The NCPLA has adopted a Code of Conduct:, which addresses many of the topics covered by the Rules of Professional Conduct (honesty, provide accurate information, protect client confidences, avoid conflicts of interest). This Code of Conduct applies to members of the NCPLA and most lobbyists are members. The NCPLA does not license lobbyists, so the enforcement of the Code is limited to membership privileges.

The real “enforcement” lies with the State Ethics Commission and the NC Secretary of State’s Office. There are a number of state laws that apply to the practice of lobbying, including some that carry criminal penalties. NC General Statutes Chapter 120C, “Lobbying”, applies to individuals who “lobby” as that term is defined in G.S. 120C-100. There are distinctions in the law for those who are contract lobbyists, employees of companies that may only lobby as a small portion of their job, and those who are legislative liaisons for state or local agencies; and there are exemptions. Chapter 120C covers topics like when registration as a lobbyist is required, what reports must be filed with the NC Secretary of State’s office, prohibitions on contingency fees, prohibitions on gifts to “covered persons”, and other similar provisions. A number of federal statutes could also apply: the Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951) – interfere with citizens’ right to government official’s honest service; and 18 U.S.C. § 666 – theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

The RPC remains the foundation of how attorneys conduct themselves while lobbying. However, attorneys who lobby must be aware of these additional rules and regulations that apply to their lobbying practice. And we haven’t even breached the topics of campaign finance, election influence, and prohibited contributions by lobbyists…. we’ll save these for another blog article….



 *Any opinion or views expressed in blogs posted on this site are those of the identified author and not the Committee as a whole.

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