How can you improve on a great organization?

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Catharine B. Arrowood became president of the North Carolina Bar Association on June 21, 2014. Arrowood is a past president of the Wake County (N.C.) Bar Association and 10th Judicial District Bar. She is a partner in the Raleigh office of Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP.

Follow Arrowood, Bar Leader, and the ABA Division for Bar Services on Twitter. The hashtag for the Life of a Leader series is #LBL.

Since my last post, I have had the pleasure of becoming the 120th president of the North Carolina Bar Association. Shortly before that, I had another great pleasure: deciding whom to appoint to committees. At the 17K-member NC Bar Association, we have an amazing pool of talent to draw on. So choosing 1,400 of those volunteers to serve on some 41 committees was no easy task.

But calling these folks was. Out of the many calls I made, very few said no -- and even then, only because of major family or practice issues, like two very ill parents requiring a significant commitment of time. Very understandable. 

We now have in place an outstanding team. I say “we” because this team is not a product of my work. It is a product of years of volunteering by our members and careful cultivation by our bar staff.  

And if I had not developed full appreciation for both the staff and volunteers during the appointment process, I have that appreciation now. Starting in April, I had to shift gears and begin final preparations for a three-week trial in federal court. While we were in trial in May, we had a judicial primary election (the attack ads made national headlines), and our state Legislature came back into session with surprises for the judicial system nearly every day. During that time, our organization continued its work to inform and communicate on behalf of our courts and members.  

Again, I have now had the privilege of becoming president of this organization. While continuing the many initiatives of our prior leaders, I hope that our focus this year will be external. We need to get out the word that we have a fair and impartial court system and that the lawyers who advocate in it are the pillars of our communities. As in many states, our judiciary is not well understood, and the good work of lawyers on both sides of the aisle often goes unnoticed. 

We need to be reminded that this good work goes on all the time, all across the country. In April, we visited our congressional delegation on ABA Day in Washington and talked about the continuing need for more legal aid funding. It was wonderful to see our counterparts from all over the country visiting their delegations with the same message. 

In NC, we have a particularly acute need. Nearly 10 percent of the population in our state -- some 700,000 people -- are veterans who, along with their families, often fall below the poverty line. Their legal needs are not met, despite our best efforts. And now much of the funding for those efforts is to be eliminated in a budget recently proposed by our state Senate.

In the coming weeks, we hope to reverse this proposal. In addition, our Military & Veterans Committee is working on several projects to further address the problem. Recently, a special veterans’ court opened in Harnett County where qualified veterans will be directed to judicially monitored community programs designed to help them deal with mental health and drug addiction problems.

As Chief Justice John Marshall said in the early days of our republic, "The greatest scourge an angry Heaven can inflict upon an ungrateful and sinning people is an ignorant, corrupt and dependent judiciary." We must stand up for our citizens who expect and deserve fair, impartial, independent, and accessible courts. And that will be our focus this year.

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