Since the beginning of her tenure as President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ), Mary Pollard has focused heavily on addressing governance issues. Recently, Mary presented the NCAJ’s Secure Leave Initiative to the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism which was unanimously supported. We had a chance to learn more about the initiative and the work Mary is doing with NCAJ.
LM: Mary you serve as Executive Director of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with the organization?
MP: North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services is a 501(c)(3) non-profit law firm that contracts with the state Office of Indigent Defense Services to help provide constitutionally required access to the courts for persons incarcerated in North Carolina’s prisons. Our attorneys represent clients in post-conviction litigation and in some litigation related to conditions of confinement. Our post-conviction cases run the gamut from correction of prior record level errors in sentencing to exoneration of wrongfully convicted persons. On the conditions side, I am most proud of the work done by our staff to protect women from sexual abuse in prison and to require NC DAC to work to level the playing field so that inmates with disabilities are provided equal opportunity to earn time toward their statutory minimum sentences.
LM: A great deal of your focus during your time as NCAJ President has been addressing governance issues. How have you been able to make changes and address those issues?
MP: It was time for NCAJ to review its almost fifty-year-old governance structure to ensure that it is effective and efficient. I asked a cross-section of dedicated members committed to the long-term success of the organization to sit on the governance committee, which has met regularly. We have reviewed best practices for corporate governance and studied governance models for a number of other professional associations. The good news is that NCAJ is already doing a pretty good job governing itself, complying with recommended best practices for oversight and accountability. That being said, the committee has discussed a number of possible changes to our governance structure with the goal of having a board that is transparent, accountable, and a fair representation of the voices of our very broad membership. These changes will be rolled out to the board and the membership for review and approval this spring.
LM: How is NCAJ working to retain and provide even more value to its members in a time when some organizations are experiencing a decline in membership?
MP: NCAJ’s leadership and staff has undergone training to understand future trends in the legal profession to help it best assess how to provide value to its members. In 2019-2020, NCAJ will look to adjust its organizational membership model in order to address these trends. I’m excited about what I am hearing about some future educational offerings – stay tuned!
LM: What have been some of your most rewarding projects as NCAJ President?
MP: The most rewarding project I have worked on is the NCAJ Secure Leave Initiative, with the support of a group of wonderful and enthusiastic colleagues from our Women’s Caucus.
LM: Can you tell us more about the Secure Leave Initiative and what this means for attorneys and their families?
MP: Attorneys’ inability to designate sufficient secure leave to care for infant children has negatively affected many of our families and our practices. On Friday, February 1, I presented NCAJ's Secure Leave Initiative to the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism for its consideration. NCAJ requested that Rule 26 of the North Carolina General Rules of Practice be expanded to cover the birth or adoption of an attorney’s child. I am pleased to report that the Commission, then chaired by Justice Paul M. Newby, unanimously supported the proposal to allow 12 weeks secure leave for the birth or adoption of an attorney's child. The details of how to implement the change will addressed by a working group comprised of NCAJ representatives and other like stakeholders, and I am optimistic that the North Carolina General Rules of Practice will be amended to support the well-being of lawyers, their families, and their clients.
LM: Is there any NCAJ news or upcoming events that you would like to share?
MP: Our annual Convention will take place June 20-23. We’re trying some new things at this years’ Convention – it will be a bit more streamlined than in years past and the programming looks excellent. We’re planning our first Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Raleigh in September and are hopeful that it will become an annual event where our members can engage in meaningful learning and discussion. This past February, we held our first Women’s Caucus retreat, which turned out to be an intimate and conversational gathering. The attendees heard from an all-star lineup of marvelously successful women attorneys who shared ideas for professional success and also stories of triumphs and challenges they’ve had in the profession. I am looking forward to attending that event again in February 2020.
The North Carolina Advocates for Justice is a nonpartisan association of legal professionals dedicated to protecting people’s rights through community, education, and advocacy. If you are interested in learning more about NCAJ or joining please visit: https://www.ncaj.com/