The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Practicing family law can sometimes be a solitary undertaking. Most family lawyers spend the majority of their time working one-on-one with a client. The client is usually emotionally distraught to a greater or lesser extent. You are expected to fix their situation or somehow improve it, despite the difficulty or impossibility of the task. You carry a heavy load on your shoulders everyday of your professional career. If you have been practicing family law for as long as I have, you may have convinced yourself that the load you carry is not there anymore. Thus the saying applies, “There is no fool like an old fool.” The emotional load is always there, despite one’s level of experience or expertise.

This is not an invitation to a pity party; quite the opposite. The North Carolina Bar Association and the Family Law Section provide ways for family lawyers to achieve goals that individually would be impossible and at the same time, to break out of their professional isolation by collaborating with their colleagues. This is the message that we need to send to all family lawyers who are not members of the Family Law Section or who have never really involved themselves much. It is also a reminder that the Family Law Section needs to be as inclusive as possible for the benefit of the section, as well as the benefit to each of us individually.

Have you ever sat in your office and read a statute or a case and said to yourself, “This is really out-of-date and messed up?” Have you ever thought that you would like to do some pro bono work, but you have only a limited amount of time to do it? Have you ever needed a quick answer to a legal issue or procedure and did not have the time to do extensive research on it? Have you ever needed the name of a family lawyer across the state for association or referral? Have you ever just wanted to know what other family lawyers are thinking and doing, but did not have time in your daily routine to find out?

The Family Law Section can be a valuable part of your professional life. For those who have been active in the section for a long time this is a truism. Many important things can only be accomplished through a strong collaborative effort. The NCBA and the Family Law Section push for large and small legislative changes that none of us could accomplish individually. The current alimony and post-separation support statutes and the statute on alienation of affection are only a few examples. With the influence of the entire NCBA behind our section’s efforts, members of the Legislature listen to our proposals knowing that they have been seriously considered and vetted for unintended consequences.

The pro bono efforts of the NCBA have grown exponentially in the past five years. The Call 4ALL program and the Lawyer Referral Service are easy ways for lawyers to serve the public in effective and efficient ways. There is great personal satisfaction in knowing that you have really helped a stranger in a meaningful way for no personal gain, except knowing that you have helped do what needs to be done. The NCBA through its volunteers and staff have done a great job of organizing and streamlining these efforts so it is easy for us to do what we want to do. It is a group effort that pays big dividends to the public and gives us satisfaction in a job well-done.

Perplexed by some unusual legal question? Have you jumped on the Family Law ListManager, posted a question and gotten several useful answers or suggestions of where to go for an answer? I have. What about fastcase as a free legal research tool? It is free and you can download an app to your cell phone or iPad and use it in court to find that case you need in a hurry.

We are so used to outstanding CLE programs sponsored by the Family Law Section that we take them for granted. Volunteering to be a program organizer or speaker is a great collaborative experience. Do you have a special interest in a legal topic or practice management issue? Write an article for Family Forum and share your knowledge with lawyers and judges across the state.

The camaraderie and learning opportunities offered by most bar association activities cannot be found anywhere else. We sometimes take them for granted because they have been offered to us without our full appreciation for all the effort put forth by volunteer lawyers and the bar association staff to make them happen. We probably have the best voluntary bar association in the nation. It runs so smoothly that we take it for granted. It is inspiring to see so many of our professional colleagues contributing quality time and effort to make this happen. To keep it happening, we must talk to our fellow lawyers and ask them to join and become involved or more involved in the work of the Family Law Section and the “big” bar. The organization is either getting stronger or declining everyday depending on our individual and collective efforts. The whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of its parts.

This article was originally published in the December 2012 issue of the North Carolina Family Bar Association’s Family Forum. The article is available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the North Carolina Family Bar Association.