This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Carolina Law
“For generations, Carolina Law graduates have been the glue of practically every community in our state and many outside North Carolina. We are the best glue factory in the world.” Dean Martin H. Brinkley ’92
WHEN RAY STARLING ’02 NEEDED A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
Ray Starling '02
to persuade a staunch Republican to help launch his career, he turned to someone at Carolina Law with whom he’d built a relationship of mutual respect. The glowing missive for Starling, a Republican who went on to become chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and now has joined the Trump administration as special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, was written by thendean of the law school Gene Nichol, an outspoken Democrat.
Starling, who later taught at Carolina Law as adjunct faculty, says of his time at Carolina Law “I was treated fairly. I never felt I was being checked on my political views.”
Carolina Law has a 100-plus-year history of fostering leaders for North Carolina and the nation. Among the law school’s alumni who have shaped our state and country are: N.C. Supreme Court chief justices Susie Sharp ’29 and Henry Frye ’59; N.C. governors Terry Sanford ’46, who also was a U.S. senator, Jim Holshouser ’60 and Jim Hunt ’64; U.S. Appeals Court Judge Dickson Phillips ’48; UNC President Bill Friday ’48 and Chancellor Bill Aycock ’48; and civil rights leader Julius Chambers ’62.
Recent law school graduates are carrying the tradition forward, seerving on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly, in past and current presidential administrations, and in elected offices in municipalities large and small.
Not all students enter Carolina Law intent on running for public office, but every graduate emerges adept at peer leadership and skilled in statecraft, bringing people of diverse views together at the table to solve a problem, making them well-suited for policymaking positions.
THREE YEARS AGO, JOHN KASPRZAK ‘05,
John Kasprzak '05
Carolina Law’s assistant dean for student development AND SYLVIA NOVINSKY,
former assistant dean for public service programs, began a yearlong co-curricular program on leadership and, after two years, transformed it into a semester-long course. Delving into strategic planning, conflict resolution, priority setting and people management, the course gives students the opportunity to practice important legal skills. Kasprzak, who will co-teach the course next year with Novinsky, director of the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center and Jared Smith ‘16, says the material and projects reinforce the leadership experiences students have working with law journals, moot court, clinics and student organizations.
“We didn’t think about politics in planning the course,” Kasprzak says.
The course is skills-based, as opposed to the traditional doctrinal courses in law school, and includes crisis management.
“How do you prepare for a crisis and respond to it?” he says. “That’s not something students will talk about in their doctrinal classes, but it will happen in practice, whether in their job or service on boards or running for office. Crises will come up.”
With politics becoming increasingly divisive, elected officials sometimes must decide between doing the right thing for the community and doing the popular thing that will get them re-elected.
“A piece of moral courage comes up there,” Kasprzak says. “I hope all of our graduates realize their career is a journey, not a destination.”
N.C. Sen. Tamara Barringer '85
N.C. SEN. TAMARA BARRINGER ’85 says that aside from the technical skills she picked up in law school — “the ability to draft legislation and read and interpret a statute: I use that skill set daily” — she learned by example from her professors “to stand up for what really matters.”
She maintained strong relationships with some faculty even after she left law school. She recalled times when the General Assembly had all-night sessions, and Dean Judith Wegner stayed available by internet 24 hours a day to weigh in on questions about local government.
“I’m in the General Assembly to make change and make a difference, and I can’t do it by myself,” Barringer says. She stressed the importance of consensus-building to ensure solutions that will stand the test of time.
“If I do it on my own,” she says, “the next person who comes along may undo it.”
She continues: “You don’t lead by standing at the front of a room. You lead by inspiring people to bring out their best.”
Mayor Esther Manheimer '98
THE NEGOTIATING SKILLS ESTHER MANHEIMER ’98 PRACTICED IN MOOT COURTHAVE PAID OFF IN HER ROLE AS MAYOR OF ASHEVILLE. She uses them every day. “It’s amazing how much your ability to interact with people in a positive way bears on your ability to get things done,” Manheimer says. “You can walk out of law school a genius, but if you can’t navigate people, or read a judge, or look across the table and figure out where your opponent is trying to go, or come up with a win-win solution, you’ll have to litigate everything.
“That human component that layers on top of the law is critical. I built that muscle in moot court.”
ONE OF MANHEIMER’S PREDECESSORS AS MAYOR OF ASHEVILLE, LOU BISSETTE ’68,
Former Mayor Lou Bissette '68
who is now the chair of UNC’s Board of Governors, seconded the importance of the human connection. “I may be oldfashioned,” he says, “but I just don’t think you can be an effective body unless you develop the appropriate personal relationships.”
To work together effectively even though they have very different opinions, board members need to get to know one another and earn each other’s respect. Mutual trust develops from mutual respect and clears the path for compromises when people disagree.
“The people you’re leading have to believe in you,” Bissette says. “That comes from the honesty you exhibit in your dealings with them. That’s not as easy as it sounds.”
SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE N.C. REP. PRICEY HARRISON ’85 RECEIVED WAS FROM A FELLOW MEMBER of the N.C. House, Joe Hackney ’70, who warned her not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. He urged her to be more of an incrementalist.
N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison '85
“Compromise is a tough one,” Harrison says. “You can be super-principled and absolutely committed to a certain standard, and get nothing done. Our state is a purple state, and we have to work with all sides on an issue to move forward.”
She got a taste of that delicate balance through her clinical experiences in law school. “Finding that balance of when to cede and when to stand firm is something you learn from practical experience,” she says.
Mentors she met in law school and Carolina Law alumni she connected with after she was elected encouraged her to develop thick skin. “You’re under constant criticism from both sides,” she says of practicing the art of compromise. “You really have to learn to take it.”
Strong mentors and role models, found in abundance at the law school, help young lawyers visualize where they want to be a decade or two into their career journey.
TYLER MITCHELL, SET TO GRADUATE IN 2018, RELIED ON THE COUNSEL OF PROFESSORS HIS FIRST YEAR IN LAW SCHOOL when he had the opportunity to run for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives when the incumbent in his home district retired. He spoke with a number of professors who had been involved in political spheres to varying degrees to determine the costs and benefits of running. All agreed the timing wasn’t ideal, but if he felt he could make a positive change for his community, he should run. So in the fall of his 2L year, he studied in Chapel Hill three days a week, then commuted back to South Carolina for the other four.
He believes it’s time for the younger generation to step up and not be dissuaded by established politicians countering that his generation needs more seasoning.
“There’s a perception among the older generation that young people don’t care about what’s going on,” Mitchell says. “That’s not by any means the case. People in my generation have a disheartening sense that politics just doesn’t work. It’s not efficient. The solutions are too partisan. There’s no real progress made. This age of hyper-partisanship is all we’ve ever known.”
As far as his generation wanting everything now, he frames it differently. “We’re tired of fighting for fighting’s sake.” Law school has taught him to understand what makes good law.
Former Charlotte Mayor RICHARD VINROOT ’66 acknowledges the sacrifices people make to hold public office and believes they are worth it. He appreciates that Carolina Law promotes public service.
“We’re not just a university of wealthy people or intellectuals,” he says. “We’re a university of all the people. You come out wanting to do right by those people.”
Given how much society relies on lawyers to solve problems, he feels disappointed that more lawyers don’t get involved in public service.
“I learned in law school to be fair and do what’s right,” Vinroot says. As an elected official, “you’re constrained by those laws designed to be fair to everybody. You don’t get paid much to figure out how to educate our children or protect our citizens or make a city functional, but that’s what governments do, and it’s really important to a good community.”
Michael Jones '17
MICHAEL JONES ’17 HAS BOTH YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE. AS AN UNDERGRAD AT YALE UNIVERSITY, HE SERVED ON NEW HAVEN, CONN.’S, BOARD OF ALDERMEN. A lesson he learned as an elected official and one underscored in law school was that “there are plenty of places in society where civility can prevail. Law has to be one of those areas.”
“That’s critical when so many people in society view each other with suspicion and distrust,” Jones says. “Leaders must make sure we have the sort of civil debate that allows reason and wisdom to prevail.”
Jones admits that millennials are more inclined to pursue instant gratification. Part of that stems from how rapidly technology has progressed. People expect to communicate fast, and sometimes the value of sitting down with people, looking them in the eye and listening to them gets lost in the shuffle.
“Law school taught me that it’s important sometimes to tap the brakes and be thoughtful about the full policy consequences,” he says.
While the speed of communication in an interconnected world may change, the core competencies that lawyers learn in law school — clear writing, sharp legal analyses and strong critical thinking skills — do not, says health care lobbyist DANA SIMPSON ’00, a partner at Smith Anderson.
“How do we balance some client expectations of speed with the need to be able to provide thoughtful analysis?” he says. “I sure hope the importance of talking to people does not diminish in trying to find that balance.”
While he stays open to technology providing quality service to clients at good value, N.C. Rep. GRIER MARTIN ’95 defends the importance of talking with people directly to solve problems. As a lawyer for the Army, he had to negotiate an agreement with an Afghan military lawyer, a general in the Afghan army, after some children died collecting scrap metal at a mortar range in Kabul. The interpreter for the meeting was a physician with no legal training.
“I had to explain the American concept of negligence and understand the Afghan concept,” Martin says. “As the general was speaking in Farsi, I was looking at his face, listening to his tone of voice, watching his hand gestures to supplement the translation the interpreter was giving. Then we got deep into the meaning of negligence and the abstract concept of what a system of negligence is trying to do.
“If a computer can do that, we’ll award it a law degree.”
As a staff officer representing different functional areas — supply, operations, aviation — Martin learned the art of peer leadership to become a trusted broker between competing ideas among staff.
“I was equipped through my legal training at Carolina to make my case for what I thought was the best course of action, while still listening civilly to their cases,” he says.
A lesson he has carried with him to the General Assembly is that “good followership is a form of leadership.” If someone else has a good idea, get behind them and advance their arguments.
“It’s not always about leading from the front,” he says.
Chip Killian '69
HAYWOOD COUNTY ATTORNEY AND FORMER LOBBYIST CHIP KILLIAN ’69 SAYS THAT IN A ROLE THAT REQUIRES HIM TO PERSUADE AND EDUCATE PEOPLE, NOT TELL THEM WHAT TO DO, “YOUR REPUTATION AND CREDIBILITY MEAN EVERYTHING.”
“If you play fast and loose, you won’t be effective at all, irrespective of politics,” he says. “You learn credibility and ethics in law school. Lawyers have an advantage by having that kind of background and framework for our activities.”
Former Watauga County Commissioner JIM DEAL ’74 recalled the respect with which Professor Bill Aycock ’48 treated his students and in so doing served as a role model for political leadership.
“When you attack individuals, you shut the door on being able to work with them,” Deal says. “These days it seems as if one party is for it, the other party has to be against it. Even when I disagreed with other members of my board, I never made it personal.”
Other words of wisdom from Aycock resonated with LARRY MCDEVITT ’68, a former mayor of Asheville.
“Bill Aycock told his students that as lawyers we should be involved in things to make sure the government deserved the public trust,” McDevitt says. “That’s been a guiding principle in my public life.”
When it comes to the law school’s role in his career success, N.C. Sen. JEFF JACKSON ’09 took a legislative drafting class from a professor who still plays an active role in state legislation. He also took a class on state politics from a professor who served as chief of staff for a top leader in the N.C. Legislature. He occasionally pulls out his notes from his constitutional law class to check on things that come up in the senate. And he took an alternative dispute resolution class he would recommend to every single member of the General Assembly.
“Carolina Law gives you an appreciation for the law and our state. You meet lawyers who work here and judges who preside here. You get a head start on understanding our state’s legal history and political scene. If you’re going to practice in this state, the case for Carolina Law is very strong,” says Jackson.
-June 12, 2017