Caryn Coppedge McNeill, a partner at Smith Anderson who leads the Raleigh law firm’s employee benefits and executive compensation practice group, was recently named the 123rd president of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA).
McNeill assumed her new role on June 24 during the NCBA’s annual meeting in Asheville.
In a conversation with Crain’s, McNeill shared her plans for the year ahead and offered some insight into why pro bono work is so important to her and her law firm.
What are your goals for the North Carolina Bar Association?
The North Carolina Bar Association is a community — it is the place where North Carolina’s lawyers come together to make a difference for our profession and the public. In the coming year, we will seek to make the NCBA still stronger. We will hone our value proposition and enhance the experience of our members, and we will redouble our efforts to be “a power for good” in our state through increased support for legal services providers and increased opportunities for pro bono service.
This year, we will launch N.C. Free Legal Answers, a virtual legal advice clinic where qualifying members of the public post their civil legal questions on a web portal and volunteer attorneys respond through the portal. We will continue to sponsor our 4ALL Statewide Service Day, and continue to support Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Lawyer on the Line project. Both of these projects have made real and meaningful in-roads in terms of encouraging more North Carolina lawyers to do more pro bono. These projects capitalize on a number of our strengths as an organization. From the statewide reach of our membership, to the sheer number of our members, to our ability to recruit, organize and support volunteers, these projects are comfortably in our wheelhouse.
Why is it so important to you to provide and promote pro bono legal services for North Carolinians?
Fostering pro bono services has never been more crucial for North Carolina, as some 80 percent of qualified citizens go without the legal services they desperately need. The decline in funding for legal aid organizations, along with the rising poverty population in the state, make it imperative that we do everything in our power to help meet the legal needs of our neighbors.
How did you become involved in Smith Anderson's employee benefits and executive compensation practice group?
I began this practice group more than 20 years ago as a natural complement to Smith Anderson’s corporate and mergers and acquisitions practices. Today, we have a team of five lawyers whose practices consist almost exclusively of employee benefits and executive compensation, making Smith Anderson one of very few law firms in North Carolina with this degree of benefits expertise.
What advice would you give yourself if you were just starting out in your career?
Get involved. Get involved in efforts that advance the profession and serve the public. You’ll give a lot of yourself – labors of love do involve labor – but the return in terms of what you’ll learn, the friends you’ll make and the mentors you’ll come to have far outweigh any of that. Lives of service are lives well-lived, and service is what lawyers are called to do.