This column is based off NCAJ’s 2021-2022 President John McCabe’s speech delivered at the NCAJ’s 2021 Virtual Conference.
When I was 8 years old, my grandfather looked at me and said, “John, you should be a lawyer.” Now, when most people hear that, their first thought is that I must have been one of these kids who loved to argue about everything. But that wasn’t the case and that wasn’t why my grandfather encouraged me to be a lawyer. My grandfather wanted me to be a lawyer because he knew the law was a noble profession. He knew that lawyers did tremendously important work – work that was important for people and their communities. He knew every day, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people needed lawyers to stand up and fight for them against the powerful, the influential, and the well-funded.
And that’s what makes what we do so important. Lawyers are the great equalizers.
We level the playing field. We make people play by the rules. We demand accountability.
Now there was a time, not long ago, when our adversaries attempted to portray trial lawyers as drains on society. They falsely portrayed us as causing problems in our communities – as ones who were causing doctors to flee and companies to shut down. Those adversaries tried to shame us and shame our profession.
And in the face of those attacks, we didn’t back down. We didn’t hide. We didn’t apologize. We must never apologize for being lawyers. We must never apologize for helping the victims of wrongdoing. We must never apologize for fighting for justice. We are lawyers – trial lawyers – lawyers who fight for people. We must always take pride in that.
When I joined NCAJ 26 years ago, I didn’t know much, but there was one thing that I knew for certain – that there were great lawyers in this state. Lawyers of great intellect and incredible skill. Lawyers who commanded a courtroom. Lawyers who were dedicated to fighting for what was right. These lawyers were – and many still are – the titans in our profession. And they are my heroes, and when I was a young lawyer, I wanted to learn from them. So, I joined NCAJ.
NCAJ’s founders created this organization – in part – because they wanted to ensure that the next generation of trial lawyers were able to build upon the foundation they had established, to further the greatness of the academy. Greatness is about never being satisfied and never thinking you’ve learned everything. So we adapt. We learn. And we keep working toward greatness.
As we come out of one of the most challenging and bizarre years that any of us could have imagined – one in which we faced a global pandemic, one in which we saw rioters overtake the U.S. Capitol, and one in which we saw too many painful examples of the racial inequities that continue to exist in our country – it is not lost on me that this was also a year in which we saw great examples of the importance of the law and the accountability and justice it demands.
So, as we sit here today, there is one thing that is abundantly clear – this is a great time to be a trial lawyer – and it’s a great time to be a member of NCAJ. The pendulum has swung. Trial lawyers are now seen as champions who fight against corporate misconduct, bad cops and greedy insurance companies. Our communities are counting on us to hold these bad actors accountable – to be the equalizers. And we are doing that, and we must continue doing that. And I know we will.