July 27, 2017

Reflections on a Rewarding Year with the NCBA YLD

A few days ago, I handed over an enormous gavel, signifying the end of my term as leader of the more than 6,400 members of the Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Bar Association.

It has been an incredibly rewarding year. The young lawyers and law students who have volunteered their time and talents over the past twelve months have accomplished a great deal, and I'm very proud of them.  The legal profession, and the people of North Carolina, are better off for their efforts.

As I delivered my final report to the other members of the Board of Governors of the NCBA, I described the accomplishments of our Young Lawyers Division over the past year, and I'd like to share the highlights of that report here.

I’ll begin with our Pro Bono Division, which was led by Kristen Kirby.

Our Wills for Heroes Committee is led by Rebecca Rushton and Chad McCullen.  This committee coordinates live, in-person "clinical" events at which lawyers and notaries provide wills, powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney to first responders (such as law enforcement officers, EMTs and firefighters).  This committee organized events in Holly Springs, Durham, Winston-Salem, Wilmington, and New Bern.  More than 150 volunteer attorneys, paralegals, and law students volunteered to provide these services free of charge, and generated more than 700 estate planning documents. 

Our Project Grace Committee, which is led by Caitlyn Goforth, offers free healthcare powers of attorney and advance directives (often called "living wills") to qualifying low-income individuals.  The committee held multiple events around the state during the Bar year, and helped a large number of people plan for their future health care.

The Pro Bono Committee, led by Orla O’Hannaidh, selected the recipients of the Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Award, who were twice honored at the Annual Meeting in Asheville.  The Committee also evaluated future pro bono projects on behalf of the YLD.

Our Legal L.I.N.K. project continued to grow under the direction of Jane Paksoy and Rashad Morgan. Legal L.I.N.K., as you may recall, is our ABA award-winning project that puts lawyers into high schools in low-income school districts. The goal is to introduce students to the legal profession and “prime the pump” for college and law school.  “L.I.N.K.” is an acronym that stands for "Leadership," "Information," "Networking" and Knowledge," and those four topics are each addressed in separate sessions.  The events were held at Southern High School in Durham and Person High School in Roxboro.  Some excellent participants, comprised of lawyers, judges (including Supreme Court justices Jackson and Beasley), law students and law school admissions directors, joined us. 

The Bar Outreach Division, led by Elizabeth Zwickert-Timmermans, was primarily active through the Membership and Networking Committee, which was led by Leah Hermiller.  The Commitee is finalizing details for a 5K road race on December 9th in Raleigh. It is funded in part by the NCBA Foundation, and proceeds will benefit the NC LEAP pro bono project.  The Committee has also participated in "Professionalism for New Attorney" events and hosted networking events following the PNA CLEs held throughout the bar year.

Our Communications and Awards Division was led by Lucy Austin.

Members of our Citizen Lawyer and Scholarship Committee, led by Lisa Arthur and Nathan Standley, have written articles on each of the Citizen Lawyer Award recipients.   The Commmittee also awarded $25,000 in scholarships to thirteen students whose parents were slain or permanently disabled law enforcement officers. For the first time, a scholarship recipient has enrolled in law school!

The Internet/Newsletter Committee, led by Matt Quinn, collected information about YLD and NCBA activities and published the YLD Blast via email every month. The Blast includes updates about recent accomplishments of the YLD, notifications about upcoming events, and other information of interest to young attorneys.  The Committee also published five issues of The Advocate, our award-winning newsletter, filled with legal updates, how-to articles, profiles, announcements and humor pieces.

The Meetings and Conventions Committee, led by Martha Bradley, expertly planned our meetings, including our Annual Meeting events, which involved a bluegrass band and food truck.  Their proactive attention to detail resulted in an excellent experience for all of us.

Our Community Outreach Division, which is led by Collin Cooper, was busy engaging with the public. 

The Community Relations and Civic Education Committee was led by Andy Jones and Sidney Minter.  It held "Ask of Lawyer Day" events across the state in April, which gave members of the public the opportunity to sit down with licensed NC lawyers to ask questions and receive advice for free.

Our Law Week and Liberty Bell Committee was led by Caroline Trautman and Joesphine Tetteh.  The Committee completed the Law Week festivities in May, which was the culmination of the past year’s work. The Law Day Ceremony and awards luncheon were held on May 5 at the City Club Raleigh. Ninety five people attended the luncheon, including judges and justices, NCBA leaders, contest winners, and the Liberty Bell Award winner, Chief Judge Linda McGee.  The student contest winners traveled from schools throughout North Carolina for the event.   The Law Day Moot Court Competition took place at the N.C. Supreme Court, where judges and Supreme Court justices presided over the competition.  Justice Paul Newby presented the Moot Court winners and runners up with their awards, and other justices and judges presented the other student contest winners with their awards, at the Ceremony.

Our Legal Feeding Frenzy task force, which was led this year by Bryan Norris, recruited 87 teams across 54 firms and organizations to raise over 300,000 pounds of food to benefit our state’s Feeding America Food Banks.

The Minority Focus Committee, led by Dulce Plaza, continued working on the final phase of our Know Your Rights Clinic with Guilford County Schools. (We borrowed this program from Wake Forest Law.)  The Committee also issued a call for ideas for projects that it could join in, or organize, that promote the Committee’s mission of recruiting minority attorneys to the NCBA YLD. 

Finally, I want to tell you about our Law Student Division, led by Will Quick. 

At the start of the bar year, I told the Board of Governors that one of our key objectives for the year was step up our engagement with law students. We made this strategic decision in keeping with our Strategic Plan and the direction of our NCBA volunteer leadership and staff leaders. We expanded our structure from a law student committee and a bar exam committee to a new vertical within our organizational chart which is comprised of four committees dedicated to law students and bar exam takers.

The Bar Exam Committee, led by Porsha Washington, continued its three traditional roles during the past bar year. Members held workshops for exam takers, coordinated tutors and greeted test-takers with refreshments and encouraging words on exam day.

Our Law Student Publications & Communications Committee is led by Rebecca Hendrix. The Committee has been creating original content for the Law Student Division Blog, some written by law students themselves. (We think that approach helps to ensure the content is relevant to the target audience.)

Now to the law students themselves: Our Law Student Outreach Committee is comprised of young lawyers and the law student representatives on campus.  Historically, we struggled to keep our law student liaisons engaged and active.  We now have law student representatives in each class and at each of the NC law schools. (The only exception is the Charlotte School of Law, where our representatives left the school this year.)  Our law student representatives now have regular "tabling" days in the common areas of the law schools, in which they stand in their NCBA t-shirts and share NCBA materials with their fellow law students.

To help drive that engagement, we held a retreat at the start of the school year at the Bar Center to orient and train our reps so they could be effective ambassadors for us in the law schools.  I’m proud to report to you that we now have well-trained, fully-committed law student ambassadors who are representing the NCBA full-time in the North Carolina law schools.

Our leadership team, including President Kearns Davis and President-Elect Caryn McNeill, our YLD leaders, as well as our professional staff, visited each of the law schools this year to speak to law students directly.

We also held two of our quarterly YLD leadership meetings near law schools, and we explicitly invited law students to join us at each of our leadership meetings. I’m happy to report that we had law students take us up on that invitation each time.

We also created an Out-of-State Law Students Committee this year, led by Aaron Lindquist.  They got to work and made some significant strides in their inaugural year.  They created and distributed a survey for out-of-state NCBA law student members, and a different (but similar) survey for practicing NC attorneys who attended an out-of-state law school, in order to better understand the needs of out-of-state law students.  They used the survey results to create the Out-of-State Law Student Manual, which is designed to help out-of-state law students prepare for practice in North Carolina. It covers job searching and networking, bar application information, early practice tips, and "must-dos" in NC. The Manual was distributed to out-of-state LSD members and shared on the L3 blog.   Finally, the Committee also planned two summer networking events for out-of-state law students in Charlotte and Raleigh.

In summary, our profile, as an organization, is as high as it has ever been within the walls of the law schools. This is a dramatic success for our Law Student Division team.

In addition to the work of the Committees, we also partnered with two of NCBA sections—the Administrative Law Section and the Appellate Practice Section—for joint events. I hope that is something we can continue to do and expand to other NCBA sections.

Despite our aggressive agenda and all our early planning for the bar year, we encountered two significant surprises this year that forced us to pivot and adapt.

First was the tumultuous experience that our law student division members at the Charlotte School of Law endured. Our student representatives, YLD volunteers, Division Director Will Quick, the NCBA staff, and our Association leadership—especially President Kearns Davis—stepped up to provide support and relevant information to these members. This was not a circumstance that we could have anticipated, but we reacted and served as a resource for the most vulnerable of our members during a very difficult time.

Second, Hurricane Matthew came along and flooded the eastern half of the state. In cooperation with FEMA, the ABA and Legal Aid of North Carolina, we activated our Disaster Legal Services program. Brooks Jaffa of Charlotte was the coordinator. He worked tirelessly to help establish four clinics in four communities, during which we helped about 100 people. With the diligent aid of Cabell Clay and Rachel Blunk, we also set up a hotline, recruited volunteer attorneys, and connected needy victims with attorneys for telephone counselling. 175 attorneys volunteered and helped about 300 callers. All of this was done without much advance notice or time to plan, but it was a great success nonetheless, and I'm proud of all of our volunteers who pitched in.

In summary, despite a couple of major curveballs, it was a successful year for the Young Lawyers Division.  It has been my tremendous honor to lead an exceptional group of young lawyers, and I look forward to seeing their future accomplishments, which will probably exceed all of our expectations.  

It's Time for a Change

Over the past six years, I have really enjoyed sharing thoughts with you on this blog and participating in some of the conversations that have arisen from the posts.

Having recently departed private practice to work as in-house counsel, my interests are shifting, and this blog is likely to evolve to reflect that.  I am no longer regularly working on banking law matters, and likely will have littler or nothing further to say about that area of the law.  Accordingly, I am changing the name of this blog to reflect the anticipated shift in content.  I hope you will continue to find it interesting and useful.  While I likely will not post as frequently as I did when in private practice, I do intend to continue sharing thoughts from time to time on this forum.  As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.

Because my new in-house role is focused on technology, privacy and information security, I am likely to post more frequently on my other blog: www.LawOfPrivacy.com.  I hope you check it out if you haven't already.

July 26, 2017

In a First, a Federal Court Finds Grocery Store's Website Fails to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

A recent case has organizations all over the U.S. concerned about litigation over website
image of a computer keyboard key displaying a handicapped symbol on top

In the first federal decision of its kind, a federal judge in Florida concluded that Winn-Dixie, a regional grocery store chain, was obligated to make its website accessible to a blind man, and that it failed to do so.

As a result, the court awarded the plaintiff his attorneys' fees and ordered the parties to agree on a compliance deadline by the end of this month.

I've written previously about the trend in demand letters and the uncertainty in the law regarding the applicability of the Americans With Disabilities Act to websites, applications and other online interfaces. 


By way of background, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was first drafted in 1988 (and adopted in 1990), it is unlikely that even a single member of Congress contemplated that it could be applied to the Internet. The ADA (and specifically Title III) was applied to brick-and-mortar facilities and intended to ensure that people with disabilities could access and enjoy them. Common examples are wheelchair ramps and braille menus. In the quarter-century since, almost everything that was once only brick-and-mortar now has a presence on the Internet.

One of the greatest ADA questions of our day is whether the ADA applies to websites, apps, and other online interfaces. Only a few courts have addressed this issue, and the results have been mixed, and sometimes very fact-specific. Courts must decide whether a given website is a "public accommodation" and, if so, whether the website operator has made "reasonable modifications" to make the website available to people with disabilities. 

The ADA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and through private litigation. The DOJ is reviewing organizations' websites to determine whether they comply with the law’s access requirements. In addition, a number of plaintiffs' law firms across the country are filing lawsuits alleging that organizations' websites are in violation of the ADA. Internet companies, including Netflix, have settled cases that alleged their websites were inaccessible to people with disabilities.

There are currently no specific federal standards for websites under the ADA. Since 2010, the DOJ has been telling us that it is in the process of developing regulations for website accessibility, but those standards are not expected until 2018 or later. In the meantime, the DOJ says it expects organizations to make their websites accessible to the disabled. The DOJ has indicated that it considers the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) [2.0 Level AA] to be satisfactory for the time being (and perhaps these standards go further than legally necessary), and many organizations have been working towards compliance with those standards on the assumption that any future DOJ standards will be consistent with them (although there are no promises).

Why the Winn-Dixie Case Matters

The decision in Gil v. Winn Dixie is the first federal court opinion addressing the applicability of the ADA to the website of a brick-and-mortar retailer. While it is not binding throughout the U.S., it sets an important precedent. 

The court concluded that the ADA applied because Winn Dixie's website is “heavily integrated” with and serves as a “gateway” to its physical stores. That's an important consideration for brick-and-mortar retailers, who may want to re-evaluate accessibility in light of this recent development.