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Janet Ward Black is “off the charts” excited about becoming president of the North Carolina Bar Association.
An attorney with Ward Black Law in Greensboro, the Kannapolis native takes office Saturday.”I just thought it was gonna be hard work,” Black says of her new position. “I didn’t know it was gonna be fun.”Part of the fun was receiving a tiara and pink boa from the Tennessee state bar association president, also a woman. (About eight women are serving nationwide.)
“It was the single best present I’ve gotten all year,” says Black, 48.
Being president of the bar association is somewhat like being Miss North Carolina, a title Black held in 1982.
After all, she says, you get to travel and meet people all over the state. She also has the opportunity to work on a specific issue.
Past presidents advised her to pick one thing. Black has chosen civil legal services.If you’re poor and commit a crime, you are assigned an attorney, she says. That’s not the case if you are dealing with child custody, child support, predatory lenders, foreclosures and the like.
“You have no right to a lawyer,” Black says. “A lot of people don’t know what to do in a situation.”
They’ll stay in an abusive relationship. They’ll lose their home.
There is free legal aid, but North Carolina ranks near the bottom nationwide in this funding.
In 2007, according to Black, $118 million was spent in defense for poor people charged with crimes. Only $2 million went to civil legal services.
That’s something Black wants to change during her year as president of the bar association.
Black wants to increase funding from lawyers to come closer to the national average, and she wants to increase the number of lawyer volunteers.
Because, Black says, the population of those living in poverty continues to increase. In the last five years, it’s increased 55 percent in Cabarrus County and 77 percent in Guilford County.
Despite such a disproportionate increase, funding has remained flat for 25 years.
“Of course you can’t serve where you need to be able to serve,” Black says.
Lawyers, she says, “have an obligation to be able to take care of everyone.”
Black has come up with a program, 4 All, to increase awareness among attorneys.
The program has four steps: educate, legislate, donate and participate.
The program will have three major events during the year: a hearing on civil legal services by the State Supreme Court this fall ó its first ever; a bar association fundraiser; and a statewide service day on April 4, 2008 (4-4-08).
On that day, Black hopes that hundreds of attorneys will be offering free legal advice through an 800-number.”Layers are out there doing good things and we get hammered in the press,” Black says. “Most lawyers went to law school for the right reasons. Hopefully, this will be a day people recognize that lawyers do good things.”
The Web site, www. 4allnc.org, will be available beginning July 1.

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