Conversations from the Corner (Law) Office Interview with NCBA Executive Director Allan Head
Article Date: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Written By: Mary Horowitz
Allan B. Head began his career as Executive Secretary with the North Carolina Bar Association in 1973, and has served as Executive Director since 1981. Prior to coming to the NCBA, Allan served as an officer with the U.S. Army Security Agency in Germany. He is a “Double Deacon,” having earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest. Under Allan’s guidance and leadership, the Bar Association has grown from 3,500 members to more than 15,000 in 2010. Allan and his wife Patti have three children, David, Darryl, and Jayme, and seven grandchildren (with another on the way). Allan’s office is filled with memorabilia of his service to the bar, service to the community, family photos, and the many awards he has been honored with. It was especially neat to learn that while Allan was telling me about the history contained on his shelves and walls, I was standing in the same spot Chief Justice Rehnquist stood during his visit to the new N.C. Bar Center, when he delivered the keynote address at the Bar Center’s dedication in October 1994.
Most recently, Allan has been selected as the National Association of Bar Executives’ Bolton Award Recipient. The Bolton Award is NABE’s highest accolade, and is presented annually to a bar executive who epitomizes the highest standard of professional excellence. It is named in honor of Fred Bolton, executive director and secretary of the Pennsylvania Bar Association from 1966 to 1977.
The Advocate (“TA”)
: You’ve been serving the North Carolina Bar Association for almost 37 years; 29 of those years as Executive Director. You may be the state’s leading expert on dealing with change, as you have a new boss every year when each NCBA President takes office. What advice can you give young lawyers about getting and staying ahead in a changing economy?
Allan Head (“AH”)
: Right now, the legal profession is resetting itself. This means that intra-firm relationships, compensation structures, and hiring practices are all changing. Change is inevitable and important, but also a challenge. Young Lawyers need to be adaptable and get involved to stay ahead. Getting involved is not something that is easily understood by all Young Lawyers, because they face pressure in their law practices at the start of their careers-to meet billable expectations, meet with clients, and produce flawless work. By getting involved, you meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, and instead of just practicing law, you discover the richness and depth the profession has to offer. This depth in the profession comes from associating with other lawyers and forming new relationships. Get involved in your community and in the profession, while respecting that you still need to bill, see clients, and be great at your job. A great example of how being involved has such an impact on attorneys is this: At 4ALL this year in March, 421 attorneys took over 8,000 calls from the public at eight call centers across the state-for free-and answered callers’ questions about specific legal situations. All day, attorneys said over and over again that “I’m so proud to be a lawyer, and so glad to be involved, because I met people [lawyers and community members] I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”
: What have been some changes you’ve noticed in the way of what members are looking for and how the Association meets its members’ needs during your service to the Bar?
: Lawyers today, especially Young Lawyers, are more like customers and less like members of days past. Lawyers today, unlike many years ago, have certain fair expectations of the Bar Association; and if those expectations are not met, they will leave and join another organization that better meets their expectations. Also, society as a whole, including lawyers, is more focused on how specific memberships benefit them, instead of becoming a member for the sake of membership. This comes down to our members being more discerning than in the past. So today, many members join the Bar Association and remain members for a reason-whether it’s Casemaker, pro bono opportunities, CLE, a relevant section or division, or simply the combination of services we provide them.
: Beyond North Carolina, you’re known as a leader across the country. In fact, you will be awarded the National Association of Bar Executives’ Bolton Award in August. What advice can you give Young Lawyers on becoming leaders within their local bars, and within the Bar Association?
: To become a great leader, you always need to look beyond yourself. Think about what you can do to help others-other lawyers, community members, and your local bar. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, and think about what help that person wants or needs, and how that person feels. Doing this will ensure that you are able to appreciate the other person, empathize with them, and then help them. A good mantra to think about is customize, personalize, empathize. For a lawyer, this mantra holds true both in the practice of law and in service to the community.
: Speaking of community, you’re very active in the community with volunteer work-with your church, Broughton High School, and the YMCA at local, regional and national levels. What have been the most meaningful volunteer activities that you have been involved with?
: Through volunteerism and service to others, much can be learned. This was a primary theme in my family growing up, and my mother has always been a great role model in her service to others. The Bar Association’s mission is serving the public and the legal profession; and we do that by recruiting and retaining volunteers to serve others. This mission, serving others, is why I love what I do every day at the Bar Association. Outside of the law, working with youth is the most rewarding area of volunteerism to me. Patti and I both share a love of working with youth, because as a volunteer, you see young people experience life-changing events that shape them for the future. I enjoy volunteering with the YMCA because in addition to a focus on changing young people’s lives, the YMCA focuses on good health, fitness and family; three things that are important to me. Volunteering with Broughton High School football keeps me plugged in with young people and sports. Finally, I lead the senior high mission trip each year with my church. We spend a week in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky and West Virginia, on a home-repair ministry. We repair roofs, re-build porches, insulate and hang drywall-really anything that’s needed to make the homes habitable and safe. After 20 years, this trip is still a highlight of my year. It is always a life-changing experience for the young people who participate, and it’s extremely rewarding to see that change.
: What does the North Carolina Bar Association do better than other bar associations?
: We do four things extremely well. First and foremost, we are volunteer-driven. Our volunteers and our members are the reason for our existence, and we love when our volunteers take the spotlight. Second, we provide high-quality practical services that help lawyers in their practice of law. Third, we have worked hard not only to say, but to show, that diversity in the profession is important both in membership and leadership. Finally, we recruit and retain very talented staff that our volunteers and members enjoy working with.
: Finally, what piece of advice were you given early in your career that you would like to share with our readers?
: Bill Storey, who was my predecessor and friend, died in service to the bar. His best advice to me as a Young Lawyer was “Do it right.” The Bar Association is known for high quality programs and services, and I try to do “A” work every day. I am most unhappy when because of time or other constraints; I have to submit “B” or “C” work.
A few of my favorite “Head Notes” (words that Allan lives by) include:
• A phone call from a member is not an interruption; it is another opportunity to serve.
Mary Horowitz is the NC LEAP director. She can be reached at (919)657-1559, or email@example.com.
• Celebrate what is right, and then find the energy to fix what is wrong.
• The sign of a really great leader is not what he accomplishes, but rather what he enables others to accomplish.
• Lawyers who volunteer don’t get paid…not because they don’t have value, but because they are priceless!
• Times of most change hold the most possibility.
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