Editor’s note: This edition of the NC Chamber’s Executive Memo newsletter was guest-authored by David Sousa, Chief Legal Officer at Curi and Chair of the NC Chamber Legal Institute.
This week’s announcement from Site Selection Magazine recognizing North Carolina with the top spot in its prestigious 2021 Top State Business Climate Rankings sure brought a smile to my face. We shared these honors last year with Georgia, a close regional competitor, so our solo victory this year was indeed welcome news. The announcement, which touted our tax and regulatory climates especially, also got me thinking hard about the core areas of our competitiveness that have more room for improvement – namely, North Carolina’s business legal climate.
A State Legal Climate in Flux
I ponder a lot over issues that meet at the intersection of law and business, both in my role as Chief Legal Officer at Curi and as Chair of the NC Chamber Legal Institute (CLI). In this latter capacity, I work closely with CLI President Ray Starling, who also serves as general counsel for the NC Chamber. Our overriding mission at the CLI is to reestablish and maintain a top-10 legal climate for North Carolina employers through pro-business engagement within the court system itself, providing a natural complement to the NC Chamber’s legal advocacy at the legislature.
If you haven’t been watching this area of policy closely, you should know that North Carolina’s legal competitiveness has fluctuated in recent years. While we earned a 7th-place legal climate ranking from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) in 2015, we dropped precipitously to 33rd in the ILR’s next set of rankings in 2017. The CLI, which launched in late 2015, was still in its infancy then. Yet, with limited resources at its disposal, the organization effectively analyzed the core reasons behind this hit to our legal climate – a rise in liability-expanding activity on the N.C. Supreme Court chief among them – and took steps to intercede in cases where we believed positive effects for business would result from our engagement.
Through this case work, the CLI helped spearhead a partial legal comeback for North Carolina – supported also by the NC Chamber’s legal advocacy at the General Assembly and the efforts of aligned organizations – which saw us rise to 16th in the ILR’s latest 2019 Lawsuit Climate Rankings.
NC Chamber and CLI Recognized for Leading NC’s Comeback
Just last month, representatives with the U.S. Chamber ILR surprised us with news that the NC Chamber and the CLI would be recognized jointly with the ILR’s Outstanding Organization Award for 2021. NC Chamber Board Chair and Martin Marietta President and CEO Ward Nye was on hand for the ILR’s virtual Summit XXI on Oct. 19 to receive the award on behalf of both organizations.
The ILR selected the NC Chamber and the CLI specifically due to our successful efforts to ensure North Carolina became one of the first states to enact strong COVID-19 liability protections for employers early in the pandemic. This was a significant achievement to be sure, but I would contend that the Chamber’s and the CLI’s dual focuses on other key legal climate issues has been just as important for job creators in our state this year. Here, I’m thinking especially about priorities like protecting North Carolina’s adherence to the contributory negligence standard, a legal doctrine that makes it harder for litigants in our state to collect undue damages for accidents and injuries arising from their own negligence.
Read here about how both the CLI and the NC Chamber fought hard to uphold the contributory negligence standard in 2021.
Reestablishing a Top-10 Business Legal Climate
As you can see, the CLI’s efforts are helping to swing North Carolina back toward our former status as a leading state for legal competitiveness. Ray and I were honored that such a far-seeing, national arbiter of state legal climate issues as the ILR recognized the NC Chamber Legal Institute, out of all the similar organizations across the country, as co-recipient of its Outstanding Organization Award.
We still have a lot of work to do, however, to build the resource base we will need to maintain constant vigilance over our court system and enhance our capacity to act swiftly whenever a case arises that threatens to impact businesses in our state. Your organization can help grow this capacity by becoming an investor in the CLI. Investors also have the chance to actively shape our legal strategies. We are currently in the process of developing and activating a CLI Advisory Council whose members will guide future engagement by the CLI.
If you’re interested in learning more, contact Ray and we will be happy to talk with you in detail about all the benefits you and your organization stand to gain from your engagement. And if you’re a member of the NC Chamber and you haven’t already updated your member preferences to receive our monthly Legal Institute Sidebar e-newsletter and other CLI updates, be sure to do that today!
Chief Legal Officer, Curi
Chair, NC Chamber Legal Institute