Janet Ward Black '85

April 12, 2010Duke Law News

For Janet Ward Black, service to others is both a personal avocation and a professional responsibility. She has participated in international mission trips annually for more than a decade with organizations including International Cooperating Ministries and Habitat for Humanity. Meanwhile, in 2008, she led the single largest volunteer service effort in North Carolina Bar Association history.

Black’s personal and professional interests often merge at Ward Black Law, her personal injury and workers’ compensation firm in Greensboro. In April, the firm sponsored several individuals on a Habitat for Humanity building trip to Honduras. It is the third year that the firm has provided such sponsorships.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

In January, the North Carolina State Bar presented Black with its Distinguished Service Award acknowledging exemplary service to the legal profession. She also is the 2010 recipient of Duke Law School’s Charles S. Murphy Award honoring a graduate’s commitment to the common good through his or her work in public service or dedication to education.

“My service work provides an opportunity for members of the community to see that there are lawyers in the community just working as volunteers, caring about important things in the world and not doing it for financial reward,” Black says. “I’m doing what I can to have at least a bit of an impact on the image of the profession.”

“Often, lawyers are able to help only one person at a time,” she adds. “Although lawyers can sometimes be involved in efforts that allow us to impact policy systemically, that doesn’t happen often. So, for me, service opportunities are tremendously rewarding, and they make it exciting for me to get up in the morning.”

Black is one of only two lawyers to have served as president of both the NCBA (2007-2008) and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (2001-2003). In her role as NCBA president she created the 4ALL program, a statewide service day during which NCBA members provide free legal services to those in need through projects identified by each section of the organization.

The centerpiece of 4ALL is a collection of statewide phone-in centers where lawyers field legal inquiries at no charge to the caller. Volunteer lawyers participated in nearly 8,500 calls during the third annual 4ALL Statewide Service Day on March 5, 2010, which for the first time included a dedicated Spanish language call center.

“Lawyers do good things in the community all the time for which they receive no recognition,” Black says. “If a lawyer steals $10,000 from somebody’s trust account, that makes the front page of the paper, but if a lawyer has chaired the school board for 15 years or has represented some civic organization without charge for 20 years that gets no coverage.

“The bad news gets the coverage,” she continues. “So my thinking was, if we can’t get attention to our good works one-at-a-time, what if we have hundreds or potentially thousands of lawyers on one day doing good works?”

More than 1,000 lawyers participated in the first 4ALL Day in 2008, which made it the largest NCBA volunteer event in history. The program has since been replicated in Tennessee and two Canadian provinces. Several other states have inquired about the details of the program, and Black hopes that 4ALL will become a nationwide effort.

“Think what it would say to the people of the United States if lawyers banded together and provided free legal services one day a year,” Black says. “I think we have touched the heart of something important here — to demonstrate that lawyers are generous people, that we are willing to give back to the community, and that we are proud to do that.”

Black credits her Christian faith with inspiring her service.
“The legal profession strives for truth, justice, and integrity, and, to my mind, those are faith-based values,” she says. “I was born into a Christian family, and the older I have gotten, the more hungry I have been for a relationship with God and serving him. I continue to grow, hopefully, every day. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m certainly better than where I was.”

She brings that passion for justice to her daily work as a trial lawyer, which she says provides her the opportunity to be “the voice for people who otherwise would not be able to have a level playing field in the justice system.”

Black handles asbestos litigation and regularly deals with drug and medical device litigation as a principal of Ward Black Law. She says it is an honor to represent the families of people like Tammy Williams, a 27-year-old nurse’s assistant and mother of two. Williams was killed in a drunk driving accident by NASCAR driver Rob Moroso in the early 1990s. Twenty years later, Black remembers it as one of her most meaningful cases.

“I am convinced that the members of the legal profession are the lifeblood of a society built on the rule of law, and are, in large numbers, wonderful community servants,” she says. “People need to know there is much good we do.”
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