As he was announced the 14th dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, Martin H. Brinkley said he was filled with the “most invigorating and grounding emotion of all: gratitude.”
“When your heart is filled with gratitude, about the best you can do is give thanks.”
He thanked his wife and children, his parents and siblings, Chancellor Carol L. Folt and the search committee that convinced him to put his hat in the ring for a job he didn’t believe at first he could ever get.
“To be in service to this infinitely precious institution is a life’s dream,” Brinkley said. “Chapel Hill is a place that breaks your heart. I’m ready to have my heart broken in service to this law school and this University.
“Thank you for shouldering the responsibilities of our time, bearing the slings and arrows of its occasionally outrageous fortunes with me. I pledge to give you the best I have to give, and I am grateful to you all.”
A native of Raleigh, Brinkley comes to the deanship with 22 years in private practice, most recently as a partner in the firm of Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan, LLP in Raleigh. He follows John Charles “Jack” Boger, who stepped down as dean and will return to teach law in spring 2016.
Folt said it is especially gratifying when a Carolina alumnus returns to campus in an important leadership role.
Beyond his pervasive experience and knowledge of the law, Folt said, Brinkley’s “admirable commitment to public service is an invaluable quality that will enrich the experiences of our student body, faculty, staff and alumni and enhance our work as a world-class public university.”
“The last street lawyer from Raleigh to make his way to the law school was our first dean, James Cameron MacRae, who arrived here in 1899 when the commute was a little more bucolic,” Brinkley said.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor James W. Dean Jr., said Brinkley is one of the most respected practicing attorneys in North Carolina and a 1987 Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University.
Not only that, Dean added, Brinkley received the highest undergraduate honor for Latin, and was the Latin orator at commencement.
“Henceforth,” Dean quipped, “law school faculty meetings will be conducted in Latin.”
Brinkley received his law degree in 1992 from Carolina, where he was executive articles editor of the North Carolina Law Review. From 1996 to 2006, he returned to the law school as an adjunct professor.
In his remarks, Brinkley singled out William Brantley Aycock, the 99-year-old former chancellor who was in attendance, as one of “my greatest mentors,” along with Sam Ervin III.
Brinkley – who served as a law clerk to Ervin when he was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit – said of Ervin: “He remains the chief inspiration for nearly everything worthwhile I have ever done as a lawyer.”
Ervin’s spirit, he added, “is powerful in this room today.”
In 2011, Brinkley was named president of the North Carolina Bar Association, making him the youngest lawyer in more than 50 years to lead the organization. He also received the Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award and UNC School of Law’s Pro Bono Alumnus of the Year Award, among other recognitions, for his service to individuals and charitable institutions.
In a brief interview before the announcement, Brinkley said one of the things that drew him back to Carolina was the pull of service to the state he loves.
“This is an opportunity to explore and try to lead a whole new vista of activity that hasn’t been open to me in private practice,” he said.