Elon University School of Law presented Leslie J. Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, with the Law School’s highest professional honor, the Leadership in the Law Award, recognizing Winner’s significant contributions to law, the legal profession and society. Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman presented the award in Charlotte, N.C. at a luncheon forum attended by lawyer-leaders from across North Carolina.
“Leslie Winner’s contributions to our state are legion and legendary,” Bierman said. “From civil rights to public service to education to philanthropy, there is nary a place in North Carolina that does not bear the imprint of some good work that she has undertaken. Leslie’s commitment to fairness and equality with excellence and integrity commands our attention emblematic of a lawyer leader.”
Accepting the Leadership in the Law Award, Ms. Winner focused on the importance of lawyers serving their communities and leading efforts to solve social challenges.
“We need people who are willing to step up to the plate,” Winner said. “We need lawyers who are willing to use their professional, intellectual and moral power to address challenges faced by our communities, state, nation and planet. We need people to be attuned to that call, even when it may be to our financial, social or political disadvantage. We as lawyers are privileged to have skills and credentials that put us in a position to step up when needed. Thank you Elon Law, a school committed to preparing lawyers to lead and to engage in public service, for this very significant honor.”
On the occasion of her receipt of Elon Law’s Leadership in the Law Award, North Carolina leaders provided the following reflections about Ms. Winner:
“Leslie Winner has been one of North Carolina’s finest leaders in advancing education and the law. She pushed laws for education reform and increased resources for all children across the state as a leader in the North Carolina State Senate. She championed those laws as General Counsel for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Leslie continued her quest for educational excellence as Vice President and General Counsel for the University of North Carolina System. I have great admiration for Leslie and her contributions to the people of our great state.” – N.C. Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr., founding Elon Law advisory board member
“Leslie Winner’s life in the law has made a difference. We are a better state because of her advocacy for young people and those less fortunate in the courts and in the North Carolina Assembly. The University of North Carolina is stronger because of her service as General Counsel there. Philanthropy in North Carolina is more relevant because of her work at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.” – Jim W. Phillips, Jr., Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP
“I have been privileged to witness firsthand Leslie Winner’s deep and abiding commitment to the principles of racial equity and fairness in our democratic processes. She was the engine behind the landmark Supreme Court victory in the Thornburg v. Gingles case in 1986, and, by the time I met her in 1988, she had been to nearly every county in the state with a significant black population that did not already have African-American representation on their school boards and county commission. Her tireless work in those communities opened the doors to effective political participation for black voters throughout the state, but she didn’t stop there. Throughout her career, even as she has focused more on education issues, she continues to be a strong advocate for the importance of a fair and inclusive democracy, lending her brilliant strategic insights and her incisive legal analysis to advocates in the field. Leslie’s principled and tenacious approach, always fearless and yet gracious, is unparalleled.” – Anita Earls, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Elon Law’s official 2015 Leadership in the Law Award citation
recognizing the contributions and achievements of Leslie J. Winner:
Leslie J. Winner has advocated for the people and future of North Carolina for more than three decades in leadership positions spanning the public, private, nonprofit and higher education sectors.
Ms. Winner is the Executive Director of Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, leading the Foundation’s initiatives to build North Carolina’s future as an inclusive, sustainable and vibrant state. As Executive Director of the Foundation since 2008, Winner spearheads public and private sector collaborations and grantmaking efforts focused on public education, social justice and equity, environmental sustainability, community based economic development and strengthening democracy in North Carolina.
Ms. Winner served as vice president and general counsel of The University of North Carolina from 2000 to 2007, where she provided legal advice to UNC’s Board of Governors, president and senior administrators at the 17 affiliate institutions. She served as general counsel to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education from 1998 to 2000, contributing to the strength and effectiveness of education systems vital to North Carolina’s future.
Elected Senator for North Carolina Senate District 40 in 1993, Ms. Winner served with distinction for three terms in the state senate. In the senate, Ms. Winner served as Senate Majority Whip, co-chair of the Education and Higher Education Committee and Appropriations Committee, vice-chair of the Judiciary and Human Resources Committees, senate chair of the Mental Health Study Commission, and member of the Health Care Oversight Committee and North Carolina Smart Start Board of Directors. As senator, Ms. Winner was a Toll Fellow with The Council of State Governments, one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials.
Ms. Winner practiced law from 1981 to 1992, with Ferguson, Stein, Watt, Wallas, Adkins & Gresham, P.A. in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her practice focused on civil rights litigation, primarily voting rights, and including school desegregation, free speech, racial and gender discrimination in employment, and due process. She also served as joint bond counsel for the City of Charlotte.
From 1977 to 1981, Ms. Winner was staff and managing attorney at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Inc., in Charlotte. Previously, she was law clerk to the Honorable James B. McMillan, United States District Judge for the Western District of North Carolina, from 1976 to 1977.
Ms. Winner is the recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, conferred by the Governor of North Carolina in recognition of her proven record of service to the state. She has been recognized with the North Carolina First Congressional District Award for Pioneering and Leadership in Voting Rights, the Mecklenburg County Women’s Equality Day Award, and a variety of service, advocacy and leadership awards presented by the North Carolina Council of Churches, the North Carolina School Boards Association, the North Carolina Association of Educators, Easter Seals of North Carolina, the National Association for the Mentally Ill, North Carolina Emergency Room Physicians, and the North Carolina Mental Health Association. She has been featured as a Tar Heel of the Week by the Raleigh News and Observer.
Licensed to practice law in the State of North Carolina, Ms. Winner is admitted to practice law in the United States Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and United States District Court for the Western, Eastern and Middle Districts of North Carolina. She has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Advisory Committee on Rules and Procedures. She is an emeritas member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference. She is a former fellow of the American Leadership Forum and Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School. Winner has served as president of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, for which she received the organization’s Public Interest Advocacy Award. She has served in a variety of leadership positions for the North Carolina Bar Association, the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Mecklenburg County Bar. She was director of the Mecklenburg Bar Foundation. She has been a member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys and the National Association of Bond Lawyers.
Currently, Ms. Winner serves as vice-chair of The Well of Mercy Board of Directors and is a member of the Made in Durham Board of Directors and Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina. Her past civic activities have included: UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees; UNC-Charlotte Foundation Board of Directors; North Carolina New Schools Project, Board of Directors; North Carolina Arboretum, Board of Directors; El Futuro, Board of Directors; Jewish Heritage Society of North Carolina, Board of Directors; NC Center for Voter Education, Board of Directors; Havurah Tikvah (Jewish Reconstructionist congregation), co-president; Forsyth Futures, Board of Directors; Forsyth County & Mecklenburg County Children’s Law Centers, Boards of Directors; NC Public School Forum, Board of Directors; North Carolina Women’s Forum, Board of Directors; and Southern Region Education Board, Board of Directors.
Ms. Winner served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1994 and from 2004 to 2006. A native of North Carolina, Ms. Winner earned a Juris Doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was a Daynard Fellow and received the Alumni Award for Outstanding Public Interest Advocacy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and is a graduate of Lee H. Edwards High School in Asheville, North Carolina.
In recognition of her leadership and service to North Carolina and its residents, Elon University School of Law is pleased to present to Leslie J. Winner the Law School’s highest professional honor, the Leadership in the Law Award, recognizing those who make outstanding contributions to the profession and to society.
Elon Law’s Leadership in the Law Award recognizes lawyers who make outstanding contributions to the legal profession and to society. Previous recipients of Elon Law’s Leadership in the Law Award include:
- Chief Justice Mark D. Martin, Supreme Court of North Carolina (2014)
- Former North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Charles L. Becton (2013)
- Guilford County Public Defender Frederick G. Lind (2012)
- Greensboro attorneys and Elon Law preceptors Mike Marshall and Karen McKeithen Schaede (2011)
Elon University School of Law is leading innovation in legal education by integrating traditional classroom instruction with highly experiential full-time residencies-in-practice in a logically sequenced program of professional preparation. This unique approach to legal education provides graduates with the knowledge, skills and ethics focus necessary to excel as 21st century lawyers. Designed to accelerate professional maturation, Elon Law’s groundbreaking approach is accomplished in two and one-half years, which provides distinctive value by lowering tuition and permitting graduates early entry into their professional careers. Learn more at law.elon.edu.