Phyllis Pickett ’82, N.C. General Assembly Lawyer

May 28, 2020

What’s the best way to work for more than a hundred bosses? For Phyllis Pickett ’82 it’s not a theoretical question. It requires “good legal and communication skills, being able to get along with people from all walks of life — and survival skills,” she says.

Pickett has an integral role with the 170-member North Carolina General Assembly as a principal staff attorney in the legislative drafting division.

Since 1995, she has been immersed in the state appropriations process as a staff coordinator for legal matters affecting the state budget. Pickett heads a team of lawyers on the nonpartisan central staff who interface with fiscal analysts and executive branch officials to craft budget provisions. She works closely with the chairs of the House appropriations committees who develop annually the spending bills that fund all aspects of State government. Pickett also drafts other legislation, focusing on areas as diverse as labor law, evidence and information technology.

“I need to understand the whole range of legal issues surrounding topics I’m working on,” she says. Pickett says that she appreciates the challenge. Pickett’s integrity and legal skills are highly regarded in Wake County and beyond. Pickett received the 2019 Joseph Branch Professionalism Award from the Wake County Bar Association — its highest honor — which cited her impressive law career, bar involvement and community leadership. For decades, she has served on committees of the Wake County and Tenth Judicial District bars and held leadership positions with the North Carolina Bar Association and American Bar Association.

Pickett credits Carolina Law with her career success. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Carolina Law gave me a solid legal foundation,” Pickett says, “including networking and other opportunities that have been augmented by the fact that I went to Carolina Law,” she says.

“I’m amazed by how much it costs to go to law school now,” says Pickett, a 1979 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and James M. Johnson Scholar there. She has contributed to a Carolina Law scholarship established by the Class of ’82 and notes, “I support everything UNC can do to make education affordable.”

After 29 years at the General Assembly, of which some of her law school friends have been members, Pickett is energized by the new ideas newly elected legislators bring forward. She enjoys working with the law as it evolves. “My job is different every day. I learn something new all the time,” she says. “There’s a range of individuals who have been an inspiration. Every year has been more enriching.”

She’s proud to be involved with bills that improve people’s lives. “What’s rewarding is the sum total of legislation that I’ve worked on that has had positive impacts on North Carolinians. I get to do that over and over,” she says. “That’s my biggest accomplishment, being part of making change that helps people.”

— Jessica Clarke

Read more from the spring-summer 2020 issue of Carolina Law magazine.