What is your regular practice area: Where do you work? What do you love most about your job?
I do not have a regular practice area as I oversee the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono at Duke University School of Law which has main charges:
- To promote pro bono service by law students so they understand its value and continue it throughout their careers and so that they develop their legal skills while in law school. The pro bono program consists of thirteen student run projects; independent project opportunities; periodic “pop-up” clinics or partnerships; and student service to outside organizations around the country during both the academic year and school breaks.
- To advise and support students pursuing public interest careers through career counseling, programming, training, and funding.
- To advance the public service mission of the law school and build community around this mission.
My favorite part of the job is easily the one-on-one work with students, whether counseling them as they pursue public interest internships or jobs, supervising them as they are providing pro bono services, or assisting them as they lead a pro bono project. I love getting to know them and advising them as they pursue their passions or develop their skills. I invest a lot in my relationships with students and continue to grow and learn from them.
What is your most recent pro bono experience?
This past week I supervised two students as they worked with a client with a cancer diagnosis and prepared documents for her, including a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney, and an advanced directive. The work was for our Health Care Planning Project, formerly our Cancer Pro Bono Project, and was our first use of a new on-line application and the first time this project met with a client over Zoom. The students did a wonderful job of explaining the documents and choices to the client in a clear and empathetic way. I would encourage other attorneys who are comfortable with a teaching role, and able to sit back unless needed, to consider volunteering with a law school pro bono project as a supervisor; to me, it is double the personal rewards I would otherwise get from pro bono service.
How has engaging in pro bono legal service enriched your career, or enriched you personally or professionally?
I have always found direct client work with pro bono matters rewarding. As a young lawyer, pro bono cases were a place where I could have more autonomy and develop my skills. Since I do not officially practice law anymore, pro bono service now enriches my life by allowing me to still “be a lawyer,” in addition to being an administrator and an advisor. Pro bono engagement reminds me again and again of the privileged and unique space lawyers occupy.
Of what moment(s) from your pro bono work are you the most proud?
Let me start by saying that there are lots of clients I look on with satisfaction as I remember the ways in which I helped them, but most or all of these matters did not require anything significant or unique on my part that would make me proud. I was just a lawyer with skills and a license; the client couldn’t get their needs met without my help or help from another lawyer.
What I’m most proud of are the bigger projects that involved a lot of different people. One example is several years-worth of expunction clinics for TROSA (Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers) where our students worked with other organizations, including Legal Aid of North Carolina, the NC Justice Center,
and the DEAR Project (Durham Expunction and Restoration Project), and a handful of volunteer attorneys. These projects take an immense amount of organization and administrative work and are a great example of the saying, “it takes a village.” Successfully pulling off a project like this, even if my part was small or primarily administrative, is really rewarding and makes me very proud of the whole team of people that made it happen.
What advice would you give someone who has not yet provided any pro bono work?
I would encourage them to find a project or an organization to work with that gives them the necessary training and support. Many of us, myself included, worry about engaging in an area of law where we do not have enough expertise as we want to be able to provide the client with the best possible services. This fear does not need to be limiting as there are lots of organizations or projects across the state that provide pro bono attorneys with training and resources and have structures in place to ask someone with more expertise if needed. Some places to start are: the NC Pro Bono Resource Center, Legal Aid of NC, and the NC Bar Foundation.