I primarily practice in the areas of corporate law, contracts, estate planning, and civil litigation (real property, business and commercial disputes). Although based in Durham, my law practice is statewide, with a heavy emphasis on business transactions in the Triangle, real estate litigation in western North Carolina, and a growing national and international-based practice, servicing clients from European countries or other U.S. states who have legal matters in North Carolina. What I love most about practicing law is maintaining a rich Anglo-American legal tradition over a
millennium old–in cases of real property and torts, as old as the days when King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine laid down the foundations of the English common law and rules of equity still in force in North Carolina courts. I see the legal profession as a civic priesthood dedicated to upholding the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, and also to preserving the best ideals of English and American history.
–What is your most recent pro bono experience?
I incorporate some form of pro bono engagement into each day of the calendar year–most often, in the form of ans
wering legal questions free of charge from members of the public. I particularly enjoy complicated estate, real property, corporate governance and constitutional questions. I enjoy the more “real life” situations in landlord-tenant, defamation and contracts situations as well.
–What pro bono experience or project is most significant to you?
Helping people make estate planning decisions through wills, trusts, powers of attorney and advance directives. I also enjoy answering legal questions online from about fifteen to twenty areas of the law. This allows me to help a variety of people from various socioeconomic backgrounds and life situations and keeps my legal mind fresh by constantly thinking through how procedural and various substantive areas of law intersect. Human beings each day are called upon to make decisions in complex personal, financial, family or business contexts, and so seeing their issues and the law itself in a holistic fashion makes me a more competent lawyer.
— Why do you provide pro bono legal service?
Chiefly, in three ways: first, volunteering with legal clinics or pro bono events sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Foundation (NCBF) or one of our North Carolina law schools; second, participating in NC Free Legal Answers through NCBF and the American Bar Association; and thirdly (and most frequently), participating daily on Avvo’s Q&A forum for legal questions. In addition to these principal venues, I enjoy speaking at law schools and serving on nonprofit boards, a couple of which directly or indirectly provide legal information or services to the general public in Durham and elsewhere in North Carolina.
— How has engaging in pro bono legal service enriched your career, personally and/or professionally?
This question beckons the wisdom I received from one of my professors at North Carolina Central University School of Law, when I was a third-year student. In a real estate transactions class, the professor observed that at some magical point of clarity in the course of legal education, a law student comes to see “the Law,” as a surprisingly unified system of interlocking rules and life-tested principles, rather than the more discrete bodies of law that appear during the first and second years
of law school, when students are still trying to figure out each subject in isolation (usually for the understandably narrow purpose of doing well on an exam on that subject only, whether torts, contracts, civil procedure, etc.). After a few hundred hours of legal classes and study, the inter-sectionality of law suddenly emerges in the student’s mind, and this is a wonderful reward for the toils of preparation preceding it; I think it tends to arrive either just before or during the study for the bar exam. Pro bono engagement allows me to educate both myself and the person whose legal issue I am assisting with about all the subtle and obvious ways the law intersects with human life from birth to death (and in probate, even after death), and infuses a sense of humanity into practice that I would probably not have if I took a narrower approach.
— Of what moment(s) from your pro bono work are you the most proud?
No single, episodic event comes to mind, but rather those almost daily occurrences in which a little time and careful analysis give someone (often whom I do not know) reassuring clarity on how to approach critical problems in their lives. For lawyers, this might be a passing gratification, but for the person with the legal issue, the peace of mind afforded can have a long and beneficial rippling effect.
— What advice would you give someone who has not yet provided any pro bono work?
Seriously consider making room for this essential aspect of practicing law. No lawyer can do everything, and none of us can shoulder society’s burdens alone, but we all should do our part, and whenever possible, coalesce with bar associations, as well as individual lawyers, so that our precious time is more efficiently spent on causes that will tangibly improve North Carolina communities where access to legal services is most sorely needed. With six law schools in North Carolina producing newly-minted lawyers each year, it is astounding what pro bono engagement could mean for our state if we, institutionally, form the habit of thinking about our citizens’ needs in a strategically coordinated way, statewide.
— To a non-attorney, who may not know what pro bono legal service is, how would you describe its importance?
I believe pro bono has two components–first, its emphasis on using the law to service a larger, broader public good, and second, its sensitivity to the economic vulnerabilities of a growing number of Americans. Pro bono literally means in Latin “for the public good,” so there is a recognition that some cases or legal issues involving individuals have implications for justice and equity in American society at large. When lawyers devote their time without immediate prospect of pecuniary advantage, they are helping a client, but are also pushing the frontiers of justice for the benefit of all of us. Also relevant is that, according to recent studies, 40% of Americans cannot afford a life emergency (such as a car repair or unexpected emergency room visit) that requires an outlay of at least $400.00, and with America’s middle class still tenuously situated since the 2008 Great Recession, the stress on our social institutions and the legal profession will continue to challenge us as we approach the middle of the 21st century. Lawyers and a strong judiciary are essential for social cohesion, so all of us need to think seriously about how we balance our need to make a living from our profession, with our broader obligation to protect the American Republic and champion the public good.