The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center joins the ABA and the legal community in a national celebration of attorneys’ pro bono contributions. In 2014, North Carolina volunteer attorneys provided 18,000 hours of pro bono legal services worth more than $3.6 million. We have much to celebrate, but a great demand remains. 80% of the civil legal needs of people living in poverty in North Carolina are unmet. There is only one legal aid attorney for every 13,170 eligible North Carolina residents, compared to one private attorney for every 562 people in the state.
North Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 calls on all lawyers to provide legal services to those who are unable to pay. As law students, we learned this in our Professional Responsibility courses, by participating in our schools’ pro bono programs, and by watching and modeling ourselves after our mentors. These days, we are also reminded of this aspirational goal by watching attorney characters take on pro bono cases on television. Yet, unlike the sets of “The Good Wife” or “Suits,” the day-to-day challenges of balancing work and life responsibilities are not easily navigated off-screen. Pro bono opportunities do not always fall in our laps at the exact moment we are ready to serve. They are certainly not timed, like on television, so that you know you can file, argue, and win a motion for summary judgment tomorrow. And pro bono projects, clients, and the legal issues they present, will not come in neat little packages that can be resolved in an hour of television.
On April 1, 2016, the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission launched the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center. While pro bono work might not be as quick or easy as it is portrayed in a scripted drama, the goal of the Resource Center is to address barriers to volunteering to increase pro bono participation statewide. The Resource Center is one of only a handful of statewide pro bono resource centers in the country.
To assist lawyers in fulfilling their professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center partners with legal aid organizations, local bars, law schools, community groups, and others, to develop new projects to help address unmet legal needs. The Resource Center also operates ncprobono.org, a clearinghouse of pro bono volunteer opportunities.
The reality is that pro bono attorneys are needed now more than ever to help narrow the access to justice gap for low-income individuals and others shut out of the justice system. Legal aid providers in our state are facing extreme financial challenges as the client demand for their services increases. In the absence of full funding for legal aid providers so that every low-income individual with a civil legal problem has access to a lawyer, the Pro Bono Resource Center plays a vital role in recruiting pro bono attorneys to support these organizations. Currently, there are nearly thirty available pro bono projects listed on our website, ncprobono.org. These projects range in time commitment, geographic location, skills to be utilized and developed, and subject matter. Training opportunities are also listed on ncprobono.org.
Individual attorneys willing to engage in pro bono work are critical to the success of the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center. It is encouraging to meet lawyers who take on pro bono cases from legal aid providers or who participate in pro bono clinics that their firms sponsor. If you are one of those attorneys, congratulations and thank you! If you are not, please visit ncprobono.org or email Sylvia Novinsky, director of the Pro Bono Resource Center, at email@example.com so we can find something that interests you.
The NC Pro Bono Resource Center looks forward to continuing the conversation of how private attorneys can help address unmet legal needs. But for now, let’s celebrate our profession and our pro bono work!
Original Publication: Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company Byte of Prevention Blog, October 21, 2016
Author: Sylvia Novinsky, Director, NC Pro Bono Resource Center