Students built core legal skills and were reminded of the importance of access to legal services for underrepresented groups.
As part of a recent Carolina
Law pro bono effort, students drove nearly 300 miles across the state to
conduct clinics and develop crucial lawyering skills, such as drafting legal
documents and learning how to interact with clients.
The experience at the
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Reservation in Cherokee, N.C. also provided a
valuable opportunity for cross-cultural lawyering.
Twenty-two students participated
in the two-day clinic in December--the fifth consecutive year for the trip. This
year, Carolina Law Dean Martin H. Brinkley ’92 joined the students as a
supervising attorney, marking the first time a UNC School of Law dean has joined
a pro bono trip.
“The Pro Bono Program provides wonderful opportunities
for our students to gain valuable, hands-on experience working with real
clients,” says Brinkley. “I was honored to work alongside our students to see
them grow as lawyers and to see them address unmet legal needs in the Cherokee
Kenneth Black 1L and Megan Bishop 2L.
The clinics reinforced “the
importance of multicultural competency,” says Becca Mitchell 2L, a Pro Bono Program board member who co-led the trip. “Working in Cherokee helped
students learn that an important aspect of providing legal services is learning
to communicate and engage with clients who may have different backgrounds and
life experiences. For many students, the trip to Cherokee reminds them that
they must be sensitive to possible differences when they interact with clients.”
The cultural immersion
included an afternoon at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and conversations at
clinics with Eastern Band clients.
“I overheard conversations ranging
from clients raising their children in Cherokee-language schools and
preserving culture and tradition, to cultural and religious beliefs about
death,” UNC School of Law Director of Pro Bono Initiatives Allison Standard ’09
Students helped clients at Tsali
Manor Senior Center with wills and advance directives, and at Yellowhill
Community Center with pro se divorces
and expungement. Carolina Law partnered with the Sylva office of Legal Aid of
North Carolina and the Eastern Band’s new Legal Assistance Office. Joseph Chilton ’13, who went on the
Cherokee trip as a student, now works at Legal
Aid in Sylva and was a
supervising attorney at the clinics.
The Cherokee trips present unique learning
opportunities for students because two legal systems — North Carolina law and
tribal law — are involved.
“There are certain provisions under
tribal law that change how one might proceed with a case,” Standard says. “For
example, under tribal law the period of separation required for a divorce is
only 30 days compared to the year required by North Carolina law.”
In addition to navigating jurisdictional
nuances at the clinics, students built core skills in listening, reasoning,
communication and time management, and were reminded of the importance of access
to legal services for underrepresented groups.
Among the Carolina Law alumni
involved in the pro bono experience were recently elected Chief Justice Kirk Saunooke ’05 of the
Cherokee Tribal Court and tribal court prosecutor Justin Eason ’07, both of whom met with students.
“I have always enjoyed being able
to speak with clients about the Cherokee community and culture, their hobbies
and interests, and their experiences,” says Mitchell, who has had two pro bono
experiences in Cherokee in her time as a Carolina Law student. “Working with
clients in Cherokee reinforces the fact that part of being an effective
attorney includes developing a rapport with clients.”
-February 14, 2017