UNC School of Law students were recognized in early December with the Pro Bono Law School of the Year Award for spending spring and winter breaks providing free legal assistance to New Orleans residents since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. Their work on family law and property succession cases has helped people in the New Orleans area to move on with their lives, says Sylvia Novinsky, Assistant Dean for Public Service Programs.
The students were recognized by the Pro Bono Project, a not-for-profit organization that serves low-income clients in the six counties that surround and include the city of New Orleans, says statewide volunteer coordinator, Sandie McCarthy-Brown. She estimates that students from approximately 20 law schools have volunteered their time in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina.
"This award means that our work has made a difference to the Pro Bono Project. The goal is to make sure that people are getting all the benefits that they are entitled to. Proving they own their land or are legally separated or divorced is an important part of that," says Novinsky. "Our students come back with a renewed sense of purpose, of knowing why they are in law school and the desperate need for access to legal services."
The award was presented to UNC associate professor of law Adam Feibelman on behalf of the UNC School of Law by the Pro Bono Project on Thursday, December 4, 2008, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Most students do factual research and interview clients during their week of service, says McCarthy-Brown. "Then they pull the info together and prepare the pleadings and go over them with the client."
"The students get a lot out of their experience here but we could not process as many cases as we do without them," says Brown.
According to Novinsky, between 15 and 20 UNC law students have gone each winter break, beginning with the first trip in winter 2005. While students now stay four to a room in hotels in New Orleans, the pioneer team slept on the floor of a relative's home for the week. To date the students have raised $6,000 to help fund their trip.
While students usually work on family law or succession cases, this year they also will have an opportunity to work with the New Orleans public defender's office.
The students' annual experiences are covered in a blog dating back to the first trip in December 2005 at: http://www.forthegoodofthegulf.blogspot.com/.
-December 4, 2008