Twenty students from the UNC School of Law spent four days of their spring break donating their time and expertise to draft wills and powers of attorney for low income residents in a rural corner of the state. The UNC students worked with attorneys from Legal Aid of North Carolina to serve approximately 40 clients, drafting wills and powers of attorney, preparing for a court hearing in a housing case, and providing direct assistance to clients through Legal Aid's Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
"The students engaged in direct client representation under the supervision of attorneys from the law school and Legal Aid. The clients were given access to critical legal resources, health care powers of attorney and vital documents that will help them meet their goals related to their end of life issues," says Mark Dorosin, senior attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which partnered with the school's Pro Bono Program to coordinate the UNC effort. "From the Center for Civil Right's standpoint, hopefully we will be able to help these families preserve the assets that they have developed, including their property. Further, providing these types of voluntary, pro bono services is part of the school's commitment to give back to the people of North Carolina."
"There are a number of reasons why the client constituents don't have these documents already, one of which is cost. This was an opportunity to help them maximize their resources," says Dorosin. The students prepared documents at community centers, senior centers and other central locations.
In addition to completing approximately 20 documents, the students also assisted with tax and housing cases already in progress. The four days were eye opening for the students, according to Sylvia Novinsky, assistant dean for public service programs. Novinsky accompanied the students on the trip. The difficulty of securing transportation to cover the distances between locations in rural communities created an obstacle to seeking legal assistance, she says, and students had a chance to see how much of an impact legal work can make in people's lives.
"Not only did our students help our clients gain something, but the students also got a lot out of the experience. They got to see the law in action, and gain experience interviewing clients," says Novinsky.
The clients, many of them elderly, reported relief after working with the students.
"We had clients thank us and say that they were going to sleep a little better knowing what was going to happen to their property after they passed," says 24-year-old second-year law student Seema Kakad, who plans to include pro bono work as part of her career. "We underestimate sometimes the difficult situations that people are in. It's very rewarding when we are able to help someone with a need that may not have been addressed otherwise."
-March 30, 2009