UNC Law Students Devote Three Days of Winter Break to Pro Bono Work in Charlotte

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Twenty-three students from UNC School of Law spent three days over winter break donating time and expertise to work with the underserved community in Charlotte, N.C. The students worked on two projects during their stay, supporting attorneys from the Mecklenburg County Office of the Public Defender and Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC).

A team of six students worked in the public defender’s office, which is under the leadership of Carolina Law alumnus Kevin P. Tully ’89. The students shadowed the public defenders and offered support on various projects. Third year students on the team appeared in court and had the opportunity to argue a motion.

A team of 17 students worked with DRNC, a nonprofit organization that helps North Carolinians with disabilities gain access to services and opportunities through its advocacy and legal expertise. Students worked in a private children’s psychiatric facility, interviewing patients to see if they are receiving the appropriate level of education. Reports from the interviews will support an American Civil Disabilities Act complaint that DRNC plans to submit to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The team began a draft of the complaint during their short visit, which they are planning to complete during subsequent visits.

The three days were eye-opening for the students, according to Sylvia Novinsky, assistant dean for public service programs, who accompanied the students on the trip. The students gained insight into indigent criminal defense and educational issues for children with disabilities, according to Novinsky.

"Not only did our students help our clients, but the students also learned a lot from the experience. The students experienced legal issues from every standpoint, for a deep and broad experience," says Novinsky. “They also learned about the legal and policy issues of why needs in these areas are unmet.”

Ryan Fairchild 1L, who worked on the team that supported DRNC, said his experience illustrated that the line of work could make him feel like he was “making a difference.” Chreasea Dickerson 1L, who worked on the public defender’s team, said the project reaffirmed her interest in “being the voice for people who would otherwise not be heard.”

-February 2, 2012

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