Forty-six students, mostly 1Ls, from UNC School of Law spent their fall break, Oct. 17-18, participating in a new project called "Fall Breakthrough." The new program was launched by the student-run Pro Bono Program at UNC School of Law to engage students in pro bono work in central North Carolina and to encourage them to think critically about unmet legal needs in the state of North Carolina.
Students worked with supervising attorneys from Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) offices in Durham, Pittsboro, Greensboro and Fayetteville. Through the Greensboro and Fayetteville Navigator Projects, some students assisted LANC in enrolling clients for health insurance within the healthcare exchanges that are being implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act reforms. Other students worked to expunge criminal records at an expungement clinic. Students also assisted at the LANC Domestic Violence Clinic to help complete domestic violence cases.
All of the projects provided students with meaningful opportunities to get client contact and develop their interaction skills. "Participating in Fall Breakthrough was my first pro bono experience and by far one of the best ways to spend my long weekend," says Erin Ball 1L. "Interacting with clients that truly needed all of our help was refreshing in the middle of the semester."
Before starting their client work, students learned from law school faculty about unmet legal needs in the state. Gene R. Nichol, Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity, spoke first, followed by a panel moderated by Tamar R. Birckhead, associate professor of law and interim director of Clinical Programs. The panelists spoke about specific unmet legal needs that are present in North Carolina and provided context on why it is important for students to engage in pro bono throughout their career. One panelist, Lewis Pitts of Advocates for Children's Services, described pro bono work as "spiritual Gatorade."
The event's organizers were pleased with the level of student enthusiasm for the new project and hope to make it an annual tradition.
"It was inspiring to see so many students, many of whom had never participated in pro bono before, choose to help meet unmet legal needs in Chapel Hill on their days off," says Gabriel Kussin 2L, one of the team leaders for Fall Breakthrough and a 2L Class Coordinator for the UNC Pro Bono Program.
Munashe Magarira 3L, the creator and organizer behind Fall Breakthrough, found the entire experience to be eye opening. "It was very heartwarming to see the efforts of the Pro Bono Program not only implemented but also thoroughly welcomed by our students, our community partners and the clients."
-October 25, 2013