Sylvia Novinsky, Assistant Dean for Public Service Programs; Kimberly Ann Bart, Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono at Duke Law School; and Jodi Schur '14 accept the 2014 Law Student Group Pro Bono Award from Alan W. Duncan, president, N.C. Bar Association.
Most of the UNC School of Law students who participate in the UNC Cancer Pro Bono Project are understandably nervous before their first consultation with patients. Balancing sensitivity with the need to help cancer patients address end-of-life issues is challenging, and it changes students.
“They are scared. But they come out three hours later, and they are different law students,” says Jodi Schur ’14, who started the student-run program with the support of Sylvia Novinsky, UNC School of Law’s assistant dean for public service programs.
Originally called the Duke-UNC Cancer Pro Bono Project, the program received the 2014 Law Student Group Pro Bono Award from the North Carolina Bar Association at the organization’s annual meeting in June. The program, open to current and former oncology patients and their family members, is managed through UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Since the program’s inception in February 2013, dozens of student volunteers have been trained in the law of advanced directives, and in sensitivity issues and legal ethics. Students, supervised by volunteer lawyers, talk at the cancer center with patients and their families about financial and health care powers of attorney and living wills. Patients complete the required forms, which are notarized on site, and leave with legal documents. Students prepare about 30 documents a month.
“We hope this project assists patients’ mental outlook in fighting cancer. The process of preparing these documents enables the patient to think about and decide some of these difficult issues in advance. This is helpful not only for themselves but also for their families,” Novinsky says.
The cancer center benefits, too. “We now have a relationship established with Lineberger that we didn’t have before. And I think they’re really pleased to have this service provided,” Novinsky says.
The pro bono project will expand to a Lineberger patient support services site in Chapel Hill. The expansion will offer more invaluable opportunities for students to broaden their skills.
“Their confidence level in themselves as law students and future attorneys definitely goes up,” Schur says. “They see the value of pro bono work. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to be in an infusion room where a cancer patient is prepped to have chemotherapy, and they’re thanking you for diminishing their stress level because they know they have these legal issues under control.”
Schur plans to start a nonprofit to expand on the work of the cancer pro bono project. Other law schools are interested in starting a similar program.
“I was really clear going in about the benefit a project like this could have for cancer patients and their families,” Schur says. “What I learned that I didn’t expect was the benefit of creating future lawyers who have had a chance to have this kind of practical clinical experience. I also saw how a unique knowledge-base that attorneys have can make such a big difference.”
-July 11, 2014