The NC Equal Access to Justice Commission launched the NC Pro Bono Resource Center in April of 2016. The NC Pro Bono Resource Center is one of only a handful of statewide pro bono resource centers in the country. The goal of the NC Pro Bono Resource Center is to increase pro bono participation statewide. Through the leadership of its director, Sylvia Novinsky, the Pro Bono Resource Center has grown and developed many relationships within the legal community. We are excited to continue to partner with the Pro Bono Resource Center as they go into their second year of service.
LM: The goal of the Pro Bono Resource Center is to increase pro bono participation statewide. Why is pro bono work so important (aside from the NC State Bar requirement)?
SN: Pro bono legal service is incredibly important for a number of different reasons. For the state of North Carolina, pro bono legal service is one of the ways our profession can help provide equal access to justice for all citizens, regardless of ability to pay. For the judicial system, the adversarial process works best for all parties when clients are represented. For the profession, pro bono legal service helps protect the rights of those in need in a way that lawyers are uniquely and solely situated to provide. And for practitioners, participating in pro bono work provides professional development through networking and skill-building, not to mention the good feelings that come from giving back through volunteering.
LM: What kinds of pro bono opportunities are available?
SN: The NC Pro Bono Resource Center website, ncprobono.org, has a list of more than thirty pro bono opportunities that cover a wide variety of geographic areas and legal issues. This variety leads to in depth projects, such as representing children in juvenile appeals, limited scope projects, such as drafting end of life documents, and purely remote projects, such as researching whether pretrial confinement time has been properly applied to inmate records. Whether looking to explore a new area of law or to stay in familiar waters, the Pro Bono Resource Center makes it easy for a potential attorney volunteer to find a good fit for their legal service.
LM: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
SN: I love seeing how lawyers can truly help make a difference. Lawyers have a unique skill set and can use this specialized training and knowledge to solve someone’s legal problem. It’s a win-win when a person who cannot otherwise afford legal services gets their legal problem resolved—the lawyer gets to help someone and the client gets their legal situation addressed.
LM: The resource center celebrated a full year of service on April 1st, what’s in store for your second year?
SN: The first year of the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center saw collaboration with numerous legal associations and service providers across the state, the launch of a website housing searchable pro bono opportunities, and collecting information about and recognizing the pro bono work being done. In addition to maintaining these activities, the Pro Bono Resource Center looks forward to facilitating more pro bono projects, building capacity for pro bono service among North Carolina law firms and creating training and support resources for effective pro bono legal service.
LM: What questions do you get from attorneys about the malpractice risk involved in pro bono work?
SN: Lawyers want to know how malpractice coverage and pro bono work relate. We have great information to address this concern in the FAQ section of our website that Lawyers Mutual helped us draft. Essentially, the answer depends on the project. Many legal services providers offer malpractice coverage to their pro bono attorneys. It’s up to the pro bono attorney to ask this question of the legal services provider. If the answer is no, the pro bono attorney should then check with your employer to see if it has a policy that may cover your pro bono work. If coverage does not already exist, or if you are interested in additional coverage, here are a few possible options:
- Obtain a stand-alone policy for your pro bono work.
- Talk with your employer about adding an endorsement on to its existing policies.
- Talk with your employer about obtaining a policy to cover you and all other attorneys in the organization for pro bono activities.
LM: What resources are available to address those concerns?
SN: The Resource Center and Lawyers Mutual have partnered to create a resource that answers frequently asked questions related to malpractice insurance for pro bono legal service. This information may be surprising to potential volunteers – legal service providers often provide malpractice insurance for their volunteers, employer malpractice coverage may extend to pro bono clients and purchasing standalone coverage for pro bono work is very affordable.
LM: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to add?
SN: I am so grateful to Chief Justice Martin for having the foresight and vision to create the NC Pro Bono Resource Center a year ago. I believe that lawyers understand that they have special skills to help the public and really want to serve. I want to make it easy for NC lawyers to get involved in pro bono work and for legal services providers to recruit and train pro bono attorneys. The Pro Bono Resource Center is here to help that happen. I look forward to what lies ahead and I am excited to lead this charge for our state.