During the week of October 19-25, 2014, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service launched its “National Celebrate Pro Bono Week.” This important initiative was aimed at addressing the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times. The week was designed to be an effective strategic tool for expanding local efforts to increase access to justice for all.
Many legal entities used this week to increase pro bono participation and expand legal services to low income and underrepresented individuals or groups. Although this was a national initiative, the celebration provided an opportunity for local legal organizations across the country to celebrate and expand their efforts to provide high quality legal services to those in need.
In recognition of this celebration, the N.C. Guardian ad Litem Program (NCGAL) acknowledged the over 100 North Carolina attorneys who participate in their Pro Bono Attorney Program. The NCGAL Pro Bono Attorney Program provides representation in approximately 60% of the appellate cases involving abused, neglected, or dependent children within the NCGAL program across our state.
With very limited state employee personnel to manage and staff these appellate cases, pro bono attorneys are an indispensable part of the NCGAL team. In an effort to expand the program, each current pro bono attorney was asked to recommend participation in the program to attorney colleagues. Attorneys who volunteered in 2014 with this program also received a letter of thanks and a small token gift in appreciation for their hard work on NCGAL appellate cases.
However, token gifts are just the tip of the iceberg of benefits NCGAL pro bono attorneys receive for volunteering their time. NCGAL pro bono attorneys also receive a wealth of free continuing legal education (CLE) courses on juvenile law and appellate advocacy, as well as the opportunity to utilize this knowledge to contribute to a population that would otherwise have no voice in their cases—abused and neglected children.
For example, all new pro bono attorneys are given a free 1.5 hour CLE on appellate advocacy before they begin their cases. They are also given several books and written resources to help them learn about juvenile law and appellate advocacy. Annually, the legal staff of the NCGAL program also offers a day long CLE event on juvenile law topics.
This year the CLE was held on October 31, 2014 and included topics such as: Elements of Child Advocacy, Issues Involving Crossover Youth, Consent for Medical Treatment Issues, Issues for NCGALs for Respondent Parents, Impact of Permanency Choices in Child Welfare Cases, and a Juvenile Case Law Update. This annual training draws attorneys from social services, indigent defense services, juvenile organizations, state agencies, and pro bono attorneys. In fact, building knowledge, developing new skills, and gaining experience using those skills are just a few reasons every attorney should consider engaging in pro bono work.
Although the national celebration has concluded, there is still an opportunity for attorneys to participate by volunteering their skills set with the pro bono organization of their choice. In particular, if you can advocate for healthy and safe outcomes for children with cases of abuse and neglect please join us in action.
To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Pro Bono Attorney Program please contact our Appellate Counsel, Tawanda Foster at 919-890-1255 or Tawanda.firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also find us on the web at www.ncNCGAL.org or on Facebook as “NC Guardian ad Litem.”