North Carolina attorneys are generous with their time in support of equal access to justice for all members of our state. Our profession has even adopted Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, which encourages each attorney to provide 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year to those unable to afford them without expectation of a fee. With the constant demands on our time and energy, however, it can sometimes be difficult to prioritize this important activity.
From the new attorney who may be apprehensive about signing up for a pro bono opportunity to the veteran practitioner who can't find the time to volunteer, there are valid reasons that we may not meet Rule 6.1's aspirational goal in a given year. However, there are some equally great reasons to prioritize pro bono legal service as part of your law practice:
Clients Need Our Help! Every year, roughly 80% of the civil legal needs of the poor in North Carolina go unmet. These needs, such as addressing housing habitability violations, protecting victims of domestic violence, ensuring access to health care or combating wage theft, are real to a person living in poverty. Legal redress can mean avoiding homelessness, violence or even death.
Volunteering Is Easy! Finding a pro bono opportunity is as simple as visiting the website of the NC Pro Bono Resource Center. On ncprobono.org, you will find a variety of pro bono legal service opportunities in numerous areas of law, geographic areas and types of activity, all searchable to make it easy to find a project that is the perfect fit for you.
There Are Opportunities for Recognition! A lawyer who reports at least 50 hours of pro bono legal service in a given calendar year will be inducted into the NC Pro Bono Honor Society and receive a certificate from the Supreme Court of North Carolina recognizing that achievement -- report your 2016 pro bono service at ncprobono.org by April 17, 2017.
Service Provides Professional Development! While addressing unmet legal needs in our state, participating in pro bono legal service has the additional benefit of benefiting you as a practitioner. Whether it is expanding your professional network by volunteering at a legal clinic or building your competency in new areas of law, volunteering can help you become a better lawyer.
It Feels Good to Give Back! As North Carolina attorneys, volunteering is a way to invest in our own communities in a way that we are uniquely suited to provide. Whether it's seeing firsthand the difference you made in a client’s life or feeling as though you made a true impact in protecting another's legal rights, pro bono legal service is incredibly rewarding.
Whatever your reason for volunteering as a pro bono attorney, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center is here to support you. Visit us at ncprobono.org to find an opportunity to volunteer, learn more about pro bono legal service or to connect with us about why you serve.
Sylvia K. Novinsky is the Pro Bono Resource Center’s inaugural director. Chief Justice Mark D. Martin launched the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, the newest program of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, in 2016.
The Pro Bono Resource Center is tasked with increasing pro bono participation statewide, initially focusing on connecting recent law graduates with projects that address legal needs in Wake and Mecklenburg counties. It will also provide a way for North Carolina lawyers to report on their pro bono service to clients in need, and will encourage and support this work through recruitment, training and communication. The Center will be one of only a handful of statewide pro bono resource centers in the country.
Sylvia comes to this role after nearly twenty years of service to the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she most recently held the role of Assistant Dean for Public Service Programs. During her tenure at Carolina Law, Sylvia founded and advised the UNC Law Pro Bono Program, a national model for inspiring students and alumni to participate in pro bono service. She has also served as the institution’s Associate Director for Public Interest Law, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs. Sylvia also spends time inside the classroom as an adjunct professor, teaching “Spanish for American Lawyers” and “Leadership for Lawyers.”