Everett Gaskins Hancock Tuttle Hash LLP

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19,000 to 1: Closing the Gap with the (Free) Assistance of Pro Bono Externs

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2010 | Firm News

Their stories will stay with me forever: The woman who became homeless for the first time at age seventy-five when she was evicted from the house she had lived in for the past 30 years; the lady who’d been disabled for more than 20 years but could no longer get a property tax exemption for disability when she relocated across Wake County; the 22-year-old mother of two who lived in an apartment so heavily infested with bedbugs that she lost everything – except a mattress. Teaming up with Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens, LLP, and Legal Aid of North Carolina, these are just of a few of the lives we impacted over the past year through Campbell’s pro bono externship program. Pro bono clients aren’t just cases with hours to bill they are the people who, without free legal assistance, would not otherwise have access to legal resources. “There is a tremendous unmet need for legal assistance that Legal Aid of North Carolina cannot adequately meet,” explains Victor Boone, Senior Managing Attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina. According to the NC Bar Association, Legal Aid can only provide one staff attorney to serve approximately 19,000 eligible clients. The general population of North Carolina (around 8 million), on the other hand, has available approximately one attorney for every 465 potential clients. Through externships, private firms and law students can work together to close the gap for the many eligible clients who do not have the resources to pay for representation and would otherwise go without. For those unfamiliar with the program, “an externship is an academic opportunity that supplements the theoretical training of law school classes by providing skills training,” states Professor Margaret Currin, Externship Coordinator at Campbell Law School. Currin adds, “[s]tudent externs assist attorneys with the work that they ordinarily do while simultaneously improving their lawyering skills. “ Boone believes, “[a]n externship gives law students the kind of experience they need before going into private practice. The more expansive the experience a law student receives during law school, the more prepared the student will be as a new practitioner.”  Any size firm, even a solo practitioner, can take advantage of the benefits of the externship program; it only requires a law student and connection with one or more pro bono cases. “Participating in the externship program is a beneficial way for private firms to either grow their pro bono practice or move along the pro bono cases they currently have,” states Currin. For law firms interested in growing their pro bono practice, Legal Aid’s Private Attorney Volunteer Coordinators across the state have an overwhelming number of cases that can readily be assigned. “Cases are assigned on a weekly basis to volunteer lawyers based on their expressed areas of competence and interest in addition to their availability to handle the case at the time a referral is attempted,” explains Boone. Externships are a practical way for law firms to discharge their pro bono duty and mentor a law student at little to no cost. Reflecting on his firm’s experience, Ed Gaskins, now managing partner of Everett, Gaskins & Hancock, LLP, explains that working with a student extern allowed his firm “to take on more substantial matters and spend more hours on pro bono work than we otherwise would have done. We did not really have the resources to dedicate more hours to pro bono service but the law student gave us an extra resource and it didn’t cost anything. We spent the same amount of hours and resources from the law firm’s standpoint, but instead of working directly with the client, we were able to provide mentoring to the student who then provided services to the client and did so more extensively than we likely would have done otherwise. So it’s a winner all around.” At the end of my seven month externship, I walked away knowing that I will be a better lawyer and a better person. Through that experience, I learned that being an attorney means a lot more than being a super Googler, a LexisNexis whiz, or a WestLaw scholar. It takes more than being smart and knowing big words. It takes a heart, patience, and kindness. Thanks to the attorneys who dedicated many hours to mentoring me, I’ve learned that being a quality attorney also means being a quality person. These are skills that can’t be extracted from a textbook. The black letter law finds its meaning in the people the attorneys, the clients, and the community. “With student externships, everybody benefits the community, lawyers, and law students,” states Boone. For those firms that aspire to perform pro bono services but may not have the time to do all of the work themselves, the externship program provides the opportunity to fulfill that commitment to the public. Without pro bono services, eligible clients may be without housing, without benefits, and without help. It’s imperative that the private bar commits resources to providing equal access to the legal system. “We need to make available the legal system to those who otherwise would not have access,” states Gaskins; “Externships require minimal involvement and provide a significant benefit to the community, to the students, and to the law firm.” After more than 180 hours of pro bono legal service, the woman who became homeless for the first time at age seventy-five now is armed with the knowledge and resources she needs to settle back into a home; the lady who’d been disabled for more than 20 years now receives a property tax exemption for disability; and the 22-year-old mother of two who lived in the apartment heavily infested with bedbugs now resides in a new (bedbug free) apartment – with more than a mattress. Teaming up with Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens, LLP and Legal Aid of North Carolina, these are just of a few of the lives we impacted over the past year. To get involved in Campbell’s externship program, contact Margaret Currin at (919) 865-4683 or email her at [email protected]. For academic credit, students are required to completed a minimum of seventy hours of pro bono work and may only handle pro bono matters. For attorneys working in the Winston-Salem area who would like to get involved in the Pro Bono Project at Wake Forest School of Law, contact the Director of Outreach, Prof. Beth Hopkins, [email protected], or the Attorney Project Coordinator, Lamar Armstrong, [email protected]. For attorneys interested in working on pro bono matters with Legal Aid of North Carolina, visit http://www.legalaidnc.org/public/give/probono/ or contact Celia Mansaray at (919) 828-4647. By: Hannah Hall Hannah is a third-year law student at Campbell University and the Editor-in-Chief of the Campbell Law Observer. This article was originally published in the August 2010 issue of the Campbell Law Observer and is republished here with the permission of the author.