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Encouraging pro bono legal work in North Carolina

In a January presentation to the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission, two Elon Law Leadership Fellows shared their research into the many ways law firms around the United States support attorneys who provide free legal advice to those in need.

Ragan Riddle L'17 and Jason Pruett L'17 shared their research with members of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission during a Jan. 12 meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Jason Pruett L'17, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, and Ragan Riddle L'17
Jason Pruett L'17 and Ragan Riddle L'17

The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center needed research assistance. Two Elon University School of Law students were more than happy to help.

The end result? An inventory of the pro bono program models that exist throughout the country, which will make it easier for North Carolina law firms to support their attorneys who provide free legal assistance to the underserved and underprivileged.

Elon Law Leadership Fellows Jason Pruett L’17 and Ragan Riddle L’17 presented their Leadership Capstone Project to some of the state’s top legal leaders at a Jan. 12 gathering of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission led by the Hon. Mark Martin, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. The commission's mission is to "expand access to the civil justice system for people of low income and modest means in North Carolina."

In 2010, the North Carolina State Bar enacted Rule 6.1 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. “Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service” provides that lawyers should aspire to perform at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year.

Pruett and Riddle’s presentation, “Pro Bono in North Carolina: Building Towards Achieving Rule 6.1,” was an update on what their capstone project had discovered to date about the way volunteer legal work is encouraged in states with longer traditions of required or encouraged pro bono hours.

“We hope to take this information and capitalize on it to start our own view of what law firms in North Carolina are doing,” Sylvia Novinsky, the newly appointed director of the resource center, said at the commission meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We thought their presentation and their work was something we wanted to share with the commission. It’s a really great starting point for what pro bono looks like in law firms elsewhere.”

Leadership Fellows are challenged to identify a project that lead to positive change for organizations, Riddle said. Presenting their research affirmed that the project mattered and made a difference by allowing the Pro Bono Resource Center to impact individuals throughout North Carolina.

It is information that will be beneficial to all firms and organizations, she said, as it can be tailored based on the culture, size and nature of the institution.

“The North Carolina Pro Bono Research Center is an incredible organization that is making such an impact in North Carolina already, and I think this research will allow them to continue to serve North Carolina citizens well,” Riddle said. “Presenting to such esteemed individuals on a commission that does so much great work for all citizens of North Carolina was truly an honor.”

“Throughout our research, the one thing that has been clear is that North Carolina attorneys have countless opportunities to participate in pro bono work, but those opportunities are not always easily identified,” Pruett said. “After presenting to the Equal Access to Justice Commission, it is evident to me that the members of the commission, especially Chief Justice Mark Martin, have the passion and commitment to help the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center succeed in advancing pro bono work in our state.

“The members of the commission were genuinely excited about the research that we have conducted, and very much interested as well as invested in ways that pro bono work can be advanced in North Carolina.”

Pruett and Riddle were accompanied to Raleigh by Associate Professor Chris Leupold, Elon Law's Faculty Fellow for Law and Leadership. For more information on Elon Law’s Leadership Program, visit law.elon.edu/leadership.

Eric Townsend,
1/13/2017 5:40 PM