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Elon Law partners with Family Justice Center to support crime victims

Margaret Dudley, a longtime North Carolina lawyer with experience practicing family law, has joined Elon Law to manage legal resources and advocacy in Greensboro and Burlington for survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sexual assault.

Margaret Dudley (right) talks with Assistant District Attorney Kelly Thompson, who prosecutes felony domestic violences cases, outside the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro. 

A prominent Greensboro attorney who specializes in family law has joined the Elon University School of Law staff to coordinate legal services for crime victims seeking help from local government agencies.

Margaret A. Dudley is the first supervising attorney for the Emergency Legal Services Program that Elon Law is managing in coordination with the Family Justice Centers of Guilford and Alamance counties. The program is funded by a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.

The program provides victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Guilford and Alamance counties with emergency access to legal assistance and representation to ensure physical and psychological health and safety. Victim advocacy and court accompaniment will also be available.

“I have always derived professional satisfaction from helping children in custody cases,” Dudley said. “That feeling will now be even more rewarding by providing legal guidance and support for people facing trauma in areas of domestic abuse. Our main goal is to empower clients to hopefully be able to extricate themselves from environments that profoundly destabilize families. And some of the clients we serve would not otherwise be able to get this kind of legal advice.”

Launched in 2015, the Guilford County Family Justice Center on Greene Street in downtown Greensboro describes itself as a “one stop shop” for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse. It brings together law enforcement, medical, and social service professionals to coordinate access to vital services and information with a special focus on victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Margaret Dudley

In its first six months of operation after opening, the Guilford County Family Justice Center served 2,500 individuals and families. Outside of victim advocacy and law enforcement for victims in crisis, legal services were the third-most requested service by Guilford County clients. Of the 565 clients served during that same time by the Family Justice Center in Alamance County, 261 were referred to Legal Aid and 38 were referred for offsite legal assistance.

The need for immediate access to an attorney for support were largely unavailable, leading to a partnership with Elon Law that would connect clients with attorneys and student interns.

“Attorney Dudley brings a rich knowledge of the judicial process in our community,” said Catherine Johnson, executive director of the Guilford County Family Justice Center. “Her expertise will be of great benefit to our clients. This also a tremendous opportunity for the law school to show leadership in what is considered a very significant social issue. Together, we are bridging gaps in services, and communities across our state see this as an innovative approach to addressing client needs.”

Calling it a “huge win for Elon,” Johnson also pointed to a broader benefit: better awareness within the legal profession of domestic and sexual violence, and its impact on communities. Having trained attorneys on site to meet the legal needs of victims will also enhance a victim’s ability to create a safe and stable environment for children.

Family Justice Center officials believe the Emergency Legal Services Program, along with the wraparound services being provided by center partners, will increase the autonomy and safety of victims, ultimately saving lives.

“We have long known that the absence of civil legal services represents a significant gap in services for victims that often prohibits them from moving forward,” said Cindy Brady, executive director of the Family Justice Center of Alamance County. “This collaboration adds a substantial benefit to the list of comprehensive services at both centers and further enhances the concept of one-stop services for victims.”

A graduate of Howard University School of Law, Dudley moved to North Carolina in 1974 to work on a prisoners’ rights project for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a legal researcher for a Greensboro law firm. She was hired as a deputy county attorney in 1977, working for the next seven years with Guilford County departments focused on social services.

Dudley moved to private practice in 1984 and set out as a solo practitioner in 1994. She has focused much of her work on civil litigation with an emphasis on family law and throughout her time in the city has served on several community and civic boards, including Central Carolina Legal Services, the Greensboro branch of the NAACP, the Greensboro Citizens Association, and the N.C. Black Women’s Political Caucus.

“They taught us at Howard University that we had a responsibility to use our education to help improve our communities,” Dudley said. “This new role will most definitely do that.”

About Elon Law:

Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the preeminent school for engaged and experiential education in law. It integrates traditional classroom instruction with highly experiential full-time residencies-in-practice in a logically sequenced program of transformational professional preparation. Elon Law’s groundbreaking approach is accomplished in 2.5 years, which provides distinctive value by lowering tuition and permitting graduates early entry into their professional careers.

For more information, visit law.elon.edu.

Eric Townsend,
Staff
2/24/2017 12:15 PM