Students lead Pro Bono Week at Elon Law
Law students participated in public service work and professional forums through Pro Bono Week at Elon Law. Events were hosted in conjunction with the American Bar Association’s annual National Celebration of Pro Bono.
“It is important for Elon Law to hold events like this not only to help get students involved and interested in pro bono services, but to also to bring together law students, community members and private attorneys in service to others - a duty we all have as members of this community,” said Pro Bono Board member Stephen Hegedus L’13.
Eight events were held throughout Pro Bono Week of October 22-27. On Monday, “A Difference Made” was hosted during the lunch hour. At this event a former client of the Elon Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic – Rachel Grushie, originally from Ghana – spoke about her experience working with Elon Law students to receive assistance through the clinic.
Ms. Grushie, who is deaf, delivered remarks in sign language through an interpreter. She described a series of traumatic experiences growing up deaf, including being abandoned by her parents, being raped repeatedly for several years in a school for the deaf and being raped later in life by her son-in-law.
“Family and society viewed us as a curse,” Grushie said. “They saw us as property.”
Grushie said that law enforcement in Ghana did not take action on her behalf when she and others brought charges against perpetrators of the rape of deaf individuals. She said that without the assistance of the students and staff of the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, she would not have had the opportunity to apply and interview successfully for asylum.
On Monday evening, a Pro Bono Panel was held and sponsored by the Public Interest Law Society and the Center for Professional Development. The following attorneys spoke as panelists about the importance of pro bono work: Robert Cone, Tuggle, Duggins & Meschan, P.A.; Renee Gabriel-Alford, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Greensboro; Miriam Heard L’09, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Greensboro; Ben Snyder L’12, McKinney, Justice, Perry & Coalter; and, Georgi Yonuschot, Womble Carlyle.
“Several of the panelists discussed the importance of pro bono work especially in light of the number of people in North Carolina that cannot afford legal representation,” said Ben Winikoff, L’14, who moderated the panel. “Often, public entities such as Legal Aid of North Carolina cannot handle the volume of cases that come their way and rely on attorneys in private practice to volunteer their time. Pro bono work is a great way for young attorneys to experience various areas of the law.”
Longtime preceptor at Elon Law, attorney Robert Cone said pro bono work was rewarding, both when applying one’s area of expertise in the law to particular client cases, as well as when cases allowed learning in areas of law outside an attorney’s general practice area.
“You can pick things to do that you know how to do, or you can pick things that you want to know more about, or you can pick a combination,” Cone said about the range of pro bono opportunities for lawyers.
Miriam Heard L’09 and Renee Gabriel-Alford of Legal Aid of North Carolina said that attorneys in private practice helped their organization and the clients they serve in a number of ways, noting that attorneys regularly provided insight into complex cases and assisted clients in areas such as housing, domestic violence and power of attorney.
On Tuesday, the Office of Student Affairs’ Initiative for Diversity and Cultural Awareness (IDCA) used its monthly Lunch and Learn Series as an opportunity to advance Pro Bono Week ideals. This month’s series was “Legal Issues Facing Impoverished Communities,” and featured a discussion about housing, employment and benefit services offered at Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Greensboro Office. Legal Aid Attorneys, Ed Sharp and Miriam Heard L’09, spoke about their experiences working with low-income clients. Heard spoke specifically about trying to obtain various benefits, including unemployment and disability, for clients and the struggle in making clients understand her capacity as an attorney in remedying things that are illegal but not necessarily things that are unfair. Sharp spoke about common employment and housing legal issues in Greensboro, specifically the recent housing violations at the Cascade Grandview and the ways Legal Aid was able to assist residents there. This event was co-sponsored by multiple student organizations.
“I think, as students, it is easy to forget that the little bit that you do know about the law is quite a bit more than what the lay person may know. With that knowledge we can make a difference,” said Sherea Burnett L’13, chair of the IDCA committee and coordinator of the Lunch and Learn Series. “It is important for Elon Law to sponsor such events and to encourage students to pursue pro bono opportunities so that we have the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge about our future roles as ‘lawyer leaders,’ as well as to embrace our potential to serve as ‘community problem solvers’ long before we enter the profession.”
Tuesday evening, Lynette Lorenzetti, associate director for financial planning, spoke about loan forgiveness options. The presentation, “Loan Forgiveness through Legal Services” informed students about the options public service work offers in regard to loan forgiveness and repayment.
Pro Bono Board members hosted a “New Project Roundtable” on Wednesday. This event was intended to engage students who are interested in suggesting public service project ideas that they wished to see advanced at Elon Law, as well as students who are interested in getting involved with some of the suggested projects.
On Thursday evening, the Women’s Law Association sponsored a “50-B Domestic Violence Panel” with local attorneys. Attorneys spoke about domestic violence statutes and the process one goes through in obtaining a domestic violence protective order. This event was attended by students and community members interested in learning more about domestic violence protections. Also on Thursday evening, the Elon American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) presented a “Know Your Rights” training. This training informed individuals about the best way to exercise their legal rights when interacting with police.
Saturday morning, “Elon Law Ask a Lawyer Day” was hosted at the law school. With the assistance of attorneys for Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Greensboro Office, the Pro Bono Board invited community members to come to the event and have their legal questions answered and addressed. Law student volunteers assisted attorneys with client counseling and conducted initial client intake interviews.
The weeklong celebration was organized by the Pro Bono Board with the help of the Center for Professional Development, the Office of Student Affairs, the Financial Planning Office and several student organizations, which served co-sponsors for events throughout the week. The co-sponsoring student organizations included: American Civil Liberties Union, American Constitution Society, Black Law Students Association, Delta Theta Phi, Latin American Law Students Association, National Lawyers Guild, Phi Alpha Delta, Public Interest Law Society, Society for Health Law and Bioethics and Women’s Law Association.
Members of the Pro Bono board include: Melodie Menzer, coordinator of Pro Bono Week, Stephen Hegedus, organizer of “Elon As a Lawyer Day,” Jack Westall, Jason Senges, Molly Barns and Shoshana Fried.
Application are currently being accepted for students interested in a position on the 2012-2013 Pro Bono Board. Interested students should email the Pro Bono Board at firstname.lastname@example.org before the application deadline on November 2.
By Courtney Roller L'13