At Charlotte School of Law, pro bono is part of mission
The Charlotte School of Law is the only law school in the state that requires all of its students to perform pro bono work.
Why pro bono and why does CSL support such efforts? The central mission pillar of the school is serving the underserved. Since its founding in 2006, the law school has viewed experiential education — which includes the pro bono program — as an integral part of its curriculum.
A major goal of the pro bono program is to engage the student body with law-related service projects that provide an opportunity to develop practical skills.
An equally important goal is to allow students to do good in our community. Many CSL students have articulated a desire to use their knowledge of the law to help people and to do good as their main reasons for attending law school.
Pro bono has allowed our law students to develop legal skills through experiences not found in the classroom. By working on supervised pro bono cases, CSL students have improved their legal-research abilities while developing their interviewing and advocacy skills. Our students have learned professionalism — the importance of respecting others, preparing cases on time and submitting quality work product.
Pro bono also fosters direct client interaction. Through the work, CSL students have been able to meet clients in the community unable to afford legal help.
The work gives our students a window to gain awareness of the problems of the poor in finding legal help. Pro bono opportunities have permitted CSL student interaction with indigent clients and let them see the impact of their legal work on areas such as homelessness foreclosure, domestic violence, driver’s license restoration and criminal-record expunction.
Pro bono has encouraged our students to discover new areas of practice they might not have contemplated. A law student wondering what estate-planning attorneys do might volunteer for a local project on free wills. Another student interested in immigration law might volunteer for a pro bono naturalization workshop. These experiences provide moments of discovery where a law student might find a new lifelong passion in an established legal area.
Pro bono also has allowed our students to network and meet lawyers in the community. At an early part of their legal career, law students need mentor relationships that many in the profession know can be critical for success. It also has resulted in student interaction with judges — a way to meet members of the judiciary before actual appearances in the courtroom.
In addition, our faculty and staff have embraced the school’s mission pillar of serving the underserved. Our “Team Charlotte” has performed pro bono work involving civil rights, offered legal advocacy for victims of human trafficking and submitted friend of the court briefs for many nonprofit organizations.
Rule 6.1 of North Carolina’s Rules of Professional Conduct states that all lawyers should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Our students have embraced this pro bono ethic as evidenced by more than 143,000 volunteer hours served in the community.
During these uncertain economic times, the need for legal services has increased as the numbers of unrepresented individuals seeking legal help has grown. Charlotte School of Law students are truly making a difference in Charlotte and beyond.
Sean Lew is a member of the Charlotte School of Law faculty and directs its pro bono program. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the May 1, 2015 edition of the Charlotte Business Journal.