It wasn’t the restaurant that made it memorable, though I really love Centro located in downtown Raleigh. And it wasn’t the food, though their steak tacos are my favorite. Instead, it was the company of my lunch companion that made the meal so memorable.
Sylvia Novinsky, the Director of the newly established North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, has an enthusiasm for pro bono work that is infectious.
On April 1, 2016, the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission launched the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center.
The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (the Resource Center) partners with legal aid organizations, local bars, law schools, community groups, and others, to develop new projects to help address unmet legal needs. The Resource Center also operates ncprobono.org, which serves as a matching service of lawyers and paralegals who want to volunteer with pro bono opportunities.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Bar adopted Rule 6.1, Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service, which states in part, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”
In order to encourage pro bono volunteers, it’s important to recognize the need. According to Sylvia, 80% of the civil legal needs of North Carolinians living in poverty are unmet. Many attorneys and paralegals, though willing to help, are not sure where to turn to meet these needs.
The Resource Center plays a vital role in recruiting pro bono attorneys to fill the gap as legal aid providers and legal clinics in North Carolina are facing tremendous financial challenges.
The Resource Center will also develop pro bono projects statewide, working in partnership with legal aid providers and community organizations. The Resource Center will provide support for existing pro bono projects, including recruiting volunteers and training them for various projects. Finally, the Resource Center will include a place for lawyers to report their hours and will recognize lawyers for their volunteer efforts. Before the Resource Center was launched, while there was an annual aspirational goal of 50 hours per lawyer, there was no method of reporting.
While malpractice claims for pro bono activities are rare, insurance coverage can give you a peace of mind knowing there is a safety net should a mistake be made or a claim asserted against you. Many organizations where lawyers would be volunteering already have coverage in place. For lawyers insured with Lawyers Mutual, claims arising from pro bono activities are covered just as a claim for a paying client would be. For policies issued by Lawyers Mutual after August 1, 2015, there is a limited waiver of deductible up to $10,000 for claims expenses on pro bono matters handled through many legal service providers.
If you are not insured, there are policies available solely for pro bono work. While pricing may vary and would be subject to the application process, the initial pricing (for limits of liability up to $1 million) would likely be below $500 for the year.
For newly-admitted attorneys, pro bono work can be a great way to build skills, learn about different practice areas and meet other legal professionals. The Resource Center can assist you with looking for training opportunities to help bridge the gap between your classroom and the courtroom experience. There are often CLE opportunities available for those who are willing to provide pro bono services but need to enhance their skills. Check with the CLE provider to see about getting a reduced pro bono rate.
For law firms looking to enhance their pro bono involvement, working with the Resource Center would be a great way to develop a pro bono plan for your firm and to find projects that meet your geographic needs, as well as match your area of practice expertise.
Lawyers who are beginning to transition out of law practice can find pro bono service to be a way to stay connected with the profession and continue to give back. Some pro bono opportunities do not require attorneys to have an active law license. The Resource Center can assist with a match for transitioning lawyers to a pro bono activity that fits their needs while benefiting the community.
If you want a memorable lunch, call or email Sylvia and introduce yourself. She would be delighted to help you get involved. And she enjoys a great taco when she has the chance.
Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.