Johnston County Lawyers Give Free Advice
Summary Date: Thursday, May 24, 2012
Written By: Colin Campbell, email@example.com
SMITHFIELD - On Friday afternoon, 24 Johnston County attorneys moved their offices into the atrium of the county courthouse. But they left behind the clocks that determine how much clients owe them for their time.
For the third year in a row, the Johnston County Bar Association held its “Ask-A-Lawyer Day.” For four hours, the lawyers dropped their paid cases and volunteered their time to answer any legal question residents might have. By 3 p.m., about 55 people had taken advantage of the free legal advice.
Graylon McLamb of Benson brought a long list of questions and made the most of the attorneys’ offer. He said he has an aging mother-in-law and a disabled family member, and he was curious about estate planning, trust funds and capital gains. After chatting with several lawyers, he had the answers he was looking for. “I’m a little more educated in the details,” he said. “I’ve hung out this whole time and found it very interesting.”
Tom Berkau, a Smithfield attorney who helped organize the event, said many of the questions concerned child-custody issues. People who can’t afford a lawyer can often get through that process themselves, but they have to know what forms to file. In the free advice sessions, he said, “what you do is explain how the process works.”
Many of those who took part Friday will still need to hire attorneys to resolve their issues. But the volunteer lawyers on hand had referral cards and contact information for Legal Aid of North Carolina for those who can’t afford representation.
Legal Aid closed its Smithfield office last year amid budget cuts, and Berkau said the nonprofit is taking fewer cases in its Raleigh office. “They’re finding they can’t handle domestic cases as much,” he said.
This year’s higher turnout for “Ask-A-Lawyer Day” could be in part because of the cuts. “If you need an attorney, they have to refer you to someone in Wake County,” Berkau said of Johnston County residents.
Berkau said he hadn’t calculated the value of the volunteer legal counseling provided Friday, but most of the 24 lawyers involved typically charge several hundred dollars an hour. That means the advice could be worth around $20,000.
Last year, the Johnston Bar Association was recognized for the effort, receiving the Chief Justice Award from the state bar association.
“For a small county like this to get that award, we were quite proud of that,” Berkau said.
“I think the attorneys have really enjoyed doing it too.”
Do you know of an attorney or law firm that has been active in the community or has made significant charitable contributions? The outreach section of the NCBA website is designed to highlight these efforts. Contact Amber Smith, Assistant Director of Communications for Community Outreach and Social Media for the NCBA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.