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NCBA Presents Pro Bono Awards

NCBA Presents Pro Bono Awards

The winners of the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2017 Pro Bono Awards were recognized on Friday, June 23, at the NCBA Annual Meeting in Asheville.

The awards were presented during the President’s Luncheon by outgoing NCBA President Kearns Davis. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County was the featured speaker.

The recipients of the 2017 Pro Bono Awards are:

  • William Thorp Pro Bono Service Award: William L. Esser of Parker Poe in Charlotte
  • Chief Justice Award: Wake County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Expunction Project
  • Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award: Jim Holloway of Legal Aid of North Carolina in Sylva
  • Large Law Firm Award: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP of Raleigh.
  • Small and Medium Law Firm Award: Garrity & Gossage, LLP of Matthews
  • Law Student Group Award: Elon University School of Law’s Country Conditions Project
  • The Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Award: Rachel Blunk of Sharpless & Stavola in Greensboro, Cabell Clay of Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte, and Brooks Jaffa of Cranford, Buckley, Schultze, Tomchin, Allen & Buie in Charlotte.

William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award
The William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award, originally established in 1984 as the Pro Bono Service Award, recognizes lawyers who provide exceptional pro bono legal assistance to low-income citizens of North Carolina. This award was renamed in 2002 in memory of Bill Thorp, a founder of Legal Services of N.C.

Will Esser is a partner with Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP in Charlotte. He began providing pro bono service to Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP) clients soon after joining his firm in 2000. His pro bono service work is distinguished by his comprehensive approach to resolving client problems and by his ability to craft creative legal solutions that result in significant life-changing results for clients.

In a recent case, Will represented a severely disabled tenant whose caretaker mother had suffered a stroke and was recovering in rehab. The landlord had repeatedly refused to make significant repairs to the client’s apartment, which had 45 housing code violations. Will was able to negotiate a settlement for his client so that the tenants were able to relocate to decent, alternative housing.

Some attorneys achieve the aspirational goals of Rule 6.1 by engaging in 50 hours of pro bono service on behalf of legal services clients, while other attorneys make financial donations to legal services organizations. Will stands out because he regularly donates both his time and money to his local legal services organizations, and he inspires his colleagues to do the same.

In his regular practice, Will recently represented a large corporate client that possessed an account payable in bankruptcy action. The client wanted to donate money to a charitable organization. In a time when LANC was cutting staff positions as a result of budget cuts, Will had the vision to urge his client to direct the money to LANC.  The client agreed to his suggestion and made a significant donation to LANC.

Will is a graduate of Belmont Abbey College and Notre Dame Law School.

Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award
The Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award, originally established in 1991 as the Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award, is presented to an attorney who provides exemplary legal service through an agency or other nonprofit entity that serves low-income citizens. This award was renamed in 2005 in memory of Deborah Greenblatt, an outstanding lifelong legal services attorney.

Jim Holloway is a senior managing attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Sylva office. Thirty-nine years ago, Jim started as a staff attorney with the Eastern Cherokee Legal Services, which became Western North Carolina Legal Services (WNCLS), the predecessor of the Sylva office of Legal Aid of North Carolina.  Jim has dedicated his career to serving Native American communities in all areas of legal practice and is one of Legal Aid’s preeminent consumer law advocates.

Jim’s allegiance to serving the citizens of Western North Carolina is unparalleled. His compassionate, devoted representation is legendary. Jim exhibits all the devotion, character, and professionalism to which everyone in the practice of law should aspire.

Jim is a native of Durham and received his B.A. from Furman University in 1971. He received his J.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1974 and was admitted to the North Carolina bar that same year.

Chief Justice Award
The Chief Justice Award recognizes bar associations whose members make extraordinary contributions in support of pro bono legal services. This award was established in 1989.

On November 12, 2017, the Wake County Bar Association coordinated with Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, and over 100 volunteer attorneys and law students to offer a Pro Bono Expunction Clinic serving Wake County. The one-day project helped nearly 300 individuals to begin the criminal records expungement process. 

The Expungement Project, a joint effort with local court officials and community service providers, was held at Campbell Law School. Attorney and law student volunteers reviewed hundreds of criminal history records for individuals who had pre-registered for the event. Many Wake County attorneys continue to work with the pro bono clients to be sure their expunctions will be properly filed.

The Wake County Expungement Clinic was a huge success and other North Carolina counties are currently working to replicate the Expungement Project across the state.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Small and Medium Law Firms
The Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Small and Medium Law Firms recognizes firms employing fewer than 30 attorneys for their commitment to the provision of pro bono service.

Garrity & Gossage LLP is a small, four-attorney firm specializing in elder law and estate planning. The founders started the law firm in 2006 because they deeply believed in the importance of wills and powers of attorney for everyone, regardless of their level of wealth, and are committed to ensuring that basic planning is available to as many people as possible. Garrity & Gossage’s commitment to service also is evident in the unique way its attorneys provide pro bono service to enable Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP) to serve more clients.

The firm’s mission and its approach to pro bono service truly distinguishes it from other law firms its size. Every year since 2011, the firm’s lawyers have provided significant assistance to LSSP on various wills projects. Garrity & Gossage attorneys have served as experts and provided CLE training for eight large pro bono wills events and have donated over 300 hours in time planning, preparing and executing the events. In total, these events have served more than 675 clients, most of them low-income senior citizens and veterans.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Large Law Firms
The Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Large Law Firms recognizes pro bono efforts from among law firms employing 30 or more attorneys in North Carolina.

Nelson Mullins is a firm dedicated to providing pro bono services. In 2016 the firm donated 3.2 percent of all client hours to pro bono, which is the equivalent of 30,888 pro bono hours last year. The firm has 65 attorneys working in offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

The North Carolina Justice Center has been fortunate to have been assisted by Nelson Mullins pro bono attorneys in a number of cases over the past few years. Just recently, Nelson Mullins attorneys provided substantial pro bono assistance in the litigation of a landlord-tenant matter in Wake County Superior Court. The clients were low-income parents and their four children. The firm assisted the clients to sue their landlord for breach of implied warranty of habitability, unfair and deceptive trade practices, unfair debt collection, retaliatory eviction and more, alleging that the landlord continued to charge them rent even though the family was living in substandard conditions. The attorneys assisted in intensive discovery, motions practice and hearings, and performed legal research on behalf of the plaintiffs. Ultimately, the attorneys assisted in a successful mediation of the case that had substantial positive impact on the lives of the clients.

Attorneys in the firm’s North Carolina offices engaged in a range of pro bono activities in 2016, including: completing loan closings for Habitat for Humanity in Mecklenburg County; obtaining protection orders for domestic violence victims through Safe Alliance; completing wills for homeowners at Habitat for Humanity in Winston-Salem; preparing tax returns for members of the military through the ABA Adopt-A-Base Project; and representing the Humane Society of Concord and providing pro bono advice and counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge.

Law Student Group Pro Bono Project Award
The Law Student Group Pro Bono Project Award is presented to a law student group that provides legal service beneficial to low-income citizens. This award was established in 2002.

Elon University School of Law Pro Bono Board, in conjunction with Elon Law’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, developed the Country Conditions Project, a pro bono project that directly benefits low income persons in North Carolina. This project allows students to be involved with direct representation in asylum cases before the Department of Homeland Security by working with attorneys who have undertaken pro bono asylum representation for individuals fleeing persecution.

The Country Conditions Project offers a unique opportunity for students to provide assistance to some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable residents. Asylum seekers represent a truly indigent segment of North Carolina’s population; an individual who has fled her country—often with little more than the clothes on her back—has extremely limited resources to retain counsel in connection with her claim for asylum. Elon Law students have provided meaningful assistance to asylum seekers and have increased access to representation for these residents.

The law students’ work through this project has served as a model for other institutions around the country.

Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award
The Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award was created by the Young Lawyers Division in 2001 to promote pro bono activities among young or newly practicing attorneys.

Early last October, Hurricane Matthew swept across eastern North Carolina. In the wake of its destruction, 45 North Carolina counties qualified for federal assistance. The North Carolina Bar Association, led by its Young Lawyers Division, worked with Legal Aid of North Carolina, the American Bar Association and FEMA to provide free legal assistance to hurricane victims through the Disaster Legal Services (DLS) hotline.

Through the leadership of Rachel Blunk, Cabell Clay and Brooks Jaffa, over 175 volunteer attorneys were organized to provide pro bono legal services to 345 victims of Hurricane Matthew. This group of leaders also helped to organize a DLS Continuing Legal Education program to help prepare volunteer attorneys to provide disaster-related legal services. The NCBA Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services effort in the wake of Hurricane Matthew has been recognized by the ABA as one of the most effective DLS efforts ever mobilized under the ABA DLS program.