NCBA Presents 2015 Pro Bono Awards

Honorees, from left: Richard Klein, Craig Dalton, chair of the Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section, Beth Froehling, director of student life and pro bono opportunities at Campbell Law School, Ericca Starling and Bryant Webster.

The winners of the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2015 Pro Bono Awards were recognized during the NCBA Annual Meeting in Asheville.

The winners and their awards are:

  • Bryant Webster of Black Mountain, William Thorp Pro Bono Service Award;
  • Richard Klein of Wilmington, Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award;
  • Campbell Law School Reentry Project, Law Student Group Pro Bono Service Award;
  • NCBA Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section, Chief Justice Award; and
  • Ericca Starling of Wilson, Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award.

All but one of the awards was presented on Friday, June 19, during the President’s Luncheon. The younger lawyer honor was presented during the Young Lawyers Division’s luncheon on Saturday, June 20.

The William Thorp Pro Bono Service Award is presented annually to an attorney who has provided exemplary legal services without a fee. Particular consideration is given to lawyers whose voluntary contributions have resulted in the increased access to legal services on the part of low-income people.

Bryant Webster began volunteering with Pisgah Legal Services’ Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer Program in 1997. Over the past 17 years, he has provided more than 1,300 hours of pro bono service in 605 cases, with 228 hours in 2014 alone.

His primary pro bono involvement is through resolution of real estate property title disputes and assisting people through the Attorney Hotline. Jim Barrett, the executive director of Pisgah Legal Services, strongly endorsed Bryant’s nomination, and stated that “[Bryant] sees the importance of timely legal advice to people in need and is a strong advocate.”

The Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award is presented to a legal services attorney who has exemplary contribution to the provision of legal assistance to help meet the needs of the poverty population in North Carolina.

Richard Klein has “spent every day of his 45-year career fighting for the rights of the poor as a civil legal aid lawyer,” writes George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

A New York City native, Klein has spent the last 36 years serving the needy in North Carolina. “Through his tireless representation of clients and selfless mentorship of colleagues,” Hausen added, “including those in the private bar, Richard has made a profound and lasting difference on the legal landscape of the state and in the lives of an untold number of its citizens.”

The Chief Justice Award recognizes a local, district or statewide bar organization whose members have performed outstanding legal services or have given outstanding support and assistance or maintenance of such programs for low income people.

The Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section has demonstrated its commitment to pro bono and the service of those in need continuously for more than 16 years. Three projects specifically demonstrate the section’s commitment to performing legal services and supporting the provision of legal services for low income people.

Sixteen years ago, the section partnered with hospice units statewide to begin the Hospice Pro Bono Project. From the beginning, it has been a statewide project serving 72 hospice units. This project brings together volunteer attorneys with hospice patients who are in need of simple estate planning documents.

By providing this service, the 138 volunteers who currently participate in the project provide grace and dignity for the last days of patients’ lives.

During the 2014-15 bar year, the section undertook an incredibly necessary and urgent project, and did so quickly and with the greatest enthusiasm. Along with the NCBA’s Elder & Special Needs Law Section, the section was asked to identify a group of volunteers to provide pro bono help to eugenics victims who would be receiving eugenics settlement monies from the state.

The section immediately said yes, and mobilized rapidly to identify 50 volunteers between the two sections who all agreed to accept pro bono referrals from this project.

More than five years ago, the section designed a pro bono project “toolbox” for other groups to use in hosting estate planning pro bono clinics. This toolbox walks program organizers through all of the details necessary to plan an estate planning pro bono clinic.

The Law Student Group Pro Bono Award is presented to an outstanding law student group whose project benefits low-income people in North Carolina.

The Campbell Law School Reentry Project assists citizens who may qualify for relief from the collateral consequences stemming from a criminal record, which often include barriers to employment opportunities and affordable housing.

Students participate in training provided by the N.C. Justice Center and Legal Aid of North Carolina, and learn about the collateral consequences of having a criminal record and the criteria for expunctions and certificates of relief under North Carolina law.

Students also learn how to review criminal records and participate in practice exercises to apply the law and determine eligibility for relief.

Following training, and under the supervision of Legal Aid staff attorneys and volunteer attorneys, students participate in mobile clinics to interview clients and identify those who may be eligible for relief. Since the project began in the fall of 2013, 23 students have served over 100 clients.

According to Beth Froehling, director of Student Life & Pro Bono at Campbell Law School, “The project has a tremendous impact on people in the community who are suffering from the consequences of a criminal record and who may be eligible for relief, so that they can remove barriers to obtaining gainful employment and affordable housing.

“The project also has a positive impact on the students who participate, and supports Campbell’s mission of giving back to the community.”

The Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award is presented by the Young Lawyers Division to a younger lawyer who has made extraordinary contributions by providing exemplary legal services without a fee to persons of limited means or to charitable groups or organizations.

Erica Starling has been integrally involved in “Serving Those Who Served,” the NCBA Family Law Section’s signature pro bono project that helps low-income veterans access legal assistance with family law issues.

This help includes pro bono legal assistance with custody, child support, divorce, and other family law-related issues. Starling is always willing to take on any case, including complex matters. She has been a strong leader in helping develop the project, and in doing so, has helped improve access to justice for North Carolina’s veterans.