NCBA Presents 2022 Pro Bono Awards

The North Carolina Bar Association presented the 2022 Pro Bono Awards on Friday, June 24, at the NCBA Annual Meeting in Winston-Salem. The awards were presented during the Awards Dinner and Presidential Installation. This year’s recipients are:

William Thorp Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Service Award
Brandon A. Robinson (Durham)

Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award
Angeleigh Dorsey (LANC Asheville)

Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award
Samantha Gordon (Charlotte)

Outstanding Paralegal Pro Bono Service Award
Katie Riddle (Greensboro)

Law Firm Pro Bono Award
Alston & Bird (Charlotte & Raleigh)

Law School Pro Bono Award
Duke Law School

Outstanding Collaborative/Group Pro Bono Award
EAGLE – Emeritus Attorneys Giving Legal Expertise (Pisgah Legal Services, Asheville)

Filling the Justice Gap Award
Inner Banks Legal Services (Washington)

Additional information regarding each recipient and their award, as provided in the event program, reads as follows:

Celebrating the Pro Bono Award individual winners, front from left, are Samantha Gordon, Angeleigh Dorsey, Katie Riddle, and Mary Irvine, Pro Bono Committee co-chair. Back: NCBA Executive Director Jason Hensley, Brandon Robinson, and NCBA President Jon Heyl.


William Thorp Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Service Award
Presented to an NCBA member attorney who practices in North Carolina and has provided substantial legal services, in excess of the aspirational goals of Rule 6.1, with no expectation of receiving a fee, to a client or client group that could not otherwise afford legal counsel.

Brandon A. Robinson is a Durham-based solo practitioner with a focus on corporate law, mergers & acquisitions, estate planning and business litigation. His pro bono activities with NCBF include NC Free Legal Answers, Wills for Heroes, NC LEAP, 4ALL Statewide Service Day, and the COVID-19 Hotlines. Robinson also frequently answers legal questions from the general public on Avvo.com’s Q&A forum.

Robinson’s service within the North Carolina Bar Association includes current or past membership on the NCBA Board of Governors, NCBF Board of Directors, NCBA Membership Committee, NCBA Judicial Independence and Integrity Committee and NCBA/F Nominating Committee. He is also president of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, vice president of the Durham County Bar Association and 16th Judicial Bar, and a director of the Western Carolina University Foundation Board. Robinson is a graduate of Western Carolina University (B.A., M.A.) and North Carolina Central University School of Law (J.D.).

Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award
Presented to a lawyer who is employed full time by a legal services program in North Carolina and who has made an exemplary contribution to the provision of legal assistance to help meet the needs of the poverty population in North Carolina.

Angeleigh Dorsey is the Western Regional Manager and Project Director of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project and the N.C. Medicaid Ombudsman Program. A career legal aid attorney, her practice has focused on public benefits law and elder law. She received her B.A. from Indiana University-Bloomington and J.D. from Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Indiana (inactive good standing), she is a member of the North Carolina State Bar, the North Carolina Bar Association and its Elder & Special Needs Law Section, and the Buncombe County Bar.

She served on the NCBA 4ALL Statewide Service Day Committee for several years, including as the chair, served on the Executive Committee of the Buncombe County Bar, and previously served as a member of the NCBA Elder & Special Needs Law Section Council. She is the current chair of the National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines. As a board member of NAMI Western Carolina in Asheville, Dorsey has been the principal organizer of the annual Mental Wellness Walk, one of the largest mental health awareness events in Western North Carolina.

Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award
Presented by the NCBA Young Lawyers Division to an NCBA Young Lawyers Division member who has made extraordinary contributions by providing exemplary legal services without a fee and increased access to justice on behalf of persons of limited means and/or charitable groups or organizations.

Samantha Gordon is a Charlotte-area attorney with the firm Shane Smith Law. She has served as the NCBA Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Committee co-chair for five consecutive years and was involved with the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Wills for Heroes and other pro bono efforts long before assuming this YLD pro bono leadership role.

While a student at the Charlotte School of Law, Gordon attended Wills for Heroes clinics as a law student volunteer and in 2018 Gordon became a lead volunteer for the Wills forHeroes program. In this role, prior to the pandemic, she traveled throughout North Carolina to Wills for Heroes clinics to provide training to volunteers prior to a clinic starting and answer estate planning questions while volunteers worked with first responders. Over the past two years especially, Gordon has provided critical support to the Wills for Heroes program, advising on updates to the wills and power of attorney documents that were converted into templates and ultimately into an app that allows attorney volunteers to serve first responder clients virtually and remotely. Because of these program improvements, the Wills for Heroes program has served over 200 clients so far this bar year, from Charlotte to Goldsboro and places in between. Gordon has taken part in nearly every clinic scheduled this year, serving as a Wills for Heroes Lead Volunteer to help answer estate planning questions.

As YLD’s Pro Bono Committee co-chair, Gordon promotes pro bono opportunities to young lawyers within the NCBA. In 2021, Gordon launched an annual YLD Pro Bono Service Day program that includes panelists and a pro bono service event – a Driver’s License Restoration Clinic in 2021 and an NC Free Legal Answers “Empower Hour” event in 2022. In 2022, YLD Pro Bono Day was offered to all NCBA members as the Young Lawyers Division’s first continuing legal education course focused on ethical rules while participating in pro bono work. Gordon also is a committed 4ALL Statewide Service Day volunteer.

Outstanding Paralegal Pro Bono Service Award
Presented to an outstanding NCBA Paralegal Division member who has volunteered a substantial amount of time in pro bono legal service to increase access to justice on behalf of persons of limited means and/or charitable groups or organizations.

Katie Morton Riddle has been a paralegal for nearly seven years and has demonstrated a deep devotion to pro bono work. In November 2019, Riddle became a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and has worked as a child advocate. She began working as a volunteer for the Legal on the Line Paralegal Partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina in April 2019 and became a group leader for that project. In that role, Riddle would identify paralegal/attorney teams whose experience would best serve a client, assign them a case, and help guide the volunteers throughout their cases. Riddle also managed her own cases within the project to assist individuals with custody, small claims, landlord/tenant, and bankruptcy issues.

In 2021, Riddle became a council member for the NCBA Paralegal Division as well as a member of the Paralegal Division Pro Bono Committee. Over the past year Riddle has focused on building immigration pro bono projects in partnership with Church World Service in Greensboro and Durham – an Afghan Humanitarian Parolee Project and an Unaccompanied Minors Project. Riddle also is working through the Paralegal Division Pro Bono Committee to develop an adult literacy project. Riddle’s experience as a volunteer and her ability to research and foster relationships with pro bono partners make her invaluable as a PD Pro Bono Committee member and a leader in the Division. Riddle has volunteered with the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s 4ALL Statewide Service Day, the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Driver’s License Restoration Project and Charlotte Expunction Clinic, and the NCBF/PBRC Housing Stability Project. Riddle also serves as the chair of the Women in the Profession (WIP) Community Service subcommittee. In this role, she is working on a charity drive with other WIP members that will provide much needed items to local charities that support and benefit women.

Celebrating the Pro Bono Award group winners, front from left, are Michelle Loveys Dozier (Inner Banks Legal Services), Jackie Kiger (Pisgah Legal Services), and Larissa Mervin, Pro Bono Committee co-chair. Back: NCBA Executive Director Jason Hensley, Matt McGuire (Alston & Bird), Ben Finholt (Duke Law School), NCBA President Jon Heyl, and Sarah Beth Winters (Inner Banks Legal Services).


Law Firm Pro Bono Award
The Law Firm Pro Bono Award recognizes law firms for their commitment to pro bono service through the contribution of pro bono hours, the percentage of billable hours devoted to pro bono work, the number and percentage of firm attorneys providing pro bono legal service, the firm’s creative approach to pro bono engagement, the consistency and sincerity of its pro bono program, and the presence of a law firm culture that is grounded in the observance of Rule 6.1 (Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Alston & Bird has a long tradition of providing pro bono legal services, supported by its 100-member Pro Bono Committee composed of attorneys, paralegals, and business professionals from all of the firm’s offices – including 20 members in North Carolina (Raleigh and Charlotte). The Pro Bono Committee meets monthly to address all areas of pro bono firmwide, including policy, programming to create greater awareness and participation in pro bono work, and identification and/or development of opportunities to address critical and emerging unmet legal needs. The Alston & Bird Pro Bono Committee puts on an annual Pro Bono and Community Service Week to celebrate pro bono and offer firm members engaging projects and programs that are both meaningful and impactful.

In addition, Alston & Bird recognizes outstanding pro bono accomplishments in four major categories during its annual ABBY (the firm’s Best of the Year) Awards Program, and the Pro Bono Committee’s quarterly newsletter highlights firmwide pro bono stories throughout the year. Over the past year, 79% the firm’s North Carolina attorneys participated in pro bono work, dedicating a total of 7,106 pro bono hours. These attorneys and professionals represented the rights of elderly and terminally ill prisoners who were impacted by COVID-19 and worked in partnership with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to protect individuals’ rights to remain in their homes. Firm attorneys worked with the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center to assist homeowners with emergency disaster funds, help launch the North Carolina Small Business Clinic, and hold driver’s license restoration clinics. The firm regularly volunteers with Safe Alliance, Guardian ad Litem project, and Council for Children’s Rights and provides legal support for nonprofits throughout the state. Alston & Bird is also supporting the organization Land Loss Prevention’s work on heirs property issues allowing vulnerable families to preserve their property in North Carolina.

Law School Pro Bono Award
Presented to an outstanding law student group whose pro bono project advanced access to justice in North Carolina. Consideration will be given to law school groups or projects engaging two or more North Carolina law school students who are not receiving law school academic credit for their work and who have provided assistance to low-income people in North Carolina.

The JSRB (Juvenile Sentence Review Board) Clemency Project is a faculty, staff and student led pro bono project that was started in mid-2021 by Duke Law School’s Wilson Center for Science and Justice and Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility. The project is a response to an executive order signed in April 2021 by Governor Cooper that established a new advisory board, the Juvenile Sentence Review Board, following a recommendation from the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

The Duke Law School project provides pro bono representation for individuals who were tried and sentenced in adult criminal court for acts committed before they were eighteen. Duke has 32 students working directly with supervising attorneys to represent 18 clients. Recently, three people were granted clemency by Governor Cooper, and two of those were represented through the project. This is the first time since 2009 that anyone has received clemency in North Carolina.

Outstanding Collaborative/Group Pro Bono Award
Presented to a law firm, local, district, or statewide bar organization whose members have engaged in significant and notable legal services or have contributed outstanding support and assistance to the maintenance of pro bono legal services for low-income individuals. This award recognizes creativity in the provision of pro bono legal services, as well as innovative approaches to engage and encourage North Carolina attorneys to participate in pro bono legal service. Honorees have demonstrated a commitment to pro bono service by engaging a group of attorneys in a cooperative pro bono effort that has deep impact on the lives of low-income North Carolinians.

Emeritus Attorneys Giving Legal Expertise (EAGLE) is a Pisgah Legal Services pro bono volunteer group of mostly retired attorneys who have a Pro Bono Emeritus status with the N.C. State Bar. This group of 30-35 attorneys accepts a variety of pro bono referrals to assist Pisgah Legal Services clients and make a tremendous impact on their local communities through pro bono legal service. EAGLE attorneys assist with domestic violence, landlord/tenant, consumer protection, driver’s license restoration, unemployment insurance benefits, employment matters, end-of-life planning, tax, and other types of cases. This small group of dedicated attorneys has dramatically increased Pisgah Legal Services’ pro bono capacity. In the last two years, during the pandemic, 31 EAGLE volunteers took 1,087 pro bono referrals. EAGLE attorneys have been key to Pisgah Legal Services’ ability to respond to several emerging needs and crises over the past 5 years.

In 2017, when immigration policies and enforcement practices resulted in much more frequent ICE raids and tremendous fear and anxiety among immigrant families, EAGLE attorneys participated in Power of Attorney clinics to assist hundreds of immigrant parents in Western N.C. to increase the safety and security of their minor children. EAGLE attorneys also assisted with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications and renewals to help young immigrants secure DACA staff and increased access to jobs, education, stability, and integration into the broader community. When the pandemic hit in spring 2020, EAGLE attorneys formed a team to help clients secure unemployment insurance benefits. EAGLE attorneys also played a key role in responding to increased demand for assistance with wills and advanced directives that arose during the pandemic. In 2021, EAGLE volunteers assisted clients with tax issues related to securing stimulus payments and expanded child tax credits and also helped staff a weekly Housing Advice Line, which has assisted hundreds of clients with landlord/tenant matters.

EAGLE volunteers make an incredible impact through their extraordinary pro bono service, helping to reduce the effects of poverty and injustice on legal services clients throughout Western N.C.

Filling the Justice Gap Award
Presented to an attorney, law firm, or organization making innovative strides with providing legal services to close the legal services gap in North Carolina. The legal services gap exists when clients of limited means do not qualify for free civil legal services/representation in matters affecting their basic needs by a legal services provider and cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Sarah Beth Withers founded her innovative law firm, Inner Banks Legal Services, to fill the significant gap in services to modest means and lower income clients in Judicial District 2. Launched in 2017 as a non-profit law firm, Inner Banks is based in historic downtown Washington and serves a rural population of clients who otherwise lack convenient access to legal services.

When founded, the firm’s focus was on bankruptcy law and has since expanded to include family law and domestic violence legal services. Over the past four years Inner Banks attorneys have helped over 400 families in Eastern North Carolina, some on a sliding scale fee but many at no cost. Inner Banks also has developed an extensive referral network of pro bono attorneys to assist with a range of legal issues, further bridging the access to justice gap to serve clients in Eastern N.C.