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Pro Bono Awards Presented

Pro Bono Awards Presented

The winners of the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2016 Pro Bono Awards were recognized during the NCBA Annual Meeting in Charlotte.

The winners and their awards are:

  • Auley M. “Lee” Crouch, Wilmington (William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award);
  • American Immigration Lawyers Association, Carolinas Chapter (Chief Justice Award);
  • Kelly Clarke, Raleigh (Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Award);
  • McGuireWoods, worldwide with N.C. offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington (Large Law Firm Award);
  • Everett Gaskins Hancock, Raleigh (Small & Medium Law Firm Award);
  • North Carolina Central University School of Law’s Legal Aid Ambassadors Project, Durham (Law Student Group Award); and
  • Rachel Blunk, Greensboro (Younger Lawyer Award).

All but one of the awards was presented on Friday, June 24, during the President’s Luncheon. The younger lawyer honor was presented during the Young Lawyers Division’s luncheon on Saturday, June 25, and is denoted with the other YLD awards at the following link: http://www.ncbar.org/news/yld-elects-officers-presents-awards/

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx of Charlotte was the featured speaker at the luncheon.

William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award
The William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award is named in memory of the late Bill Thorp who was a founder and dedicated friend of Legal Services of North Carolina. This award is made annually to an attorney who has provided exemplary pro bono legal services to low-income North Carolinians.

The recipient of the 2016 William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award is Lee Crouch with Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed, LLP in Wilmington.

Crouch is a longtime advocate of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) who is deeply committed to improving access to justice for all people. He served on LANC’s Board from 2008-14 and continues to serve LANC as a pro bono volunteer and member of the Lawyer on the Line program.

For many years, Crouch has taken on complex, time-consuming pro bono cases defending indigent clients in foreclosure matters, summary ejectment cases, and consumer fraud. In addition to the significant direct client services Lee provides, he has been instrumental in assisting Legal Aid’s Wilmington office with its annual fundraiser, the Access to Justice Campaign.

Crouch serves as an inspiration and role model to other lawyers and especially to those in his own firm, which was awarded the Small Law Firm Pro Bono Award in 2005. Recognizing Lee’s exemplary service, the New Hanover County Bar Association awarded him the Addison Hewlett Pro Bono Award for extraordinary pro bono work in both 2010 and 2014.

Crouch is a graduate of The Citadel and John Marshall Law School.

Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Award
The Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Award is presented annually to an attorney who provides exemplary legal services as an attorney with an agency or non-profit entity serving low-income people. This award is named in memory of Deborah Greenblatt, a lifelong legal services attorney.

The recipient of the 2016 Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Award is Kelly Clarke, who works in the Raleigh office of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Clarke is the supervising attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project, North Carolina’s only statewide full-service fair housing organization. The project’s mission is to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equal housing opportunity for all North Carolinians through education, outreach, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement.

She has litigated statewide fair housing cases as lead counsel and co-counsel, and has expertise in cases involving discrimination based on disability and sex. Clarke was Legal Aid’s lead attorney in the case of Sellers, et al v. Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc., et al, a groundbreaking sexual harassment case that settled in federal court for $2.7 million in July 2015. The clients were 16 women who alleged that two employees of a housing authority demanded sex from the women in exchange for facilitating their participation in a federal housing subsidy program. The U.S. Department of Justice, which joined the case to defend the Fair Housing Act, reported that the $2.7 million settlement was the “largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment case brought by the Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act.”

Prior to joining Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project, Clarke served as a staff attorney in Legal Aid’s Raleigh field office from 2004 to 2011. Before that she served briefly as a staff attorney in Legal Aid’s Smithfield and New Bern offices.

Clarke is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Denver College of Law. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Arizona.

Chief Justice Award
The Chief Justice Award recognizes a local, district or statewide bar association whose members have made extraordinary contributions in support of pro bono legal services.

The recipient of the 2016 Chief Justice Award is the American Immigration Lawyers Association – Carolina Chapter, located in Charlotte.

The Carolinas Chapter of the AILA works to: promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.  The Carolinas Chapter currently has 354 members across North and South Carolina.

AILA Carolinas is a valuable partner to non-profit agencies that serve the immigrant population in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, and across the Carolinas. AILA works in partnership with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont on the Immigrant Assistance Program, which provides assistance to unrepresented respondents at Charlotte Immigration Court. AILA volunteers help inform respondents about their rights, screen for possible relief, and assist with procedural formalities.

AILA volunteers have been particularly dedicated in their work on behalf of unaccompanied immigrant children in the Charlotte Immigration Court, which has experienced a five-fold increase in child respondents in the past two years.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Small & Medium Law Firms
The Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Small & Medium Law Firms recognizes pro bono service of firms employing fewer than 30 attorneys in North Carolina.

The recipient of the 2016 Small & Medium Law Firm Pro Bono Award is Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP, a firm of seven attorneys located in downtown Raleigh.

Every Everett Gaskins Hancock attorney participates in pro bono work. In 2015, the firm’s attorneys completed 362 hours of pro bono representation. 

The firm maintains ongoing referral relationships with Legal Aid of North Carolina, focused on landlord-tenant disputes, housing authority matters, loan modifications, consumer cases, healthcare, and Medicare matters, and the firm also participates in Lawyer on the Line.

Everett Gaskins Hancock attorneys work on behalf of the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem program, representing GALs in child permanency appeals for abused and neglected children in DSS custody.  The firm also has teamed up with Campbell Law to host student externs whose work is focused entirely on pro bono matters.  This partnership allows students to gain legal experience and mentorship while instilling a commitment to service through representation of clients who otherwise would not have access to legal counsel.

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

The recipient of the Large Law Firm Pro Bono Award for 2016 is McGuireWoods LLP, in Charlotte.

As part of McGuireWoods’ commitment to community service, its lawyers provide thousands of hours of pro bono work each year, many in cooperation with firm clients or with local nonprofit organizations. The Charlotte office in particular frequently cooperates on such projects with Council for Children’s Rights, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Safe Alliance, and the Mecklenburg County Bar Association.

This past year marked a truly outstanding year of pro bono service for the firm. In its work with LSSP and LANC alone, McGuireWoods attorneys provided over 500 hours of pro bono services in 2015, opened 67 new pro bono cases, and engaged over 75 attorneys in LSSP/LANC work. The firm accepted every LSSP pro bono case that it was offered where there was not a conflict of interest. In particular, McGuireWoods attorneys offered pro bono assistance with the Children Within Borders Project and the Consumer Relief Clinic. McGuireWoods attorneys assisted LANC clients in complex tenant/landlord disputes, as well as represented victims of domestic violence in cases with short deadlines requiring quick turnaround.

Last summer, the firm required all of its summer associates to participate in pro bono work with LSSP and LANC, assisting across a range of practice areas including: domestic violence, landlord-tenant, consumer, expunction, and estate planning for the elderly. The firm’s philosophy is that, because a large percentage of people cannot afford legal counsel to represent them in these life-affecting cases, McGuireWoods lawyers focus their pro bono efforts on cases that address the toughest problems at the most direct levels.

Law School Group Project Award
The Law School Group Project Award is presented annually to a law school pro bono project or program that provides legal services benefitting low-income people in North Carolina.

The Legal Aid Ambassadors Project at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham is the 2016 recipient of the Law School Group Project Award.

The Legal Aid Ambassadors are second and third year law students who assist Legal Aid of North Carolina with projects that address the legal needs of veterans, the homeless, and formerly incarcerated persons. Currently, 38 law students are active in various components of the program and over 80 students have volunteered as Ambassadors since the program started.

The Ambassadors assist Legal Aid at one-day outreach events, such as Durham’s annual Bull City Stand Down and Project Homeless Connect, and also assist Legal Aid at mobile Expungement Clinics, which provide legal assistance to individuals seeking to overcome barriers to employment and housing created by a criminal record. In the past three years, students have volunteered at seven Expungement Clinics held in Richmond, Hoke, Alamance and Durham counties. NCCU Legal Aid Ambassadors are also volunteering at a Veteran’s Legal Clinic held at the Durham VA Medical Center and at Legal Aid’s Durham office, assisting with expungements, housing, and domestic violence cases.