This month, we will be gathering with friends and supporters at the annual Pro Bono Awards that will be presented on October 20 by the Council for Children’s Rights, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, and Legal Aid of North Carolina. We are three of the five non-profit legal services providers in our community. The other two are Safe Alliance and International House.  We all serve different people with different needs, but we all share a common challenge:  finding the resources to hire and retain the people necessary to serve community needs that exceed our capacity and continue to grow.

Bob SimmonsOne way we all try to meet that challenge is by relying on the lawyers in our community to meet their obligations under ethics rules to provide free legal services to people in need and financial support to agencies who provide those services. Many lawyers in our community go above and beyond their obligations on both counts. We cannot honor them all with an award every year, but we can thank them for their public service.

In 2014, lawyers across North Carolina gave more than 18,000 hours to help legal aid providers provide critical assistance to low-income North Carolinians..*

Friday September 25 and Friday October 2 provided opportunities to witness the commitment of the Mecklenburg County Bar and its members to providing equal access to legal services – and justice – for all of our neighbors.

On September 25, the Mecklenburg County Bar held a summit meeting with a panel that included managers of the five agencies, the Bar’s Pro Bono Task Force, Bar President Cory Hohnbaum, and Bar director Nancy Roberson. Many Bar members also attended. The Bar has undertaken a review of ways it can help its members provide even more free legal services through volunteer opportunities with our agencies and more financial support to help us scale up our staffs to serve more of the community’s need. It was inspiring to see the willingness of that group to confront difficult issues directly and to brainstorm workable solutions, and they left no doubt that action and improvement will follow.

A week later, on October 2, about 30 lawyers and non-lawyers spent a full day in a training room at the Children and Family Services Center learning to participate in the Council’s Custody Advocacy Program (CAP). The Family Court Judges appoint the Council to represent the best interest of children caught in the middle of high-conflict contested custody cases. Each case is staffed with a team including a Council lawyer, a volunteer lawyer, and a volunteer advocate. Some of the advocates are lawyers who would prefer not to take the lead, perhaps because their usual practice is not in a courtroom. The training is intensive because the cases are intense and the stakes are high, but we had a full house to learn from Council staff, experts in a variety of fields involved in the cases, and a panel of Family Court Judges.

What does all of this prove? We live in a generous community. We live in a community that gives not only money but also time and talent to form a family of advocates who get personally involved in difficult situations to help our neighbors overcome obstacles and find a better path. In CAP, they give themselves to the service of children who need help finding the family stability to thrive.

Saying “thank you” seems so inadequate to such a gift, but we want to tell the world how grateful we are for the contributions and the service of the lawyers and the non-lawyers who join us in the family of advocates.

Bob Simmons is the Executive Director of Council for Children’s Rights.
*Mecklenburg County Bar News

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