Blog | Pro Bono Program

Alumna Feature: Rachel M. Blunk, '11

Rachel M. Blunk
Name and year of graduation from UNC Law: Rachel M. Blunk, 2011

Place of employment: Sharpless & Stavola, P.A., Greensboro, NC

Area of practice: Business Law - Commercial Litigation and Commercial Transactions

Favorite class/professor in law school: Favorite is a challenging word. There were several classes I really enjoyed for a variety of reasons. 1. I had a ton of fun in Copyright Law with Professor Deborah Gerhardt. 2. I was challenged by Antitrust with Professor Andrew Chin. 3. I found Bankruptcy with Professor Elizabeth Gibson and Insurance Law with Professor Donald Hornstein incredibly useful post-graduation.

Pro Bono experience in law school: My Pro Bono experience in law school was heavily focused on clinics with Lambda and other LGBTQ related work. I also had the opportunity to participate in the law school’s first divorce clinic, which was led by Professor Beth Posner.

What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work? I have always tried to be involved in my community in one way or another. After entering the profession it was a natural fit for me to use my new skills to assist members of the statewide and local community.

What does your current Pro Bono practice look like? Much of my Pro-Bono work is accomplished through partnering with a variety of organizations which provide clinics to different communities. I have worked with the American Bar Association, the North Carolina Bar Association, various law schools, the Campaign for Southern Equality, my local bar, and Legal Aid to provide a wide variety of services to communities across the state. At these clinics we have provided a wide range of services ranging from will drafting and health care power of attorney drafting to providing advice on expunctions. I also work with a variety of charitable boards and provide them with Pro Bono advice in my capacity as a board member.

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Posted by James G. Wudel on Mon. October 3, 2016 3:49 PM
Categories: Alumni Features

Alumna Feature: Joan Shreffler Dinsmore '06

Joan Dinsmore, 2006
Name and year of graduation from UNC Law: Joan Shreffler Dinsmore, 2006

Place of employment: McGuireWoods LLP, Raleigh

Area of practice: Product & Consumer Litigation

Favorite class/professor in law school: Federal Jurisdiction with Professor Elizabeth Gibson

Pro Bono experience in law school: Unfortunately, not much. I worked all three years of law school, so I did not have much time for anything except my job and studying.

What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work? My first pro bono case fell into my lap by accident in 2007. I heard about the sister of a secretary at my former firm who was being treated horribly by the owner of the San Diego restaurant where she worked: she was being made to work for tips only (in violation of the law), he changed her name in the system so the checks she printed for customers included things like “Thanks from your lazy server,” and was forced to do personal errands for the owner. I waitressed for years in high school, college, and law school, and I knew how hard the job can be even in the best of circumstances. In her situation, it was made worse by her total lack of bargaining power. She was in her 40s with little education, and had a daughter to raise. In San Diego, jobs at the “better” restaurants went to young college students, so this woman was stuck. I felt like I had to take on the case, even knowing nothing about labor law in California. After several years of hard-fought litigation, I obtained a settlement that allowed the client to go to school. She got a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and now works as a counselor in Austin, Texas. I still keep up with her.

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Posted by James G. Wudel on Sun. August 28, 2016 10:28 AM
Categories: Alumni Features

Alumnus Feature: Tod M. Leaven '10

Tod M. Leaven

Place of employment: Grimes Teich Anderson, LLP

Area of practice: Veterans Law

Favorite class/professor in law school: Congress and the Presidency/ Michael Gerhardt

Pro Bono experience in law school: NC Department of Agriculture, Wills and estate work for elderly, Assisted veterans with claims

What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work? I wanted to do pro-bono work long before I ever went to law school. Just a little free assistance can go a long way to those who need it the most, regardless if it is legal, medical, social, or occupational.

What does your current Pro Bono practice look like? I just completed the initial phase of a pro-bono clinic for homeless veterans. Assisted by two other attorneys and UNC Law’s VALOR student organization, I am working to upgrade less-than-honorable military discharges so homeless veterans can better access housing and employment. I also assist the local Veterans Treatment Court with any discharge upgrades needed and routinely assist veterans of low means better navigate the VA healthcare system and find employment.

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Posted by James G. Wudel on Mon. August 1, 2016 9:00 AM
Categories: Alumni Features

Alumna Feature: LeeAnne Quattrucci '06

LeeAnne Quattrucci
Name and year of graduation from UNC Law:

LeeAnne Quattrucci, 2006

Place of employment:

The Law Office of LeeAnne Quattrucci, PA

Area of practice:

Family and juvenile law

Favorite class/professor in law school:

Constitutional Law with Dean Boger

Pro Bono experience in law school:

My pro bono experiences in law school were vast and varied.

One of the most valuable and rewarding experiences was handling Domestic Violence Protective Order hearings during my 3L year. It was scary but very eye opening and extremely helpful in honing my litigation skills.

What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work?

Simply stated: People, who cannot afford it, need legal help with real life, big time, serious issues.

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Posted by James G. Wudel on Thu. June 9, 2016 11:23 AM
Categories: Alumni Features

Alumna Feature: Nicole Quallen '10

Nicole Quallen, Class of 2010
Name and year of graduation from UNC Law:

Nicole Quallen, 2010

Place of employment:

Two Families Law

Area of practice:

Family law and domestic violence

Favorite class/professor in law school:

So tough! Probably Con Law with Michael Gerhardt.

Pro Bono experience in law school:

I didn’t do nearly enough pro bono in law school. I did my one project per year – some landlord tenant work and a trademark project. I don’t think I felt competent enough, or understood what I could do until I was practicing.

What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work?

I remember a very inspiring “speech” that Chris Brook, my RRWA professor and now Legal Director of the NC ACLU chapter, gave on the last day of our class. He passionately talked about his view of the importance of using a law degree to help folks who need legal help, and implored us all to do whatever we could as pro bono work. He talked about the privilege of having a J.D. and the responsibility of pro bono that comes with the licensure. He believed it and practiced it and it spoke to me.

What does your current Pro Bono practice look like?

I provide family law or DV counsel to folks who can’t afford it. I try to work with 1-3 pro bono clients at any given time and help them with all sorts of issues – getting domestic violence protection orders, sorting out child custody, seeking child support, and terminating the parental rights of absent or abusive parents. Lots of it is advising, and then drafting documents or going to court when necessary.

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Posted by James G. Wudel on Sun. May 1, 2016 9:50 PM
Categories: Alumni Features

Protecting Our Vote: Students Reflect on Their Day Running the Hotline

“What, So What, Now What?”  The day started with a debriefing and reflection time with Mark Dorosin, Managing Attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights.  Dorosin reiterated that the work we did yesterday was beneficial, but in order to make a long-term impact it was crucial for us to think through the events of the day and discuss what changes could be made for the future.  The what: student volunteers shared what problems they ran into, compelling stories they heard, and the emotional moments they felt.  The so what: we discussed some of the common problems, and teased through particular stories to understand what made them compelling and/or emotional.  The now what: we thought through how the common problems could be better addressed in the future as well as how to handle the stress and emotions we were feeling throughout the day.

The National Coordinator for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Trevor Ostbye, led the afternoon session.  Some of the student volunteers listened to the remaining voicemails from the North Carolina Election Protection Hotline as well as voicemails from the Election Protection Hotline in other states.  Call logs were combed through by another group of student volunteers who made note of which calls should receive follow up.  

At the end of this project, all of the student volunteers left feeling fulfilled and believing that they truly made a difference.  

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Fri. April 1, 2016 8:29 AM
Categories: Spring Break 2016: Election Protection

Election Protection: The War Room

The War Room
In the fight to defend all North Carolinians’ right to vote, the March 15 primary was the first major battle of the year. And as issues arose across the state, UNC Law School served as the headquarters for the war room. UNC Law Pro Bono volunteers manned phone calls from voters from sun-up to sun-down, equipping them with information, answering questions, and mobilizing election protection field workers to address voting administration violations statewide.
The terrain of the voting process has shifted dynamically with the recent passage of legislation requiring voters to show ID at the polls. The controversial voter ID law stipulates that all NC voters must show photo identification before voting, but it also includes several notable exceptions. For instance, those without ID are permitted to vote via provisional ballot if they provide their date of birth and last four digits of their social security number and sign a form citing a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining an ID. Numerous other exceptions and requirements apply (see the Election Protection FAQ’s), creating a seemingly endless array of possible answers to the question, “How do I vote?”
Yet that’s exactly the question the UNC Pro Bono team answered on Tuesday. Over the course of 14 consecutive hours, our volunteers fielded 881 phone calls from voters and poll volunteers with questions, complaints, and frustrations. In conjunction with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Democracy NC, and the UNC Law Center for Civil Rights, the Pro Bono volunteers empowered North Carolinians from every corner of the state to overcome obstacles and exercise the fundamental right to vote. 
The stories that came through the phone lines were both harrowing and uplifting. 
Alex Snow, a 1L from Kernersville, NC, recalled her most memorable interaction, “A woman called because her son has MS and really wanted to vote, but didn't think he would be physically able to do it alone.  She had received incorrect information that in order for him to vote he had to go by himself.  When I told her that she would be able to go with him she was thrilled and very thankful for the hotline.”
La-Deidre Matthews, a 1L from Fayetteville, NC, reflected on her experience assisting voters, saying, “Collectively, I am impressed by the callers' dedication to vote. From a nurse that was afraid she wouldn't be able to make it to her precinct in time after a long shift, to a gentleman willing to visit both his old and new polling places (a considerable distance apart) to make sure his vote was counted. It is a great contrast to the "apathetic citizen" narrative I typically hear accusing people of not exercising their right to vote.”
Over the course of a long day, when Pro Bono volunteers could have otherwise joined their classmates on Spring Break tropical vacations, the disenchantment of apparent voter suppression gave way to a renewed faith in the people of the Old North State. The dedication of the election protection team was surpassed only by that of the voters themselves, whose indefatigable commitment to casting their ballots brought out the best of people’s qualities.
Tyler Abboud, a 1L from Denver, encapsulated the sentiment at the end of the day, recounting one of his conversations, “A guy called from Asheville who was concerned about the way the people running the polls were trained and whether or not they were asking the right questions about ID's. Though he was allowed to vote and ultimately had no problems, he was concerned that people would be turned away or discouraged if they were overly questioned. He was not a volunteer or anything, just a concerned voter. To me, the interaction was indicative of the selfless attitude I've seen in many North Carolinians and the overall call just left me feeling positive.”
                The fight for equal access to the voting booth will be a long saga in the history of the state and the nation. However, the work of dedicated law students who empowered hundreds of individuals to exercise their right to vote on Tuesday is exactly the type of incremental change that will culminate in a brighter future for North Carolina voters. 
                Next stop, November.  

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Wed. March 23, 2016 1:53 PM
Categories: General

Spring Break Trip 2016

2016 Wills Trip

Boone, NC


Reflecting on your overall trip experience, what was the most meaningful aspect for you? 

  • I think the most meaningful part of my trip experience was getting the chance to provide access to a legal service that would otherwise go unprovided. So many of our clients spoke of how relatives having advance directives in place made it easier on the family during a difficult time, or how not having advance directives made the end-of-life process more emotionally and legally difficult for the family -- helping our clients make their wishes known while still able lets us provide our clients with peace of mind about the future.
  • One of the most meaningful parts of the trip was bonding with my fellow law students. The size of the group and the personalities of the people on the trip made it really easy to really get to know almost everyone on the trip, and create meaningful bonds that will last for years.
  • The most meaningful aspect was being able to interact with clients.  One of the common statements over the course of the trip that many of the people in the western part of the state feel forgotten.  Both of my parents come from rural and/or low-income communities where there was also a lack of access to resources.  Thus, I found myself taking more time to get to know the clients and hear about their experiences.  My conversations with them were the most meaningful.

Was there a part of the trip that particularly moved you in some way? If so, how did that make you feel and how did it improve your  overall legal education? 

  • For me, it was moving to realize that even though we are not lawyers yet, as law students we are still able to make a difference for our clients. This trip reinforced the notion that we are knowledgeable and understand the law so that we are able to assist people with legal matters who may not be able to afford it otherwise.
  • One of the most moving parts of the trip was when one of my clients talked to me about his mother’s passing. He talked about how his mother executed a living will before she passed away and how he was so glad she did that because he didn’t want to have to make that decision when the time came. Hearing how much of a relief it was for him and his siblings and how he didn’t want to put that burden on his children was incredibly moving. I was so happy to be a part of his effort to comfort his family in a moment he knew would be very difficult for them.
  • I was particularly moved by the genuine feelings of thankfulness that each and every client had for the work we did. It reminded me that the work we do, even as law students, makes a real difference in people's’ lives, many of whom would not be able to have this work done if it weren’t for us. One of our clients asked if we were required to come do this work as part of our education, and was stunned to find out that we were volunteers that had given up part of our spring break to come and help out. It made the experience even more rewarding.
  • We had clients ask “what should I do?” This question makes you wonder whether you are qualified to give advice or what would happen if you gave the wrong advice. But in the end, you realize how much you actually know, and that you can make a difference in these people’s lives. You realize how much these individuals rely on you and trust you, even though they just met you. In law school we often miss the big picture, as we are at the mercy of the cold-calling professor in the next class. However, with great power, comes great responsibility, and as law students and new lawyers, we have to recognize the power we have.

What surprised you most about the trip and why?

  • Seemingly small acts, like giving up a few hours of your spring break, can have a significant impact beyond what most would expect. For students, we worry about ensuring that every box is properly checked, but our impact during Pro Bono work goes further than correctly filled out forms. Clients are looking for genuine conversations, someone who will listen to their concerns, and a kind person who will try to help them with their problems. I’m glad we could provide that service.
  • What surprised me the most about the trip was how appreciative our clients were, both to have someone fill out these important forms and to just be an ear for them to talk to. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were during the time my partner was drafting the will in the other room, and my client would tell me  about their lives and important lessons they learned along the way.

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No Comments | Posted by William P. Norrell on Mon. March 21, 2016 6:59 PM
Categories: Spring Break Trip 2016

Spring Break Trip 2016

2016 Wills Trip

Boone, NC


Was the clinic what you were expecting/anticipating from this trip? If not, how was this experience different?

  • I came into this expecting to experience the highest quality Pro Bono Program in the state, and I am leaving this experience with an incredible sense of affirmation.
  • Before the trip I was a little nervous to meet with clients and have that responsibility, but all of the people I met with were so nice and the supervising attorneys were really helpful. By the end of day two, I had become so much more confident and it turned out to be even more rewarding of an experience than I had expected.
  • The clinic did turn out to be what I expected from the trip. I worked at Legal Aid this past summer and am familiar with the types of people that come into Legal Aid and what the process is like. During my work experience and through this clinic, I have continually seen very nice, appreciative, and all around good people come to Legal Aid for help. I’ve ran into difficult clients before but the good clients outweigh the bad clients by far. It was great to carry on the work I’ve already done servicing an area of North Carolina that does not have access to adequate legal services.
  • Prior to going on the trip, I expected the trip to be very similar to the wills portion of the Cherokee trip.  However, I found myself reflecting more on my own personal experiences while on this trip.  Many of the issues raised in my interactions with clients were similar to those that arose in my own family.

How has your interaction with trip participants/attorneys affected you?

  • Our supervising attorneys from Legal Aid of North Carolina discussed with us at length their limited resources and capacity in serving clients in need. Despite being responsible for North Carolinians spread out across nine counties, the Morganton office only has six total attorneys on staff. Under these constraints, it’s impossible for them to reach everyone who needs their support; that’s why it is so vitally important that students like us step up to fill the gap whenever possible.
  • Interacting with clients gave me a snapshot of the true importance of the work that we are doing. Every client expresses a large amount of gratitude and shares with us how much peace of mind this will give them.
  • It was really rewarding to see the impact that our work has on clients as we were working with them. Often with pro bono, it can feel as though you are just completing a task for your supervising attorney without seeing how your work contributes to the big picture.
  • Interacting with clients always reminds me of why I came to law school in the first place, to help people. When I get to see my legal skills in action, I am reminded just how much impact I can have on someone’s life.
  • Seeing first year, second year and third year students interact with and learn from each other is another reason as to why these trips are so great!  
  • As an administrator, I love getting to know our students in this more personal way--I know our students are great but really getting to know them is a true gift.  
  • As a third year, it was great seeing underclassmen become more confident in their abilities and also see them find a passion for helping others. In working with the attorneys, I was able to see this passion that was nurtured in the students on the trip, still thriving in the legal community.

Are there any  interesting stories that you would like to share about the trip?

  • When we think of short-term clinics like these, we often think of ourselves as educating a client on the law and on her options under the law. However, sometimes giving a client more information is not the most helpful role we can play. I think the most powerful learning experience a trip like this can provide to a law student comes through helping a client navigate how he feels about the information he has and how those feelings impact his decision-making process -- it’s in this process that we learn how to “counsel.”
  • The most interesting conversation I had with a client was about how helpful the end-of-life documents were when one of his loved ones died in the past. His brother had recently passed and he was extremely grateful to not have to deal with any of his medical decisions because of his living will. He told me that it made everything so much easier and he wanted the same for his family when he passed.

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No Comments | Posted by William P. Norrell on Mon. March 21, 2016 6:48 PM
Categories: Spring Break Trip 2016

Spring Break Trip 2016

2016 Wills Trip

Boone, NC


How has meeting with clients enhanced your legal skills and experiences?

  • Meeting with clients has allowed me to face real-world legal problems head on. Each client has different needs, wants, and circumstances, so it presents an opportunity to learn how to handle the different needs of clients.
  • Meeting with clients gave me the opportunity to practice thinking on my feet because you never really know what a client will share with you. As an attorney, you also have to act as an advocate for your clients, assisting them with their legal needs while keeping in mind their best interests and this experience enabled me to practice this skill.
  • Having the opportunity to engage with clients during this trip has given me the chance to take the skills I’ve learned in the classroom and apply them in ways that matter to people around our state. Moving from the theoretical to the tangible is a meaningful and fulfilling experience that reaffirms why I’m excited to start my career as an attorney.  
  • Meeting with clients enhanced my legal skills because I was given the opportunity to really assess my understanding of the law.  As an attorney, I will not only need to understand the law for myself, but also be able to explain the law in a way that my clients understand.
  • More than anything I think my legal skills were enhanced by the confidence that I gained by realizing that I can do this! I can meet with clients, discuss difficult topics,  problem solve, and learn as I go. I think that will be invaluable for future jobs and experiences.
  • Meeting with clients from different cultures, and beliefs that me helped me learn to think on my feet, and relate to people from different backgrounds.

What was the most challenging part of meeting with clients? Was there something that surprised you?

  • One of the major difficulties is balancing talking with the clients and allowing there to be natural lulls in the conversation, when you have long client interactions. When you have been talking to the same person for a long time, you often run out of surface level things to discuss. Especially if the client only wanted one document.
  • The most challenging part of meeting with clients was ensuring I explained all of the documents correctly. I took a lot of time making sure that my clients understood each document thoroughly and that they understood they didn’t have to get a certain document if they didn’t want it. Some documents made clients uncomfortable and I could see they weren’t ready to make the decisions that the document called for. This was the most challenging part but also turned out to be the most rewarding part when I could see they clearly understood each document and they felt comfortable telling me they didn’t want it or just didn’t want to make those decisions right now.
  • To me, the most challenging part was making sure that the clients felt supported and comfortable discussing the difficult topics that come up when preparing wills and powers of attorney, while also making sure that they understood that while we are able to explain the significance of certain choices available to them, we were not able to direct them on which choices they should ultimately make. I had a client who repeatedly asked me to place myself in his shoes and tell him what I would do in his situation. While it was challenging to talk him through the documents, it did help me recognize that he did come in with an idea of what he wanted, and with some probing, we were able to successfully work our way through each document. This experience gave me a true glimpse of what it really means to counsel a client.
  • The most challenging part of meeting with clients was explaining the other advanced directives to them. Some of my clients were easy because they were very at peace with thinking about the end of their lives. Others, however, had not really thought about their last moments and whether they wanted things such as artificial nutrition or hydration for the end of their days. You could tell it really caught them off-guard, and it made me sad to see them come to the realization that they eventually were going to die and they were speaking to me to plan their death.
  • I found out how important it was to make sure that the client was completely understanding these very complex documents every step of the way. These documents are making very important decisions, and it’s imperative that the client fully appreciate the scope of their decision. That means that if they’re unable to comprehend these documents, we can’t complete that document, even though it might help them out later. So, it was challenging to actually, in practice, put ethical considerations of what the client can understand and actually wants above my interpretation of what I thought might help them the most.
  • I found the most challenging part of meeting with clients to be the emotional conversations we had about end of life planning. It was emotional not only for the client, but for my client counseling partner and I, to speak with clients about emotional topics. These challenging emotional conversations helped me grow in my counseling role as a future lawyer, and emphasized the importance of this work for the clients we serve.

What was the most rewarding part of Day One of the trip to Boone, NC?

  • As a trip returner, I think it is fun to see students doing work for the first time realize that, as a result of training and preparation, they really do have the skills needed to serve vulnerable clients in a meaningful way.  
  • It was really great to see the community come out and support our students who were supporting them.
  • It is meaningful to know that Legal Aid’s Morganton office and the senior centers looks forward to our our trip as well.  Our presence truly helps meet unmet legal needs.
  • One of the interesting parts is seeing how people all have similar fears when interacting with clients and that when removed from their normal law school friends, people can break out of their usual cliques and actually be comfortable with meeting new people.  
  • I have been on the Wills Trip all three years of law school, and as a 3L it was exciting to watch the 1L students interact with their first clients, and learn how impactful their legal skills can be.

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No Comments | Posted by William P. Norrell on Mon. March 21, 2016 6:34 PM
Categories: Spring Break Trip 2016
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