The trip to Cherokee, N.C., like all of my Carolina Law Pro Bono experiences thus far, surpassed my expectations. Because of the nature of a general legal aid clinic, there are many unknowns. Who will your clients be? What legal issue(s) will they bring to you? What type of resolution are they seeking and/or expecting? Yet, with this particular legal aid clinic, there were even more unknowns. How many of the clinic’s clients would be enrolled members of the tribe? How, if at all, would their status as a Cherokee affect their legal issue? Would our clients be open and receptive to discuss the intimate details of their lives (i.e. divorce, child custody, estate planning, etc.) with “outsiders” to the tribe?
On Wednesday, some of these fears were relieved. First, we met with several Cherokee court judges, including Judge J. Matthew Martin, who also serves as a UNC adjunct professor. Next, we met our supervising attorneys and paralegal from the Sylva branch of the Legal Aid of North Carolina. At this point, we still did not know much about the clients who would be walking through the door on Thursday. We did know, however, that we were in very capable, welcoming hands.
Clients began showing up as soon as the clinic opened on Thursday. My law student partner and I were able to meet with two different clients who both were seeking advice and assistance on child custody matters. For the first client, my partner conducted most of the interview and my job was to go back-and-forth to our supervising attorney to obtain the proper advice for our client. For the next client, we swapped as there is so much to learn from both of these roles. With one of our clients, we were able to provide advice from the supervising attorney and assist him in filing the proper paperwork with the clerk of court. Both clients were extremely friendly, grateful, open, and receptive.
I have heard many people say that they want to become lawyers in order to “help people.” I have usually avoided this expression for fear that it sounds base or cliché. When I left the Cherokee courthouse on Thursday evening, I was tired, hungry, and ready for comfortable clothes. But, I had the warmest feeling from knowing that my Carolina law friends and I had helped people, and it’s a feeling that I never want to forget.
Posted by Brandy G. Barrett on Wed. January 16, 2013 8:58 PM
Winter Break Trip 2013