Name and Year of Graduation from UNC Law:
Justin M. Puleo; 2011
Place of Employment:
Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP
Area of Practice:
Favorite class/professor in
Criminal Procedure with Professor Myers – for teaching me about fairness
and also greatly increasing my understanding and appreciation of The Wire
Pro Bono Experience in Law
In addition to participating in
various legal clinics at UNC, I volunteered with the Orleans Public Defenders,
and served on the board of a Chapel Hill nonprofit to earn more than 100 pro
bono hours during my time at UNC Law.
What inspired or prompted you
to start doing pro bono work?
I was fortunate that there was a very energetic Pro Bono board during my
time at Carolina which motivated much of my participation. Also, my classmate and now wife, Merab
Faulkner, was a Bonner Scholar at Davidson and inspired in me an ethos of
positive community change through service.
What does your current pro
bono practice look like?
Typically, I take on one pro bono project per year. Smith Moore Leatherwood has an established
pro bono committee which reviews potential pro bono projects submitted by firm
attorneys. If there are no conflicts and
certain criteria are met, an attorney can be given a fifty hour “credit” to
apply to their billable hour requirements for that year. The goals of the firm’s pro bono program are
to: (1) instill in each lawyer a genuine and lifelong commitment to the
principles of equal access to justice; (2) support and encourage effective pro
bono legal work by all firm attorneys; and (3) provide a framework within which
the firm will implement these goals.
Favorite or Most Significant
Pro Bono Experience:
My 2014 pro bono project involved training to become an HHS Certified
Marketplace Navigator and working with UNC Law graduate Jennifer Simmons of Legal
Aid of North Carolina to assist North Carolina’s uninsured enroll in affordable
health care plans on healthcare.gov. It
was exciting to be part of the final open enrollment push as well as rewarding
to help individuals and families find affordable options. One particularly gratifying enrollment involved
a 60 year old woman who had never before been insured but was finally able to
afford coverage and pay into the system. To me, that represented a win-win situation. While my practice typically focuses on
assisting health care providers comply with regulations and adapt to the
Affordable Care Act, this project better helped me understand health care
reform from the perspectives of the payer and the individual consumer.
What have you taken away from
your pro bono experiences? Alternatively, what have you learned about
I have learned that everyone can use help at some point in their
lives. A good lawyer at the right time can
make all the difference. I have also
found that communities look to attorneys to be leaders. Providing a public service of some kind – be
it pro bono, volunteer work, or some other activity - is not only greatly
beneficial to society, but also a means of leading by example and embodying an
ideal of the profession.
What motivates you to continue
doing pro bono work?
Pro bono work if often some of my most deeply satisfying work. It is truly moving when someone expresses
sheer gratitude for your help. The
smallest, private acknowledgement that you are giving your time and help when
you are not obligated to, and the knowledge that you are making a difference in
that person’s life, makes the sacrifice worthwhile.
How do you find your pro bono
Legal Aid of North Carolina has no shortage of pro bono projects.
Presently, I look for projects that complement the work I do in my day to day
practice so I have the depth of knowledge to be able to share but new and
different challenges can also be exciting.
Do you think lawyers (or law
firms) should be required to commit to pro bono service as a condition of
Although it would be a strong statement, ultimately, I feel that making
pro bono service a requirement risks turning it into a chore or something that
simply needs to be checked off, never to be thought of again. In its purest form, pro bono service is a
lifelong pursuit and something you want to do to better your community.
Helping with the Health Care Navigator Project's Enroll-a-thon on March 31, 2014 at the Prezell Robinson Library at St. Augustine's University. L-R: Annette Buss; Jennifer Simmons ('02, Health Care Navigator Project Director and Pro Bono Alumni Board Member); and Justin Puleo ('11).
Posted by Amanda M. Colley on Fri. May 30, 2014 10:02 AM