Alumnus Feature: Justin Puleo '11

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Justin Puleo

Name and Year of Graduation from UNC Law:

Justin M. Puleo; 2011

Place of Employment:

Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP

Area of Practice:

Health Care

Favorite class/professor in law school:

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 School:

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 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 your community?

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 projects?

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 licensure?

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.

Justin Puleo and Jennifer Simmons with Health Care Navigator Project
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
Categories: Alumni Features
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