Alumna Feature: Nicole Quallen '10

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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.

How has your Pro Bono work benefited you? (ie. your career, business development if in private practice, professional development, networking, etc.)?

It’s my favorite work!! I love not putting the pressure of a bill on my client. I only take clients I really believe in, so we can talk freely and really work together to improve their family situations. I learn about new areas of family law all the time, and grow as an advisor so much with these cases that align with my values.

What challenges do you face in completing Pro Bono work? What strategies do you employ to overcome those obstacles?

It can sometimes be hard to juggle these cases with my separate full-time job. I am upfront with pro bono clients and tell them we may have to meet on weekends and take calls after 7:30pm when my daughter goes to sleep. Most clients are so grateful and flexible and we both have patience with what can be a long timeline.

Which Pro Bono experience gave you the most personal or professional pride?

I’ve helped a couple of mothers terminate the parental rights of their child’s abusive and completely absent fathers. It’s a scary thing to have a past abuser somewhere out there that has joint legal custody of your child. When the moms call me to say that they’ve finalized their paperwork and their child now has their last name instead of their father’s, I know it means so much to them and we all feel so proud. That kind of case can take months or years, so it’s a big moment for celebration.

What is one new thing you learned from Pro Bono work that you would not have known otherwise?

How to terminate parental rights! I’ve worked in courthouses I wouldn’t have otherwise, and have learned a lot about how family law works where multiple states are involved.

What motivates you to continue doing Pro Bono work?

I feel like it’s my obligation. As lawyers, we have the ability to address the court and understand the law in a way too many people don’t. I like feeling like I can level the playing field a bit.

How do you find your Pro Bono projects?

My clients have been 100% referrals from colleagues, friends, and past pro bono clients. I like that and think it helps my clients trust me, because someone they know vouches for me.

Do you prefer to handle Pro Bono projects on your own or do you like to work with a non-profit or other partner organization? Why?

I’ve always done these cases on my own, mostly because I’ve never been in a firm or organization that has been particularly into Pro Bono. It would be cool to work with an organization in the future.

What is the single best reason you can give a law student to continue Pro Bono service in practice after graduation from law school?

I’m sure there is a reason for everyone, depending on what motivates them. For me, it’s about connecting to the spirit of the law and justice in a way that has nothing to do with earning money. At some point in your career, salary won’t be enough and your pro bono work will keep you connected to the law in a different way.

Do you have a project, need, or organization that you’d like to tell the UNC alumni network about?

Guardian Ad Litem is a wonderful program that is very suited for pro bono practice by lawyers and law students. My favorite organization right now is Benevolence Farm in Graham, NC. They can use pro bono lawyers to help advise formerly incarcerated people who are navigating a new life in our community.

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