Alumnus Feature: Deonte' Thomas '05

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Name and year of graduation from UNC Law:

Deonte’ L. Thomas, Class of 2005

Place of employment:

Wake County Public Defender’s Office

Favorite class/professor in law school:

Judicial Sentencing & Actual Innocence - Classes Ken Broun - Professor

Pro Bono experience in law school:

The Innocence Project/Law 4 Us/Orange County Public Defender's Office/Various Pro Bono Winter Projects

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

I have always felt the need to try and give back whenever possible. Without a few key decisions in my life, I could have easily been in the same position as my clients, so I have always wanted to try and “pay it forward” as much as I can.

What does your current Pro Bono practice look like?

Outside of my “normal” job serving indigent clients, I often attend community focused events that attempt to help my clients once they are outside of the judicial system. Recently I worked with a large pro bono community to help people expunge their records and restore their licenses. I have also been a speaker or a mentee for many youth focused non-profits here in Raleigh. My work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters has also been very fulfilling.

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

Through my pro bono work I have met many different lawyers doing widely different segments of law, but with similar mindsets on life and the changes we would like to see in the world. Doing pro bono work reinvigorates me and reminds me of how there is a huge community of people that are working to make this world a better place and that is especially helpful when I become jaded or disenchanted with my “regular” work.

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

Time. There is NEVER enough time. I remain mindful that any amount of pro bono work I do is helpful, and try to encourage others to help if they are able.

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

Working on the Innocence Project changed my opinions about the criminal justice system, specifically the use of capital punishment. It was eye opening to acknowledge how one’s “formative years” can sometimes extend into adulthood.

What motivates you to continue doing Pro Bono work?

The amount of work that has to be done.

How do you find your Pro Bono projects?

Typically through listservs and emails. Sometimes through larger non-profits.

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 prefer working with partner organizations. Being in a group provides an added positivity that energizes the work.

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

“A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society. A social engineer is a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who understands the Constitution of the United States and knows how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”

-Charles Hamilton Houston

When you think about the fact that by statute that only lawyers are fully endowed with the power and knowledge to use the law and the Courts, it's incumbent upon us to take the privilege seriously and help those that do not.

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

Help is always needed and there is always work to be done. Don’t just wait until everyone else does their summer internships, reach out and build those relationships in advance! I’m also a huge fan of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The one-on-one impact you can have on a child could really help shape their life.

Posted by James G. Wudel on Tue. December 27, 2016 4:31 PM
Categories: Alumni Features
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