Name and year of graduation from UNC Law:
Bridget Warren, 2014
Place of employment: Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP
Area of practice: Litigation, specifically commercial litigation
Favorite class/professor in law school: Employment law and employment discrimination, both with Associate Dean Hirsch
Pro Bono experience in law school:
While in law school, I did pro bono work at Patterson Harkavy, Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, including interviewing witnesses, and conducting legal research and writing related memoranda. I also participated in UNC’s divorce pro bono project where we helped low-income couples get divorced, and in UNC’s expunction clinic where we assisted individuals in evaluating whether they were eligible for expunctions and, if so, helped them apply for one.
What inspired or prompted you to start doing Pro Bono work?
My parents raised my three siblings and me to always help others who did not have the means and resources to get the assistance they needed. This way of thinking was instilled in us at a very early age, and it has continued to be an important pillar in my life. Throughout high school and college, I volunteered in different organizations that helped children learn to read and immigrants learn English. I chose UNC Law in large part because of its robust Pro Bono program, and when I got to UNC I took advantage of the opportunities the program offered. Now that I am a practicing attorney, it is extremely important to me that I help others who cannot pay to hire a lawyer but who, nonetheless, have been wronged. Through various organizations, mainly Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Council for Children’s Rights, I am able to continue serving others, helping them by removing some legal barriers, however small.
What does your current Pro Bono practice look like?
I volunteer with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Lawyer on the Line and Council for Children’s Rights (CFCR). I also participate in 4ALL every year.
How has your Pro Bono work benefited you? (ie. your career, business development if in private practice, professional development, networking, etc.)?
My pro bono work has always fulfilled me on a personal and moral level because I am able to speak directly to the clients and actually see who I am helping and how. The work also benefits me intellectually because I am always learning about a new legal issue or problem within one of the areas in which I do pro bono work. If I were not doing pro bono work, I would not be exposed to those new issues. Meeting other attorneys and professionals has been terrific as well, because it exposes me to many interesting and engaging people, with whom I wouldn’t normally get the chance to work.
What challenges do you face in completing Pro Bono work? What strategies do you employ to overcome those obstacles?
It has been challenging to learn new areas of law in a limited amount of time. For instance, with Lawyer on the Line, one of the areas in which I volunteer is expunctions. I do not practice criminal law so it has been challenging to adequately learn what I need to know in order to give proper legal advice. I’ve learned to lean on others and the organization’s resources to help overcome this. The attorneys at both Legal Aid and CFCR are so well-versed in their respective areas of the law and I’m very comfortable asking them to help me navigate the various areas. Both organizations have done a great job at providing initial training and then continuously sending out memos and other resources so that I am able to thoroughly advise clients.
Which Pro Bono experience gave you the most personal or professional pride?
Participating in Lawyer on the Line’s expunction section has given me the most personal pride. It’s thrilling to be able to help a client attain what they’re seeking. I am also humbled each time I speak to a client who is interested in getting an expunction but is ineligible. They are so gracious and thankful for the time I’ve spent looking over their case and meeting with them. It is disappointing when I cannot bring them better news, but having the opportunity to hear their story, engage with them and care about their issue is very satisfying.
What is one new thing you learned from Pro Bono work that you would not have known otherwise?
I did not know the extent to which a misdemeanor conviction for a victimless crime prohibits low-income individuals from getting housing, jobs, and loans and having other basic needs met. Through Lawyer on the Line, I have learned about collateral consequences and how the system is set up for those with a criminal record to fail.
What motivates you to continue doing Pro Bono work?
I am constantly motivated to assist a population that I would not ordinarily get to work with as I work at a law firm and practice commercial litigation. I enjoy working with low-income individuals who do not have a voice in our legal system, yet still need legal help and advice. With CFCR, I am motivated to represent children of high-contest custody cases in which the children are unable to have their voice heard, but who still need someone to stand up for their best interests.
How do you find your Pro Bono projects?
I learned about Lawyer on the Line while in law school and heard about CFCR through co-workers who volunteered for the organization and suggested that I volunteer with the group.
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 doing pro bono work through an organization because I am exposed to other attorneys who do different work than I do, and so I am able to benefit from their expertise. I have also found the work to be more fun and engaging when I can collaborate with others and discuss the various issues with the team.
What is the single best reason you can give a law student to continue Pro Bono service in practice after graduation from law school?
To stay grounded and be reminded that not everyone who needs a lawyer can afford one.
Do you have a project, need, or organization that you’d like to tell the UNC alumni network about?
Lawyer on the Line has a terrific pro bono program and I strongly encourage others to volunteer if they aren’t already doing so. I volunteer in the expunction section and work with two supervisors, C.J. Reilly and David Wormald, who are both incredibly knowledgeable and wonderful resources. Legal Aid sends you a case once per month, or less, and each case usually takes 1-2 hours to complete. It’s a great program that makes it easy for attorneys to do pro bono work, while helping a deserving organization in need of more attorneys and resources. This is a fulfilling way to do pro bono work.
Posted by James G. Wudel on Tue. May 2, 2017 9:50 AM