Blog Posts: Winter Break Trip 2016

“We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening.”

The trip to Cherokee did not disappoint. It was everything that I expected plus more. Not only did I learn a lot about client interaction but I also took away some general life lessons. On the second day of the Cherokee trip, we held a Wills Clinic at Tsali Manor. Here, we would assist Cherokee residents in drafting wills, power of attorney documents, and advance directives. Initially, I was very nervous. I am a 1L and I had never drafted a legal document nor had I interacted with a client. I was also very uncomfortable speaking about one’s last wishes before death. From personal experience, I knew this could be an emotional topic for families, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on such a difficult task.


As the day went by, my partner and I patiently waited for our first client. Our first two clients did not need any documents drafted that day; however, we were able to provide them with information and send them off knowing how to draft a will when they were ready. Although we had not actually drafted any documents yet, it was gratifying to empower someone with knowledge. Towards the end of the day, we had our last client. They were a couple from Cherokee looking to draft a will. At this point, my partner and I were ready to get to work. We had been reviewing the documents all day, and we were confident that this would be a smooth and quick process. However, we were in for a big surprise!


Our case turned out not to be simple. It was far from the “cookie-cutter” scenario that we had prepared for! The couple had some family issues and wanted to ensure that one family member did not get any of their estate. It was during the discussion of this matter that I really connected with our clients. We had something in common that was normally difficult for me to talk about, but I could tell that our clients needed some comfort and reassurance. Once I shared my similar life experience, their eyes up and we both loosened up. It was then that I realized that I wanted to create this rapport and bond with every client that I ever interact with. It makes the experience so much more meaningful.

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No Comments | Posted by Joscelyn Solomon on Thu. January 5, 2017 2:00 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

If There's A Will, There's A Way!

Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, 22 UNC law students crawled out of bed to venture out onto the Reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to host a wills clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina at a senior citizens center in the community. Exhausted from a long day of travel and training yesterday, we retired early to our hotel rooms and then we made sure to eat a hearty breakfast and to drink a full cup of coffee before heading out this morning.


The senior center, full of Christmas decorations and holiday cheer, welcomed us and made plenty of room for us to spred our wills documents out and to charge our laptops. The morning crowd was slow, but as soon as lunchtime rolled around and bellies began to fill, many more people began making appointments to have last will and testament, advanced directive, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney documents executed. We were put in pairs of two or three to work together to help each client with their specific needs. Every group was able to meet with clients, and we ended the day with 18 clients served and over 20 documents executed. Each client left the building feeling both relieved and happy that such important documents could now be checked off of their to-do lists.

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No Comments | Posted by Miranda A. Wodarski on Wed. January 4, 2017 2:00 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

My 2015 Pro Bono Cherokee Trip Experience

                   Each of the three previous Pro Bono trips that I have been involved in has included a moment or experience that has caused my emotions to be heavily engaged. Moments or experiences like this are what led me to want to be a part of the planning process for the trips.

            Thankfully, the trip to Cherokee did not disappoint. While we had to wait and were almost not able to, we eventually were able to observe Tribal Court. Prior to observing court, the Chief Justice spoke to us about the history of the tribe and of the court itself. This was extremely interesting as he spoke about the per capita payments that tribal members received from the casino and what the process looked like for the court to have jurisdiction over criminals and crimes. He described how tribal members could receive several thousands of dollars at the age of 18 or 21 and how crimes seemed to explode around the time that these payments were released to the members.

            Immediately following the discussion with the Chief Justice, two individuals, a man and woman, were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles. While they were both adults, each of them looked as if they were around fifteen years old. They were placed at two ends of the courtroom. The Judge spoke to the woman about her rights under the Violence Against Women Act and how that act was being used in this case. The way I understood it, with the man in this dispute being a tribal member, the VAWA act allowed for the court to have jurisdiction over her abuse of the man as well as his abuse of her.

            They had been involved in a dispute earlier in the day, they supposedly assaulted each other, and the officers could not figure out who had started it. The Judge described to the woman how long she was going to have to stay in jail and the fact that her children were now with Social Services. This woman, who was wearing a shirt that stated “Middle Finger in the air if you don’t ****** care,” began to cry.

            The judge then spoke to the man. The man had attempted to fill out an application for a public defender. The man had attempted to apply for a public defender even though he had over $80,000 in his bank account. When the Judge quickly declared that the man had plenty of money to hire an attorney, the man replied with the fact that he “didn’t know how to hire an attorney.”

            My emotions were placed in a roller coaster as this situation played out. I began looking down the rows in the courtroom at the students and I glanced to see if there faces reflected the shock that I was feeling. I wasn’t sure, but following our experience in court, and when we began to reflect as a group, I quickly discovered that my emotions were shared amongst the 2015 Pro Bono Cherokee Trip Participants. 

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No Comments | Posted by William P. Norrell on Sun. January 10, 2016 8:01 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

2015 Pro Bono Program Cherokee Trip Day 3

            On the third and final day of our trip to Cherokee, we participated in a civil clinic in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina. This clinic was primarily intended to help the local community with family law matters, particularly divorce and custody issues. Legal Aid was tremendous in the training that they provided to each of us on the trip to ensure that the documents were executed properly in order to best utilize both our resources and the client’s time. The civil clinic was held at Yellow Hill Activity Center on the reservation, and we arrived bright and early to greet our clients with a smiling face in hope that we would be able to help satisfy their unmet legal needs.
Students were able to help clients with a number of different documents, including divorces, custody orders, and modified custody orders. The services provided during the clinic ranged from client to client depending on their specific circumstances and what would be the best way to go about getting the end result that each client desired. Some clients attended the clinic because they were trying to gain custody of a child, others were seeking visitation, and some were simply there to receive help on how to go about filing the proper paperwork for a divorce. One of the most eye-opening things that we were able to take from the work done in this clinic was just how great of a need there really is for these services. Many of the clients in attendance would have had no other means for these documents to be created, and therefore they would not have been able to come to a resolution to their particular issues without the help of this clinic. As law students we sometimes take for granted our ability to understand the law, or at least how to find adequate access to someone who does understand the law enough to help with whatever issue we need resolved. Many times though that is not the case, and rather than searching or having the resources to find the proper way to solve a legal problem, the problem remains unresolved regardless of how important or necessary it is to be resolved. Being able to help client’s resolve some of these problems was a very humbling experience.
The clinic lasted most of the day, and we worked steadily with clients until the clinic ended and we began reflections of the trip as a whole with what each student had taken from our experience in Cherokee. Each student had a unique perspective on the trip and how it had impacted them, but there was no doubt that this trip impacted everyone involved for the better. The ability to help someone with such sensitive family matters was truly a rewarding experience. Being able to learn about and understand Cherokee culture even just a little was life changing, and the gratitude that each client, as well as the community as a whole, showed to us was touching. Further, the group of students who attended this trip became very close, and we have this experience and the people of Cherokee to thank for that. Thank you to Legal Aid of North Carolina for helping with this trip. Without them, the clinics we hosted would not have been possible. To our special trips coordinators, thanks for making such a lasting experience for us. The work we did in Cherokee was impactful for a lot of people that we helped serve, and I know that it will stay with each of us as we move forward in our legal careers. 

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No Comments | Posted by Kyle E. Grusholt on Mon. December 21, 2015 7:11 AM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

2015 Pro Bono Program Cherokee Trip Day 2

On our second day in Cherokee, the UNC Law contingent fueled up on the continental breakfast before heading to the Tsali Manor Senior Center. There we broke into teams and provided assistance to approximately twenty seniors in need of Wills, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives. Students were able to share lunch and connect with both the volunteers and seniors that spend their time and energy making the Center a special community. UNC Law 1L Andrew Simpson stated, “We came to Cherokee hoping to serve the local community, and yet it was we who were enriched by the graciousness of our clients.” At the close, the Center expressed their gratitude by giving each student a Cherokee handcrafted necklace of beads.


After continuing this clinic during the afternoon, our group was able to do a self-guided tour through the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, thanks to the generosity of Judge Saunooke. The museum included ancient artifacts, displays, and a brief movie with Cherokee tribal stories that were passed down through the generations. We returned back to the hotel for a Jeopardy/The Price Is Right-themed reflection session, featuring our very own MC Isaac Vargas. After a group dinner at a local restaurant, we explored Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, hoping to escape with minimal losses to add to our respective debt obligations. All in all, day two made for a great mix of pro bono service and exposure to Cherokee people, culture, and generosity.

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No Comments | Posted by Brian K. Kettmer on Fri. December 18, 2015 11:16 AM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

2015 Pro Bono Program Cherokee Trip Day 1

             The first day of our trip to Cherokee, North Carolina is in the books, and it was quite an eventful one. Students met bright and early Monday morning and made the commute across the state to the beautiful, scenic mountains of Western North Carolina. Prior to the trip, students prepared extensively for the types of work that would be done at the legal clinics in order to be as prepared as possible to ensure the best quality work would be completed for the clients being served. Upon arriving in Cherokee, students further participated in trainings with Legal Aid of North Carolina where we were able to practice our skills with the partner that will accompany us during the clinics. The training was extremely insightful, as students were able to review and build on the training we had already received as well as ask any questions to the attorneys from Legal Aid who will be accompanying us for the clinics.  This was a great opportunity for us to interact as a group, and we really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know one another better prior to the first clinic on Tuesday.          

            After the training, we were able to witness a domestic violence hearing at the Cherokee court. Before the hearing started, Chief Justice Boyum spoke to us about the unique challenges of the Cherokee court system. Chief Justice Boyum explained how the reservation has extremely limited jurisdiction over non-enrolled persons who commit crimes on the reservation, leading to some criminal offenders slipping through the cracks due to a lack of jurisdiction. He also talked about the problems that arise from the per capita payments each enrolled member receives annually; upon turning 18, each enrolled member receives a lump sum payment that has accrued until reaching adulthood. Chief Justice Boyum explained how this, combined with a poor education system, has led to some members being taken advantage of. Another important thing we learned was how many of the members don’t receive the proper education on things that many of us take for granted, such as managing finances or using a checkbook. Visiting the courthouse was an eye-opening experience, and we are very thankful for the kindness and hospitality that everyone there showed to us. 


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No Comments | Posted by Kyle E. Grusholt on Fri. December 18, 2015 11:05 AM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016

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