Blog Posts: Laura L. Kessler

Laura L. Kessler

Protecting Our Vote: Students Reflect on Their Day Running the Hotline

“What, So What, Now What?”  The day started with a debriefing and reflection time with Mark Dorosin, Managing Attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights.  Dorosin reiterated that the work we did yesterday was beneficial, but in order to make a long-term impact it was crucial for us to think through the events of the day and discuss what changes could be made for the future.  The what: student volunteers shared what problems they ran into, compelling stories they heard, and the emotional moments they felt.  The so what: we discussed some of the common problems, and teased through particular stories to understand what made them compelling and/or emotional.  The now what: we thought through how the common problems could be better addressed in the future as well as how to handle the stress and emotions we were feeling throughout the day.

The National Coordinator for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Trevor Ostbye, led the afternoon session.  Some of the student volunteers listened to the remaining voicemails from the North Carolina Election Protection Hotline as well as voicemails from the Election Protection Hotline in other states.  Call logs were combed through by another group of student volunteers who made note of which calls should receive follow up.  

At the end of this project, all of the student volunteers left feeling fulfilled and believing that they truly made a difference.  

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Fri. April 1, 2016 8:29 AM
Categories: Spring Break 2016: Election Protection

Election Protection: The War Room

The War Room
In the fight to defend all North Carolinians’ right to vote, the March 15 primary was the first major battle of the year. And as issues arose across the state, UNC Law School served as the headquarters for the war room. UNC Law Pro Bono volunteers manned phone calls from voters from sun-up to sun-down, equipping them with information, answering questions, and mobilizing election protection field workers to address voting administration violations statewide.
The terrain of the voting process has shifted dynamically with the recent passage of legislation requiring voters to show ID at the polls. The controversial voter ID law stipulates that all NC voters must show photo identification before voting, but it also includes several notable exceptions. For instance, those without ID are permitted to vote via provisional ballot if they provide their date of birth and last four digits of their social security number and sign a form citing a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining an ID. Numerous other exceptions and requirements apply (see the Election Protection FAQ’s), creating a seemingly endless array of possible answers to the question, “How do I vote?”
Yet that’s exactly the question the UNC Pro Bono team answered on Tuesday. Over the course of 14 consecutive hours, our volunteers fielded 881 phone calls from voters and poll volunteers with questions, complaints, and frustrations. In conjunction with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Democracy NC, and the UNC Law Center for Civil Rights, the Pro Bono volunteers empowered North Carolinians from every corner of the state to overcome obstacles and exercise the fundamental right to vote. 
The stories that came through the phone lines were both harrowing and uplifting. 
Alex Snow, a 1L from Kernersville, NC, recalled her most memorable interaction, “A woman called because her son has MS and really wanted to vote, but didn't think he would be physically able to do it alone.  She had received incorrect information that in order for him to vote he had to go by himself.  When I told her that she would be able to go with him she was thrilled and very thankful for the hotline.”
La-Deidre Matthews, a 1L from Fayetteville, NC, reflected on her experience assisting voters, saying, “Collectively, I am impressed by the callers' dedication to vote. From a nurse that was afraid she wouldn't be able to make it to her precinct in time after a long shift, to a gentleman willing to visit both his old and new polling places (a considerable distance apart) to make sure his vote was counted. It is a great contrast to the "apathetic citizen" narrative I typically hear accusing people of not exercising their right to vote.”
Over the course of a long day, when Pro Bono volunteers could have otherwise joined their classmates on Spring Break tropical vacations, the disenchantment of apparent voter suppression gave way to a renewed faith in the people of the Old North State. The dedication of the election protection team was surpassed only by that of the voters themselves, whose indefatigable commitment to casting their ballots brought out the best of people’s qualities.
Tyler Abboud, a 1L from Denver, encapsulated the sentiment at the end of the day, recounting one of his conversations, “A guy called from Asheville who was concerned about the way the people running the polls were trained and whether or not they were asking the right questions about ID's. Though he was allowed to vote and ultimately had no problems, he was concerned that people would be turned away or discouraged if they were overly questioned. He was not a volunteer or anything, just a concerned voter. To me, the interaction was indicative of the selfless attitude I've seen in many North Carolinians and the overall call just left me feeling positive.”
                The fight for equal access to the voting booth will be a long saga in the history of the state and the nation. However, the work of dedicated law students who empowered hundreds of individuals to exercise their right to vote on Tuesday is exactly the type of incremental change that will culminate in a brighter future for North Carolina voters. 
                Next stop, November.  

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Wed. March 23, 2016 1:53 PM
Categories: General

Reflecting On: "Practically Transitioned: A Pro Bono Networking Event"

          As 3Ls, a question constantly occupying our minds is “what’s next?” For some, this may be a career in private practice or public interest, while for others it may be a clerkship, fellowship, or non-traditional legal career path. Whether we know our destinations or not, in a few short months the law school’s safety net will fall away and everything we learned will be tested as we transition into the legal professionals Carolina Law has taught us to be.  While this can be a strange and unfamiliar process to some of us, it is encouraging to know that the Pro Bono Program is here to support us “Practically Transition” into life as UNC Law School Alumni.

          The Practically Transitioned event on February 9, 2016, represented everything we have come to love about UNC Law and the UNC Law Pro Bono Program. The food was great, the conversation was engaging, and the celebration of our accomplishments was beyond inspiring. The Ackland Art Museum was a wonderful host to the 3L and attorney attendees, and the beautiful backdrop of the museum only enhanced the words spoken by UNC Law’s Dean Brinkley and Justice Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Justice Beasley spoke of her deep and real understanding of the challenges facing North Carolina, and how our Pro Bono work can bridge the gaps between unmet legal needs and the services we provide. Her thoughtful remarks not only encouraged members of the 3L class, but also served to remind us of the positive change we can make, both across the state and nationwide, by continuing to commit ourselves to Pro Bono work when we become members of the bar.        

          Throughout the night, students were also able to speak with Carolina Law Alumni and friends from various practice areas about their Pro Bono experiences in law school and about how the skills they developed from those experiences enhanced their careers. It was extremely refreshing to meet and speak with so many attorneys who have effectively incorporated Pro Bono work into their lives and careers.

          At the end of the night one thing was clear— Carolina Law’s commitment to its community and public service is unparalleled. Students, faculty, and alumni are united by their common passions for giving back through Pro Bono work. Carolina Law not only encourages this type of service, but also cultivates a culture of it. This culture is evidenced by many accomplishments, but nothing crystallizes it better than the Class of 2016 reaching 90.9% class participation in the Pro Bono Program. It is such an honor to be part of the first-ever graduating class to reach this level of participation, and it is exciting to think about the amazing things that will continue to come from our dedicated pee

           So what’s next for the Class of 2016? While some know what they will be doing next year, and others are still figuring it out, it is clear that the UNC Law Pro Bono Program is here to help us “Practically Transition” into life as Alumni engaged in Pro Bono service.  

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Fri. February 26, 2016 7:00 PM
Categories: General

Reflecting On: Pro Bono Week

            Pro Bono Week is an annual event on the Program’s calendar focusing on giving back to the people who make our Program what it is: the students. Pro Bono Week is, as the name suggests, a weeklong celebration made up of several events and programs created with UNC Law students in mind. When I began planning Pro Bono Week, I knew it was a special opportunity for the Pro Bono Board to thank students for their hard work and dedication to providing Pro Bono services for citizens of North Carolina. I did not know how this event would change my perspective on Pro Bono work, particularly how UNC Law students interact with their Pro Bono work.


            My vision for this year’s Pro Bono Week centered on the skills students receive from Pro Work. The Pro Bono Program has identified the following skills as being developed through Pro Bono projects: client communication; statutory interpretation; community engagement; document review; due diligence; trial experience & strategy; professional and interpersonal skills; and legal research and writing. These skills are not only critical to doing Pro Bono work, but also critical to being a good lawyer. To draw attention to these skills, one of the events during Pro Bono Week highlighted them visually. The name of the event “Pro Bono Is...” asked students to complete the sentence, “Pro Bono Is...” on a piece of pre-cut colored paper. Students’ responses were used to create a visual representation of what Pro Bono is to students at UNC Law. The old well was used as a backdrop for student responses, and the steps of the old well were made of the skills Pro Bono work gives students. Making the steps out of the skills language worked on numerous fronts. The final image represented the role of Pro Bono work in developing skills, which are the foundation of any legal practice.


            Students’ responses framed the old well image, and the answers were astonishing to me. What I expected from students were statements expressing how Pro Bono work complimented their professional growth, or allowed them to receive practical experience during law school. Some responses followed that line of answers, while others focused on the impact of Pro Bono’s on students’ personal lives. It was the latter responses that I will take with me after graduation. Pro Bono’s impact on the lives of students speaks to the heart of what Pro Bono really is, as well as the heart of Carolina Law. I could fill a whole blog post full of these responses, with answers like: “Pro Bono is...Life;” “Pro Bono is...the reason I sleep at night;” “Pro Bono those to whom much has been given, much is also expected in return;” and “Pro Bono is...a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.” These are only a small number of the responses, showing students’ passion and empathy for members of their community and providing unmet legal needs to people in need. These responses also get to the heart of the Pro Bono Program at UNC Law: showing our community that Pro Bono has the dual benefits of skill development and community betterment.


            Pro Bono Week is a celebration of the students, showcasing their hard work providing legal services to the people of North Carolina. We celebrate not only UNC Law students’ service, but the impact Pro Bono work has on students’ lives, and the lives of the people they help. It is a simple reminder that Pro Bono is everywhere; Pro Bono is for everyone; and in our global community we can make an impact on a large scale. 

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Fri. February 19, 2016 12:14 PM
Categories: General

Reflecting On: Winter Break Project Sign-Ups

                  It was 4pm the afternoon before Winter Break Pro Bono Project sign-ups. I was on my way to class, walking from the CDO down toward the Rotunda. As I got closer to 4004, I saw a cluster of students moving chairs and tables around in the hallway. I walked up, and, going on my suspicions, asked if they were there for winter break project sign-ups. They replied that they were. They were there literally 15 hours before sign-ups were supposed to start, and they were planning on studying, eating, and sleeping there for that long to get the Pro Bono projects they wanted. I was surprised, but more so ecstatic. Honestly, I had been nervous about pretty much everything through the process of planning the sign-ups – that I wouldn’t get projects, students would not like the projects I got, no one would show up.

            But I realized then that I really should not have worried at all. I should have expected Carolina students to show such enthusiasm and excitement for Pro Bono and serving the community. That is truly a key part of what makes our community unique and Carolina great. From then on, I wasn’t nervous at all. The next morning at 7am, the rest of the amazing Pro Bono Board and I started signing students up for all sorts of projects – ranging in type from corporate to public interest, from environmental law to criminal law. We filled all the spots in no time!

            The Winter Break Projects experience for me was an affirming and inspiring one. It affirmed the fact that Carolina Law believes in and supports Pro Bono work. It affirmed the fact that Carolina students are truly excited about giving back to the community and helping meet unmet legal needs. It inspired a hope that when we become lawyers, a lot of us will continue to be committed to Pro Bono. It can be hard to decide to give up some of your winter vacation to do legal work, especially after a hard semester of school. But winter break sign-ups showed me that our students are really happy to do just that.

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Sun. February 14, 2016 5:40 PM
Categories: General

Orientation Kickoff and Video Introduction

Every summer, the UNC Law Pro Bono Program gears up for 1L Orientation by preparing a video to introduce the incoming students to the Pro Bono Program.

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Posted by Laura L. Kessler on Wed. November 11, 2015 5:24 PM
Categories: General

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