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Advocating for Children, Helping Low-Income Homeowners, and Other Examples of Parker Poe's Pro Bono Impact

    News, Community
  • January 22, 2024

Over the past year, Parker Poe's pro bono efforts have included representing the interests of children and families in court, protecting the rights of low-income homeowners, coordinating pro bono needs at the state level, and advising nonprofits on a variety of their legal needs.

Those are just a few ways our attorneys used their unique skills to serve our communities by offering free representation to those who need it. Below are additional details on those efforts and other examples of our pro bono impact from the past year.

Advocating for the Interests of Children and Families in Court
Charlotte partner Will Esser coordinates the cases Parker Poe handles in North Carolina through the state's Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program. Many of our attorneys represent abused and neglected children through the program, including before appeals courts.

"I do this work because it matters," said Tom Griffin, Parker Poe's managing partner, in a 2023 North Carolina Judicial Branch article about the program. "I was deeply affected by the first appeal that I took many years ago. From that case and the many that followed I've learned that children absolutely need an effective and passionate voice in our appellate courts. Today I view my GAL cases as some of the most important work that I do, and undoubtedly the most meaningful. Plus, it's interesting, challenging, and provides a sense of accomplishment that makes a difference. Take your own first case and you'll see what I mean."

The Parker Poe attorneys who took GAL cases in 2023 also include Charlotte partner Ashley Edwards; Charlotte associates Blair Carpenter and Eimile Whelan; Raleigh partners Catherine Clodfelter, Merrick Parrott, Katherine Ross, and Bruce Thompson; and Raleigh associates Will Barker, Marie Farmer, Alexandria Hill, Daniel Knight, Adam Setzer, and Deb Stern.

In addition, Atlanta partner Cheryl Shaw and counsel Laurance Warco have been representing a Georgia mother in her attempt to obtain guardianship of her disabled child. Charlotte partner Will Esser also assisted a mother in obtaining reunification with her child as the culmination of an almost year-long juvenile case.

Helping Low-Income Homeowners Protect Family Assets
Approximately 30 of our attorneys provided free representation to low-income homeowners located in some of North Carolina's most economically distressed counties. The project was a joint effort by Pisgah Legal Services and Parker Poe to help homeowners complete wills and other legal documents to protect their family's interests.

"We know that when homeowners don't have a will, it can create very difficult situations for heirs," said Katie Russell Miller, managing director of community engagement at Pisgah Legal Services, which serves western North Carolina. "We have also had many unfortunate situations in our region where low-income homeowners and heirs – particularly people of color – have been targets of fraud that resulted in heirs losing the longtime family homes they were living in."

The pro bono project aimed to prevent that. In the spring, the team worked with 24 clients to develop wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney. The spring effort also included collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. In the fall, the team worked with 21 more clients. The legal documents not only protect the clients' heirs but also ensure their last wishes are honored.

Raleigh partner Tiffany Burba led Parker Poe's efforts in the project. It also included Raleigh partners Patti Bartis, Catherine Clodfelter, Michael Crook (who chairs the Pro Bono Committee), Laura Goode, and Merrick Parrott; Raleigh counsel Kristen Provenza, Miguel Manna, and Lauren Reeves; Raleigh associates Will Barker, Marie Farmer, Stacy Little, Jeremy Locklear, Carlos Manzano, Molly McCabe, Jon McLamb, Seth Morris, Deb Stern, and Laura Wright; Charlotte partners Scott Leo and Elizabeth Trenary; and Charlotte associates Nathalia Boe, Blair Carpenter, Jasmine Little, Chelsea Rush, and Eimile Whelan.

Coordinating Pro Bono Needs at the State Level
Pro Bono Committee Chair Michael Crook and Tiffany Burba, both of whom are Raleigh partners, worked with others across North Carolina to define the state's pro bono needs and coordinate efforts to meet them.

Michael and Tiffany were part of the NC Judicial Branch's Pro Bono Coordinators' Network. It brings together legal services providers, law firms, businesses, law schools, and nonprofits to address unmet legal needs in North Carolina and increase access to justice.

A frequent topic of conversation was creating a web-based tool to make it easier for attorneys and paralegals to find opportunities to serve others pro bono. The NC Pro Bono Resource Center, which houses the coordinators' network, launched Pro Bono Go in the fall to fill that gap. 

Teaming Up With Companies to Serve the Community
Parker Poe often partners with clients on pro bono efforts. In 2023, those partnerships included 23 of our professionals teaming up with Duke Energy to create simple wills, powers of attorney, and advance directives for Mecklenburg County residents aged 60 years and over. It was the second year Parker Poe partnered with Duke Energy as part of the Pro Bono Institute's EmPOWERing Pro Bono Day, through which electric and gas companies address key legal needs of underserved communities. The Charlotte project also involved Piedmont Natural Gas and the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Duke Energy's Alex Castle and Parker Poe Charlotte partner Katie Iams led the Charlotte effort with assistance from Courtney Viebrock at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

The team at Parker Poe that took part also included Charlotte partners Eric Cottrell, Kevin Gottehrer, LaToya Parker, Morgan Rogers, Skip Smart, and Elizabeth Trenary; Charlotte associates Jon Altstadter, Caroline Barrineau, Nathalia Boe, Blair Carpenter, Phillip Fajgenbaum, Noah Ganz, Chris Henry, Remington Jackson, Jasmine Little, Laura Merriman, Charlie Middlebrooks, and Landon Whitley; Charlotte law clerk Devon Rhodes; Charlotte paralegal Charlene Evered; Charleston associate Olivia Daly; and Raleigh partner and Pro Bono Committee Chair Michael Crook.

Our firm is also an active supporter of Charlotte Triage, which involves Bank of America, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo, Husqvarna, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina's Charlotte chapter, and several law firms.

Charlotte partner Nicholas Lee has served as a champion for Charlotte Triage's expunction work for four years. He helps recruit, train, and support volunteers who represent low-income clients in expunging their criminal records and broadening their opportunities with work and housing. Nicholas represents expunction clients directly as well.

Securing Approval for Shelters to Help the Homeless
Parker Poe provided pro bono services to secure approval for two shelters in downtown Raleigh that will serve the homeless during severe weather this winter. The shelters will be open on "white flag" nights, where temperatures are below 35 degrees or other conditions make sleeping outside life-threatening.

Community members helping to organize the shelters called upon Parker Poe's Development Services Industry Team Leader Jamie Schwedler for assistance obtaining the special use permits that the city's Unified Development Ordinance requires for white flag shelters. Associate Ashley Honeycutt Terrazas, a Raleigh native, represented St. John's Metropolitan Community Church in seeking the needed permits.

Assisting a Retired Law Enforcement Officer
Columbia partner David Summer and counsel Faye Flowers assisted a retired law enforcement officer who returned to work under a new incentive law designed to fill critical law enforcement vacancies. The officer mistakenly ran afoul of certain requirements to maintain state retirement benefits while taking advantage of the return-to-work incentive.

David and Faye represented the officer before the South Carolina Administrative Law Court. After the court decided in favor of the Retirement System's interpretation, they advised the officer on securing new employment to make up for the loss of retirement benefits. They also provided a road map for her to, under the law, eventually restart the retirement benefits while still being employed.

Expanding Public Access to Legal Advice
Parker Poe held a pro bono clinic with its North Carolina summer clerks in partnership with NC Free Legal Answers, which allows low-income people to post civil legal questions for volunteer attorneys to answer free of charge. The Parker Poe team answered 25 questions in 11 different areas of law from clients across 19 counties.

Many Parker Poe attorneys participate in the program throughout the year. The professionals who took part in 2023 include Raleigh partners Tiffany Burba, Michael Crook, Merrick Parrott, and Katherine Ross; Raleigh counsel Eva Frongello; Raleigh associates Zack Anstett and Alexandria Hill; Charlotte partner Chip Ford; Charlotte associate Caroline Barrineau; and summer clerks such as Jack Belk, Zhe Liu, Zaire Reid, Julia Vaughan-Jones, and Michael Youssef.

Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits
Atlanta partner Alonzo Llorens serves as general counsel in a pro bono capacity for the American Association of Blacks in Energy. In 2023, his work included advising on the organization's corporate governance structure and helping it preserve existing intellectual property rights.

Raleigh counsel Eva Frongello and associate Laura Wright provided trademark counsel to The Child's Advocate, which represents children in contested family court cases. Eva and Laura are assisting the nonprofit in conducting clearance searches and preparing and filing trademark applications with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Trademarks Division. They have also provided similar intellectual property counsel to other organizations focused on community service.

Charlotte partner Jordan Temple assisted an education nonprofit whose facility had become unsafe for its staff and the families it serves. With assistance from Charlotte partner Morgan Rogers and associate Nathalia Boe, Jordan negotiated with the landlord to terminate the lease and allow the nonprofit to move to a new location.

Charlotte retired of counsel Rick Glaser provided legal advice to Temple Beth El and Shalom Park, including reviewing policies and procedures.

Charlotte partner Kim Parker provided counsel on various employment needs for several Charlotte nonprofits.

About Parker Poe's Pro Bono Committee
Parker Poe maintains an active Pro Bono Committee that spearheads and coordinates initiatives across all eight of the firm's offices. The firm also partners with clients and legal services nonprofits on pro bono opportunities, working closely with them to identify needs in our communities.

Bar associations have recognized our firm and individual attorneys for "outstanding achievements" in pro bono work. In 2023, for example, the North Carolina Bar Association honored Parker Poe with the Law Firm Pro Bono Award and the Outstanding Collaborative/Group Pro Bono Service Award. The awards recognized our overall commitment to pro bono work, as well as the collaborative role we played in helping Afghan refugees in 2022.

For any clients, nonprofits, or friends of the firm who are interested in partnering on pro bono efforts, please contact Pro Bono Committee Chair Michael Crook.