Posted: April 21st, 2004 | By: Ann Gibbs
The North Carolina Bar Association has chosen Wake Forest’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Center to receive the 2004 Law Student Pro Bono Award. The award is selected each year by members of the Bar’s Public Service Advisory Committee and the Young Lawyer’s Division Pro Bono Committee. It honors a law student group that has organized an outstanding pro bono project. Student leaders Megan Fontana and Jessica Bell, along with faculty advisor Professor Suzanne Reynolds, accepted the award at the NC Bar Association Annual Meeting at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville on June 18.
Wake Forest’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Center (DVAC) Student Organization was originally formed in1996 as part of a larger DVAC program created by the Forsyth County Bar, Wake Forest University and the Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina. The goal of this partnership was to provide free legal assistance to domestic abuse victims. This is still the primary project for Wake Forest Law School’s DVAC student organization; however, the group’s effort to assist domestic abuse victims now extends to other activities, and the organization includes over 100 law students.
Through the original DVAC partnership, Wake Forest Law School DVAC members who have completed the requisites for a North Carolina Student Practice Certificate volunteer significant time and resources to work with local attorneys representing domestic abuse victims during initial legal proceedings. Legal Aid staff interview potential clients and assign law students to work with volunteer lawyers to prepare each client’s case for a hearing where long-lasting protections from the abuser can be implemented. This careful case preparation involves a substantial time commitment by the student and is done within stressful and unpredictable time constraints. Twenty students from the Law School’s DVAC student organization make time in their hectic schedules to volunteer for this service.
This program has been hailed as a success since its inception. In 2003, the DVAC program assisted 241 clients. 75% of these clients pursued legal remedies beyond the emergency ex-parte protective order. 80% of the clients who pursued legal remedies were successful in their claims. Often where there were children involved, the lawyer/student team negotiated the whole child custody, visitation and support package for the client.
In addition to assisting domestic abuse victims with legal claims, members of Wake Forest’s DVAC organization work with Family Services to assist victims and their families in other meaningful ways. During the fall of 2003, Family Services asked members of DVAC to participate in the Court Performance Standards Project. Students observed domestic violence hearings and recorded the demeanor of the court, as well as the actions taken against the domestic violence offenders. Evaluations were sent to the Administrative Office of the courts which is reviewing the effectiveness of the NC courts in domestic abuse cases. Also, groups of students have gone regularly to a local women’s shelter each Thursday and Friday to entertain the children and prepare meals, giving the parents time to care for personal and business needs. In addition, the organization is working with Family Services to organize a campaign to distribute literature outlining the legal remedies available for persons in an abusive situation. All of these activities give a wide-range of students an avenue to support domestic abuse victims as the students wait to reach the point in their law school careers when they can be certified to help with legal proceedings.
The Wake Forest Law School DVAC student organization is well deserving of recognition for the many pro bono projects that its law student members have undertaken during the 2003-2004 year. Our congratulations are extended to the members of DVAC for the contributions that they have made to the lives of families in our community, to the Forsyth County justice system and to Wake Forest School of Law.