Alumni provide low-income legal assistance with support of the Community Law and Business Clinic
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February 22, 2010
Lawyers Scott McCormick and Sarah Hall are used to typing their own letters, placing them in envelopes and delivering them to the post office.
It is, after all, just part of the job.
“We do everything,” said Hall, of Clermont, Fla.
McCormick, Hall and Clay Scheffel are part of the Low Bono Program at the Wake Forest University School of Law, which was created as an extension of the Community Law and Business Clinic. Professor Steve Virgil directs the CL&BC, which offers free legal services to nonprofits and entrepreneurs who create new businesses based in low-wealth areas in Forsyth County.
“Essentially, we’re working on our own,” said McCormick, of Medina, N.Y. “It’s the equivalent of starting your own practice. It’s scary, but we also have the support of Wake Forest, the clinic and Steve.”
Virgil saw the need for an additional legal service to serve people whose needs fall beyond the scope of the clinic. What’s more, the Low Bono Program, which began in October 2009, supports recent graduates as they start their careers by providing office space, as well as administrative and professional support. Clients with civil matters are referred to the Low Bono Program through Nan Smith, whom Hall called “the glue of the clinic.”
Wake Forest is committed to engaging its resources to making the community a better place while at the same time continuing its excellence in education and training professionals. This is a continuation of that.
“The Low Bono Program is very valuable,” Virgil said. “It keeps new lawyers engaged in learning the craft in a professional environment. It helps them with skill development, but it also helps them stay current in their profession.”
Clients are charged a reduced rate for the legal service.
“Wake Forest is committed to engaging its resources to making the community a better place while at the same time continuing its excellence in education and training professionals. This is a continuation of that.”
Hall, for instance, is spending time on a case involving an alleged wrongful foreclosure. In March, she’ll begin working for an international law firm in Charlotte.
“Professor Virgil is recognizing that there are some students who have no job, no prospect of a job, and would likely appreciate having something to do,” said Hall. “It meets the students’ needs, as well as the needs of the community.”
McCormick is working on cases for people with issues arising over their employment, which involves communicating with hearing officers and opposing counsel, in addition to obtaining witnesses. He’s also taken a libel case and often assists people in cases associated with family law, a common area of need.
“Everybody needs a family law attorney, but not everyone can afford one,” Hall said.
When the young lawyers need help with a particular issue they simply ask for it, whether that involves relying on one another or engaging Virgil or another one law professor at Wake Forest. For example, Professor Suzanne Reynolds is an expert in family law.
“She met with me and talked with me and helped me figure out where I was going,” Hall said. “Even if Professor Virgil can’t help us, there are still people here who will.”
As students, Hall and McCormick worked in the clinic with Virgil, who offered continual guidance. The Low Bono Program, however, is a much different experience. “Lawyers who have been in it for awhile have all this research in their head or in a file somewhere that they can just pull out,” McCormick said. “Some things are complex, and it takes time to do them. There are letters to be sent, records to be gotten … . But I like the experience of learning how to practice law.”
So does Hall.
“I think it’s really important to try and help,” she said. “There so many people who just don’t have access to legal help who really need it.”