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Pro Bono Project collaborates with Novant Health and Womble Carlyle to help cancer patients with legal needs

Cancer is scary. So are the many policies and legal concerns that come along with it. Then it becomes terrifying. That is why the Pro Bono Project at Wake Forest Law is partnering with Novant Health and Womble Carlyle to help cancer patients with legal needs free of charge. The law students will provide assistance to patients at the Novant Health Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center beginning Friday, Oct. 4
There are 43 students dedicated to engaging in medical pro bono services who have signed up for the training. And more than a dozen attorneys in the area have signed up to supervise students as they help patients complete their power of attorney forms.
The plan calls for volunteers to serve patients of Novant Health Oncology Specialists located at the Novant Health Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center.Volunteers will assist patients every Friday from 1-3 p.m.
“This project is a wonderful opportunity for students to provide legal information to cancer patients who face making critical health decisions,” stated Professor Beth Hopkins, director of outreach. “The project involves intensive student training and will focus on the resources available to allow patients to protect assets and direct how they want thier health care and personal affairs managed. Further, the students under the supervision of an assigned attorney, would help cancer victims understand the necessity of advance directives, wills, and power of attorney documents.”

Wake Forest Law students will help cancer patients understand the importance of completing advance directive forms, which are legal documents that allow patients to spell out decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time, according to Melissa Phipps, assistant general counsel for Novant Health. Advance directives provide patients with a way to express their wishes to family, friends and healthcare professionals early on in their illness.

“Talking with individuals about their end-of-life wishes can be incredibly challenging,” she said.

As such, the law students participated in a thorough training program to familiarize them with the law, as well as share communication skills for this sensitive subject. Two mandatory training sessions were held at the law school.

“To create an experience that allows law students to have real, meaningful, hands-on client work that touches people’s lives at a point when they are in the midst of horribly difficult circumstances is just a great gift that we can give to the law students,” added Phipps, who helped train the law students. “This experience will enrich them and help them be better prepared as they go out into practice.”

The clinic will help start “the conversation” with patients before it’s too late, according to Dr. Charles Stinson, clinical director of Pallative Care Services at Forsyth Medical Center, who also provided training for the law students.

Providers at Novant Health want patients to be able to express their wishes to people they trust. Completing a legal document ensures that the patient’s wishes will be honored. Dr. Stinson emphasized that it is extremely important to decide who a patient trusts to speak for him if the patient ever loses the ability to make or communicate his own decisions.

The Wake Forest Law Pro Bono Project partnership with Novant Health is very exciting, says Gelila Selassie (JD ’15), health law coordinator for the Pro Bono Project.

“Novant is well known for providing exceptional health service to North Carolina residents,” she said. “This partnership with the law school exemplifies both Wake Forest Law’s and Novant’s awareness of the changing conditions of health care. We are truly grateful to Novant and area attorneys for giving law students the opportunity to assist oncology patients while honing their lawyering skills.”