Pro Bono Project serves Habitat for Humanity clients over Spring Break 2017

Photo of law students posing at Habitat for Humanity build

During Spring Break 2017, seven students were thrilled to participate in Wake Forest Law’s Spring Break Pro Bono Project.

Over the March break, we headed to Oak Island, North Carolina, to celebrate a week of freedom in three fulfilling ways: by drafting wills and advance directives for clients of Habitat for Humanity, by helping build a Habitat house, and by, of course, going to the beach!

On our first day, Cate Berenato (JD ’17), Brooke Boutwell (JD ’18), Hailey Cleek (JD ’19), Brad Fleming (JD ’18), Virginia Stanton (JD ’19), Kristina Syrigos (JD ’18), and I drafted 15 wills and advance directive documents for first-time homeowners. On our last day, we also helped secure the framing of a Habitat house, one being built for one of the families we served at the clinic on Saturday. In between those rewarding days, we relaxed on the beach, explored Wilmington and played a whole lot of Apples to Apples.

One of the greatest draws to the legal profession for me and many Wake Forest Law students is the ability to impact lives. Wills and advance directives provide peace of mind and security for all clients, but the people we work with simply are unable to pay someone to draft these important documents for them. That is why I was so excited about this trip from its inception — I knew what a difference these documents could make for the Habitat homeowners. A few hours of our time could really change peoples’ lives and, over Spring Break, we really did.

Coming into Spring Break, and into the home stretch of my law school career, I was feeling a bit drained. I had been so focused on planning and coordinating the Pro Bono Project, that honestly, I hadn’t actually performed pro bono service in months. With so much on my mind (looking at you, July bar exam) I got in the car to head to Oak Island with the sinking feeling I was forgetting something — maybe it was just my hair dryer, but I wasn’t feeling entirely present on the drive down.

That instantly changed Saturday morning when our first Habitat clients walked in. I felt a renewed energy as I introduced myself and the other law students, shook the clients’ hands, and led them back to a make-shift office in the form of a GRE classroom at a local community college. I was doing what I came to law school to do: Help people. Getting in the weeds with the Habitat clients — learning their stories, understanding what they wanted for their future, empowering them to make decisions that would make their families’ lives easier — and then knowing I could deliver to them what they wanted through my legal skills…that feeling never gets old.

No matter how often I volunteer, or how long it has been between the last time I gave back, I always leave feeling inspired and motivated to be an even better advocate and counselor. As we say in the Pro Bono Project, there is nothing more restorative to the weary law school brain than using your newly acquired legal skills for others, or pro humanitate as the University’s motto states.

I had hoped for and expected this from my Spring Break: a chance to help people by performing an important legal service. I wanted to leave feeling renewed and ready to take on the rest of my 3L year. One of the greatest benefits for me, though, turned out to be getting really sweaty.

I learned Spring Break week that, in order to receive a mortgage through Habitat, future homeowners have to contribute what Habitat calls “sweat equity.” In other words, they have to put in hundreds of hours actually building their house. The only sweat equity I have contributed lately is sweating over a final exam — not exactly the same.

I am so grateful for the opportunity last week to sweat — to remember what it’s like to work in the sun and not in the library, for my hands to be sore from carrying wood and not from typing. When I drove a car full of sweaty, stinky law students home Monday afternoon, my pockets were full of sawdust and my hands were covered in dirt. The last time I had gotten my hands really dirty was during Foundations Week my 1L year, when I helped two law school deans chop up a tree at the Section 1 Habitat build. It had been too long since I had dirty hands.

In law school, there is a lot of pressure to constantly be sharpening your legal skills, be that through preparing for class or taking a clinic or even contributing pro bono service. And of course we should spend an incredible amount of time doing just that. These three years are an investment in ourselves, so that when we graduate, we can be great lawyers, helping our communities in ways only those in the legal profession can.

At the end of my three years, I’m learning, though, that there needs to be a balance between self-investment and, well, sweating.

We owe a huge “thank you” to Wake Forest Law Double Deac, Lloyd Nault (JD ’78), who made this whole project happen, and to the project coordinators for Wills and Healthcare Advocacy, Rebecca Daddino (JD ’17) and Darryl Walton (JD ’18), respectively, for making this week possible. Thank you!