Durham United: Duke Law, NCCU Law team up for Legal Aid clients

Collage of headshots
Top (left to right): D.J. Dore, Director of Pro Bono, Duke Law; Lakethia Jefferies, Director of the Pro Bono Legal Clinic, NCCU Law; Charles Holton, Director of Duke Law’s Civil Justice Clinic. Bottom (left to right): NCCU Law student James Whitaker; Duke Law student Zoe Terner; NCCU Law student Itzy Wallace; Duke Law student Tori Simon.

With the city soaked and wind-whipped by Hurricane Ian, 20 students from Durham’s two law schools, Duke Law and NCCU School of Law, gathered on Zoom September 30 to provide free legal help to Legal Aid clients confronting housing-condition problems.

Organized by D.J. Dore, Director of Pro Bono for Duke Law, and Lakethia Jefferies, Director of the Pro Bono Legal Clinic at NCCU Law, the event was part of Legal Aid’s Lawyer on the Line pro bono program, which connects clients with relatively simple legal problems to lawyers—or law students working under their supervision—who provide legal advice and brief services over the phone.

The students arrived to the event with a training session under their belt, a case file in their hand, an expectant client awaiting their call, and an eagerness to make a real difference in our clients’ lives. The students called their clients, listened to their stories, asked questions, gave the legal advice they were authorized to give, and paused to consult with a supervising attorney if questions or other issues arose. After their calls, the students drafted follow-up letters to the clients summarizing their problem and detailing the advice provided to them.

Housing-condition cases involve clients confronting serious problems in their home. Our clients come to us for help with dangerous and degrading situations, including pervasive mold, backed-up sewage lines and other similarly serious issues. Worse yet, housing-condition problems can lead to eviction, either due to landlord retaliation in response to tenant complaints, or due to clients withholding rent to force their landlord’s hand. The latter tactic generally puts tenants on the wrong side of state housing law, giving the landlord grounds to file for eviction.

“This was a great opportunity to assist those in need,” said James Whitaker, a second-year student at NCCU Law. “There are individuals within our society whose humanity is under attack due to deplorable living conditions. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to assist those seeking adequate housing conditions.”

“This was my first ever client interaction!” said Zoe Terner, a first-year student at Duke Law. “It was such an incredible reminder of why I decided to go to law school in the first place, and a great experience to learn more about the crucial work of Legal Aid of North Carolina.”

“My client was struggling to get her landlord to fix issues in her home that were damaging her health,” said Itzy Wallace, a first-year student at NCCU Law. “More than anything, it seemed that my client wanted reassurance that her concerns were valid and that she still had agency in the situation. Experiencing the level of trust that a client places in their lawyer (or law student, in my case) is a great reminder of why I chose to become a lawyer.”

“I really enjoyed participating in the Lawyer on the Line event!” said Tori Simon, a second-year student at Duke Law. “It was a wonderful opportunity to work with Legal Aid attorneys and connect with clients. I hope to participate in more LOTL events in the future and continue to learn how law students can support North Carolina residents.”

Special thanks to Charles Holton, Director of Duke Law’s Civil Justice Clinic, Duke Law alum and former chair of our board of directors, who served as a supervising attorney for the event, making himself available to consult with the students for the entire event.

Other supervising attorneys were Duke’s D.J. Dore; NCCU’s Lakethia Jefferies; Erin Haygood, Director of Pro Bono Programs at Legal Aid; Nicole Mueller, Supervising Attorney on Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Programs team; and Katie Barkley, staff attorney in Legal Aid’s Pittsboro office. Legal Aid case coordinators Cierra Baker, Jill Bridges, Sarah Moore and Shameka Joseph screened the clients and prepared the case files for the students.

To learn more about Lawyer on the Line and our other pro bono programs, visit the Pro Bono section of our website.