High stakes in small claims court
The McGuireWoods website describes Dylan Bensinger, an attorney in its Charlotte office, as a “high-stakes commercial litigator.” At first glance, a residential eviction case might seem worlds away from his typical work—but Dylan doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s definitely not the kind of commercial litigation that I do most days,” said Dylan, who recently won an eviction case for us pro bono, “but the case was certainly high stakes for the client. He was at risk of losing where he lived. That would be pretty high stakes for anyone.”
Our client’s troubles started in 2021 when, amidst the economic chaos wrought by the pandemic, he could no longer afford to pay his rent in full. Thankfully, the nationwide eviction moratorium then in place saved him from being put out on the street.
By the spring of 2022, however, when our client came to Legal Aid NC for help, the moratorium had expired, he owed thousands in back rent, his landlord wanted him out, and he had just lost his eviction hearing in small claims court.
Thankfully, his situation wasn’t hopeless. For one, unlike many Legal Aid NC clients, he knew he had the right to appeal the court’s ruling. Even more unusual, he successfully filed the paperwork himself. He also understood that he needed real legal help to actually win his appeal—and he knew to come to us for that help.
While eviction cases are bread and butter for our staff attorneys—housing is either our largest or second-largest practice area, depending on the year—the need for legal help in this area is so great that we rely on pro bono volunteers to help meet the demand.
Dylan came to us by way of the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership, a project launched in 2018 by pro bono leaders from the Queen City’s most prominent companies and law firms, including McGuireWoods. Partnership organizations work with our Charlotte office and Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to identify and tackle Charlotte residents’ most pressing legal needs, which include eviction.
Through Charlotte Triage, Dylan learned about our pro bono programs and connected with O’Shauna Hunter, the head of the housing unit in our Charlotte office. When Dylan’s client came to our Charlotte office for help, Dylan agreed to take the case—his first pro bono housing case ever.
Dylan dove in headfirst, consulting with his client and studying North Carolina landlord-tenant law. He even went to small claims court to watch the eviction process in action.
“I was immediately struck by how few people showed up with attorneys,” Dylan said. “It seems like almost no one who goes through this process has a lawyer. It was also obvious how big a difference having counsel makes in the process. Without O’Shauna and me in our client’s corner, I think the outcome would have been very different for him.”
Throughout the case, O’Shauna served as Dylan’s mentor, consulting with him about housing law, case strategy, client communication and anything else he wanted to discuss.
“This being my first housing case, I would have been more apprehensive if I had been thrown into the fire completely on my own,” Dylan said. “It was great to have O’Shauna on my side. She was a huge help to me and was instrumental in successfully resolving this case. Everyone I know who has worked with Legal Aid NC attorneys, like O’Shauna, is very grateful for their help, so thank you to O’Shauna and her colleagues.”
“Dylan really went above and beyond to ensure that he knew the law and was pursuing the strategy that would be most beneficial to his client,” O’Shauna said. “The impressive outcome he achieved is testament to his dedication in this case.”
In fall 2022, after spending tens of hours over the course of the preceding months working on the case, Dylan and his client’s landlord reached a settlement agreement that left our client in a better position than he could have hoped for without legal representation.
As part of the settlement, the landlord agreed to vacate the small claims judgment against Dylan’s client, waive the thousands of dollars in back rent and provide a neutral landlord reference going forward. While Dylan’s client did have to find a new home as part of the agreement—he was able to move in with family while he looked for a new place of his own—the importance of the outcome cannot be overstated.
“I think it was a great outcome,” Dylan said. “We didn’t go to court and win, but the result is a big win for the client, who was looking at an eviction and a lot of back rent that he owed to his landlord. We were able to negotiate a settlement that wiped away all of that to the extent that it was possible. From what I understand, everything is going well for him so far. He walked away with as much of a clean sheet as he could.”
While this was Dylan’s first pro bono housing case, it definitely won’t be his last.
“There are people at my firm who are really dedicated to pro bono service. Angie Zimmern and Mark Kinghorn here in our Charlotte office”—Angie is the firm’s Pro Bono Director and Mark is a member of the Charlotte Triage housing and eviction team—”are very good at getting people involved and are always coming up with new pro bono opportunities. I hope to develop a similar reputation for dedication to pro bono.”
Here at Legal Aid NC, we have no doubt that he will.
- Associate, McGuireWoods, Charlotte, 2021-Present
- Clerk, US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Charlotte, 2020-2021
- Clerk, US District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles, 2018-2020
- Associate, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Los Angeles, 2017-2018
- JD, Magna Cum Laude, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., 2017
- BA, Journalism and English, University of Miami, 2013
- Native of Los Angeles, California
Are you an attorney who wants to be a pro bono hero for North Carolinians in need? To learn more about our programs and sign up to join our mission for justice, visit our Pro Bono page. Want to stay in the loop on all things pro bono? Join our email list or follow #LANCprobono on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.