Category: Blog

Access to justice is a fundamental right, yet for many low-income families, this right remains elusive due to financial constraints and limited resources. Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) recognizes the pressing need to address this issue and has taken a groundbreaking step by establishing the Innovation Lab to pioneer transformative solutions.

The Need for Innovation:

Civil legal needs often go unmet, as there is no constitutional right to an attorney for such matters. According to a recent study, 92% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in a year received inadequate or no legal help. In North Carolina alone, 18% of the population, approximately 2 million people, are eligible for LANC services. Despite the high demand, the current ratio stands at one LANC attorney for every 8000 eligible individuals.

The challenges faced by low-income families are exacerbated by the lack of resources in legal aid programs, hindering their ability to meet the soaring demand for services. Identifying and securing resources to address this need, finding cost-efficient ways to deliver effective legal help, and recognizing the untapped opportunities to advance access to justice have become imperative.

The Vision: Legal Aid of North Carolina Innovation Lab

In response to these challenges, LANC has launched the Innovation Lab. The Lab envisions a human-centered, collaborative, and transformative service delivery model that aims to turn ideas into creative, inclusive solutions. The focus extends beyond technological advancements to a comprehensive consideration of the social and ethical implications of technology in the legal field.

Projects in the Works:

  1. Modernizing Intake:
    • Creating a smart, scalable client intake process.
    • Creating a client centered process, responsive to the needs of diverse client communities.
    • Integrating technology and data driven solutions to create a more convenient, accessible, and equitable process.
  2. Rural Access to Justice:
    • Launching a Mobile Legal Services Unit (LANCMobile), taking services to underserved rural areas.
    • Establishing rural community hubs to serve as centralized resource centers.
  3. Projects to Improve Client Services:
    • Introducing Law Droid, a chat bot tool to streamline legal processes.
    • Improving an Expunction Petition Generator for expediting the expungement process.
    • Implementing integrated advocacy solutions to provide holistic support.
  4. Improvements to Internal Operations:
    • Implementation of innovative solutions that improve internal processes and enhance client access to justice.
    • Conduct regular reviews to identify areas for improvement in its own staff and internal processes.

By fostering inclusive innovation and adopting a holistic approach, LANC’s Innovation Lab aspires to revolutionize legal service delivery. The goal is not only to bridge the gap in access to justice but also to set a precedent for a more equitable and efficient legal system that caters to the diverse needs of the community. As the projects unfold, the Innovation Lab stands to assist those who have long struggled to navigate the complexities of the legal system.

Category: Blog

← Back to Disaster Relief

By Tiffany Smith, Attorney, Disaster Relief Project

Starting in August 2023, I began a journey across North Carolina that most people, including North Carolinians, had never done. Earlier that year in May, I attended a rural economic development seminar in Elizabeth City, NC. During that seminar, they provided a map of the most at-risk disaster areas in NC. At the top of the list was Hyde County. I had no clue where Hyde County was in NC, as I had never heard of it, but I decided to reach out to them that day. You see, I work as a staff attorney in Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Disaster Relief Project, and I am an African American female who is a double graduate of North Carolina Central University (NCCU). During the Elizabeth City presentation, the statistics showed that Hyde County is majority rural, and the African American community there is the most at risk of land loss during disasters than any other people in the state. Because of my background, I was immediately drawn to do outreach there. I scheduled a presentation on Disaster Relief’s services for August 2023.

Fast forward to August, and lo and behold I had completely forgotten to appropriately schedule myself. Instead, I was asked by a supervisor to do outreach in Haywood County, to which I had agreed. A day later, one of the teams’ paralegals called me and asked if I was still going to Hyde, and I replied yes. I had assumed the travel dates would be apart; however, when I looked at my schedule, I realized that I had to travel the entire length of the state of NC, from Hyde to Haywood, in a matter of days. Rather than cancel and not keep my word, I decided to travel to both events. At that point, I wanted to make it a journey and do outreach in every single county in NC. In that initial journey, I talked to people about the services of Legal Aid in at least 33 counties. In October and November, I realized that I had to travel the length of the state again, so I decided on a different route. By the end of November, I had traveled to 87 out of 100 counties. In December, over the holidays, I went on to complete my journey.

I am very interested in economic development, in addition to disaster relief. Traveling the state, I was able to learn about everyday people’s knowledge and curiosity of disasters and economic development. From this experience, I realized the top disaster on the majority of the state’s mind was active shooting and domestic terrorism. I was able to ask about natural disasters and climate change, and many of the people I spoke to were not as concerned. In terms of economic development, I realized much of the state is very rural. I noticed that there is no consistent and functional cell phone reception in much of the state. As a disaster relief team member, this concerned me. I realized that in the event of a disaster, many people will not be able to call for help. This may result in an underreporting of the number of disasters accounted for. In addition, in many of the rural counties, law enforcement presence is lacking, and in many urban communities, law enforcement and first responder presence is overrepresented. This leaves open the possibility of no first responders being able to access people in a timely manner in the event of a disaster.

Leaving aside the disasters, I learned that the most beautiful places in the state are not in the middle, but in the far east and west. They are the most rural and underdeveloped, but their natural beauty is more picturesque. Here are some of the hidden gems of North Carolina that I came across in my travels: Currituck County to the east, Rutherford County to the west, and Alamance County in central NC. I do look forward to traveling back to those for personal enjoyment, as well as a handful of other places that I would love to do day trips.

Category: Blog

Can you believe that 2023 is already over? What a year it’s been for Legal Aid of North Carolina! As we reflect on the past year, we find ourselves feeling grateful for the continued support from our community and proud of the progress we’ve made as an organization.

At the onset of 2023, we set goals aimed at delivering high-quality legal and non-legal services to eligible North Carolinians. This included preserving the stability and safety of individuals and families, defending the rights of homeowners and tenants, promoting economic stability and development, and safeguarding access to vital government benefits. We’d like to take a moment to share how we worked towards and met these objectives.

LANC by the Numbers

In 2023, we managed over 25,000 cases, empowering more than 65,000 individuals to understand and assert their rights. Our efforts extended to over 30,000 children in North Carolina. Our top service areas included issues such as domestic abuse, eviction, immigration/naturalization, federally subsidized housing, and criminal record expungement.

Within this framework, we addressed the unique challenges faced by our clients, whose average household income stood at $21,635 annually, reflecting 102.9% of the federal poverty level.

(a few of) Our Biggest Accomplishments

A standout achievement for us in 2023 was the launch of our Innovation Lab – a collaborative hub where interdisciplinary legal teams come together to develop and test ideas, leveraging new technologies to enhance the efficiency of legal services for North Carolinians. You can learn more about our Innovation Lab here.

In July 2023, our Farmworker Unit made headlines by filing a lawsuit against Lamm Farms, LLC, Alvarado’s Harvesting, LLC, and others for human trafficking and wage violations. As this case unfolds, we remain steadfast in our commitment to defending our client and other farmworkers against poor working conditions and withheld wages, with a vision to set a precedent for improved working conditions for all farmworkers. Learn more.  

Last October, we launched a campaign for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, including the debut of Beyond Fear, our first-ever documentary. Beyond Fear shines a light on the stories of survivors who sought support from our organization. These stories remind us of the hidden world of domestic violence, and we’re proud to stand with survivors breaking free from the cycle of abuse. You can watch Beyond Fear here.

Exciting, New Faces at LANC

In 2023, we introduced some new faces to our leadership team! Say hello to Chief Technology Officer Sean Burke, Chief Diversity Officer Demetrius Edwards, Director of Development Missy Hatley, and Chief Community Engagement Officer Niya Fonville Swint.

Sean Burke
Chief Technology Officer

Demetrius Edwards
Chief Diversity Officer

Missy Hatley
Director of Development

Niya Fonville Swint
Chief Community Engagement Officer

We would also like to give a shoutout to our new Board Chair, Nikki Feliciano of Pinto Coates Kyre & Bowers, PLLC. We thank her for taking the responsibility of representing our Board of Directors and look forward to her continued leadership in 2024!

Nikki Feliciano
Board Chair
Pinto Coates Kyre & Bowers, PLLC.

A Shoutout to CIU

The 17-year anniversary of our Centralized Intake Unit (CIU) was another cause for celebration. Beyond managing our intake process, the CIU staff delivers legal services and information by phone or online, alongside engaging in community education and outreach. Hats off to CIU for 17 years of making North Carolina more just!

An End of Year Suprise

The year concluded on a high note with a generous surprise from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, who donated $5.5 million to Legal Aid of North Carolina. We express our gratitude for this donation, which will play a pivotal role in our work. A significant portion of these funds will go towards supporting our Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative, enabling us to go above and beyond in protecting survivors.

We can’t do our work without continued support and donations, so we’d like to thank all of you who champion our cause! Every dollar makes a difference.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

To every member of our stellar team, our amazing community, and our generous donors, here’s a massive virtual hug. You made 2023 one for the books! As we head into 2024, get ready for more accomplishments, more impact, and a whole lot more justice for all North Carolinians. Let’s make it a year to remember!

Video: Year in Review 2023

Category: Blog

The holiday season is not only a time for festive decorations, delicious meals, and cherished traditions but also a season of compassion and generosity. We at Legal Aid of North Carolina rely on the spirit of giving. Our donors bridge the justice gap for our clients during some of the most difficult hardships of their lives.

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal services to low-income individuals and families across the state. We work to address a wide range of legal issues that affect basic needs like housing, employment disputes, domestic violence, child custody, and consumer rights.

For many low-income individuals and families, the holiday season can exacerbate existing challenges. Legal issues, such as eviction threats, loss of employment, or family conflicts, can become overwhelming during this time of year.

Holiday donations to Legal Aid of North Carolina can make a difference in the lives of those facing legal hardships. Here are several ways in which these contributions can have a positive impact:

  1. Preventing Homelessness:
    • We can help prevent evictions, ensuring that families have a safe and stable home during the holidays.
  2. Ensuring Employment Rights:
    • We can provide assistance to individuals facing unfair employment practices, securing their livelihoods and financial stability.
  3. Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence:
    • The holiday season can be particularly challenging for victims of domestic violence. Donations can enable us to offer legal support and protection to those in need.
  4. Promoting Consumer Rights:
    • Holiday donations allow us to advocate for consumer rights, preventing seniors and other vulnerable individuals from predatory practices.
  5. Providing Access to Education:
    • Our services also extend to ensuring access to education for children, guaranteeing that every child can learn and grow.

As we celebrate the holidays and express our gratitude for the blessings in our lives, we must remember those who are less fortunate. Your holiday donations to Legal Aid of North Carolina contribute to the creation of a more just and equitable society, where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the season without the burden of legal hardships. This holiday season, let us come together to make a difference and spread the spirit of giving to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

Category: Blog

← Back to Family Law

When I started this project, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s not always easy to get people to share their stories, let alone such raw stories of fear and survival. To my surprise, we found three powerful, strong women who agreed to speak with me and did the strongest thing they could – share their stories.

‘Beyond Fear,’ a documentary that seeks to shed light on the stories of domestic violence survivors, came into being one morning in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. As a first-time filmmaker, I embarked on this journey alongside a dedicated team of videographers, not knowing just how profoundly it would impact my life.

Our initial meeting was with Amy, the ultimate star of the film. She courageously welcomed us into her home, meeting us with love and openness that instantly put us at ease. Little did we know that this would be the beginning of an unforgettable journey.

As we spent time with Amy, we laughed together, cried together, and shared experiences that transcended mere words. Her warmth and resilience were palpable, and her willingness to relive painful memories for the sake of helping others was nothing short of inspirational. Amy’s story was one of survival, of breaking free from the clutches of an abusive relationship, and ultimately finding her strength. She was, and remains, a beacon of hope.

But Amy was just the beginning. After her, we had the privilege of meeting Aracely and Gina, two more incredible women who shared their stories with us. Like Amy, they opened their hearts and homes to a group of strangers, and their courage left an indelible mark on us.

What united these three remarkable women was not only their survival but also the vital role that Legal Aid of North Carolina played in helping them escape their painful situations. It was through the dedicated efforts of our domestic violence advocates that Amy, Aracely, and Gina found the legal support they needed to break free from their abusers and start anew.

As we delved deeper into their stories, it became evident that ‘Beyond Fear’ was not just a documentary but a powerful testament to the strength of survivors and the importance of organizations like ours. It highlighted the crucial role played by advocates and lawyers in helping survivors navigate the complex legal system and find their path to safety and healing.

I want to take a moment to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Amy, Aracely, and Gina. Your willingness to share your stories with us, to relive those painful moments, and to open your hearts and homes to our team was an act of immense courage and selflessness. You are the heart and soul of ‘Beyond Fear,’ and your strength will undoubtedly inspire countless others who watch your journey.

Written by Helen Hobson, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Chief Communications Officer

Watch the documentary here:

Category: Blog

Headshot of Allison Constance, Director of Pro Bono Programs

Dear volunteers,

As the new Director of Pro Bono Programs for Legal Aid of North Carolina, I want to introduce myself and preview upcoming ways for you to engage with us as a pro bono volunteer.

But first thing’s first …

Thank you

Thank you for being a pro bono volunteer with Legal Aid of North Carolina. Whether you’ve been with us for years or months, whether you’ve taken too many cases to count or are waiting for your first one—thank you. Thank you for giving your limited time and invaluable talents to our clients, and to us. We can’t do what we do without your help. On behalf of everyone at Legal Aid NC, I extend to you our deepest and most sincere “thank you.”

Get used to hearing that a lot from me.

About me

Leading Legal Aid NC’s Pro Bono Programs team is a new role for me—I’ve been on the job for only a few weeks—but supporting underrepresented people in North Carolina has been my passion for a long time. You may know me from my time as Director of Pro Bono Initiatives at UNC School of Law or in my previous role as an attorney at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services. If we don’t yet know each other, I hope to change that. To start, let’s connect on LinkedIn.

Now, let’s talk pro bono.

Past and present

In the past few years, the Legal Aid NC pro bono program has struggled with some staffing deficits and shifting case priorities due to the pandemic. We have looked closely at our work and community needs, and we are redesigning many of our pro bono programs from the ground up. And we have some big plans.

We want our pro bono programs to meet our clients’ most pressing legal needs while also meeting yours. We want to know what motivates you to volunteer, what you need to succeed, and how we can meaningfully thank you for your service.

Coming soon

In the coming months, we will be announcing new recognition opportunities and awards, we look forward to launching our Summer Associate Program, and we can’t wait to share with you more opportunities to engage (even remotely!) in meaningful service.

For now, if you have any questions about pro bono at Legal Aid of North Carolina—its past, present or future—do not hesitate to reach out to our team at probono [at] legalaidnc.org.

You can also stop by our webpage at legalaidnc.org/pro-bono for the latest info about pro bono at Legal Aid. Thank you again for serving as a pro bono volunteer with us. We are excited to have you as a partner on our journey into a bright future for pro bono at Legal Aid of North Carolina.

If you want to receive updates from the Pro Bono Programs team, click here to sign up for our email list.

Category: Blog

It is probably no surprise that as an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project, I often talk to seniors who have been financially exploited. What may surprise some people is that it’s often family members and caretakers, including their own children, doing the exploiting.

Many older people lose money or property not just to strangers, but also to people they know who take advantage of their relationship and obtain money or assets through theft or coercion. Understandably it’s very hard for these seniors to come forward and seek help when it means admitting that someone close to them has failed them in this way.  

Why does this happen so often? As we get older, we may become more dependent on others due to physical or mental health problems. That dependence creates opportunities for ill-intentioned caretakers or others close to us to exploit weaknesses. Add to that the increased prevalence of scams generally, and life can become a minefield for vulnerable seniors.

In honor of Elder Abuse Awareness Month and more particularly Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, here are a couple of things that you can do to protect yourself as you get older.

If you are still able to make decisions and manage your affairs, now is the perfect time to think carefully about who you trust to help you if a time comes when you cannot do things for yourself.

If you know who you trust (and who you do not trust), you can set up advance directives, including a durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney, that appoint the right people to manage your affairs and make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to help yourself. Getting advance directives in place while you are able to make decisions will ensure that you’ll have the right help when you no longer are able to make decisions. 

Keep in mind that because scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, we all need to continue learning about the latest types of scams and how to avoid them. Staying current on this topic will help to avoid being taken advantage of by strangers, family members and caregivers alike.

One resource that will help you stay up to date is AARP’s podcast, “The Perfect Scam”: https://www.aarp.org/podcasts/the-perfect-scam/. And for further information, the National Center on Elder Abuse website has a wealth of information about all types of elder abuse: https://ncea.acl.gov/.

Finally, if you are a senior who has been financially exploited or abused in any way, please know that you are far from alone and that there is help available. In addition to the resources above, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Legal Helpline provides confidential and free legal assistance to victims of elder abuse.

###

About Author Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project (SLP). The SLP provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 or older. To contact the SLP, call 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free), Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.  Please keep in mind when calling this number that due to limited staffing resources, there may be a wait to talk to an intake specialist.