Pandemic Increases Need For Pro Bono

March 25, 2021   |   Sylvia Novinsky

COVID-19 has affected us all in some way or another. For many of us, it’s been balancing work and homelife, child care, homeschooling, mental health, anger, frustrations, and risk/reward calculations about every day activities.

We’ve also seen inequities magnified as a result of increased unmet legal needs and diminishing resources.

Where We Started: The Access to Justice Gap in North Carolina

Did you know:

* North Carolina has the 15th-highest rate of poverty in America.

* 2.2 million North Carolinians are eligible to be served by civil legal aid providers (that’s one quarter of the state’s population). This doesn’t include the people who fall above the financial eligibility threshold but who still may not be able to afford an attorney

* More than 70,000 people ask for free civil legal services each year but more than half are turned away because of lack of capacity (these folks are the ones that actually know they have a legal issue).

Unmet Legal Needs As a Result Of COVID-19

In July of 2020 after surveying the pandemic’s effects on legal aid organizations the Legal Services Corporation found the vast majority of legal aid providers anticipate a sharp increase in legal needs arising from COVID-19 in the areas of eviction, foreclosures, unemployment assistance and appeals, consumer debt, and income maintenance. Other key areas of need included domestic violence and general family law issues. Yet, while the need for legal services has increased, resources to meet these emerging legal needs have not.

The NC legal services community continues to advocate for additional funding for legal services for our most vulnerable. Yet, legal issues do not wait for this funding. Pro bono attorneys are needed more than ever to help fill this gap and assist those affected by the pandemic.

The NC Pro Bono Resource Center is here to make it easier for NC attorneys to find ways to do pro bono.

What the Pro Bono Resource Center Can Provide

The PBRC, created in 2016, is a program of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission. The PBRC is the statewide clearinghouse linking lawyers to meaningful pro bono opportunities. We provide resources, support, and technical assistance, and promote collaboration within the North Carolina legal services community. We facilitate the incubation of new and innovative pro bono projects targeting unmet legal needs. Through curated and thoughtful pro bono opportunities, the PBRC engages and supports the private bar to meet the goal of increasing pro bono participation to help the most vulnerable North Carolinians.

We are home to a number of pro bono initiatives including:

How You Can Help

Lawyers cite the lack of time as the number one barrier for engaging in pro bono service. This pandemic has both taken and given time to us all. Many people have begun a new hobby like cooking or reading. In addition, because we live in such a wonderful climate, many people are spending more time outdoors. I encourage you to also think about giving some time to help others with the skills you use every day. Lawyers have the ability to listen and parcel out client’s legal problems in a way that alleviates stress — identifying legal issues and options are valuable services for many. And, I promise you will enjoy it. Feeling good about volunteering your legal skills to someone in need is a nice additional benefit to helping others. Please consider giving your time and skills to those who cannot otherwise afford it.

Please review these pro bono opportunities and help make a difference.

Feel free to reach out with any questions. And please sign up for a pro bono project!

About the Author

Sylvia Novinsky

Director, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center