Celebrate Pro Bono Week October 25th-31st, 2020

We have to shout it from the rooftops. Our Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners Program enables Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina–Charlotte to have an immense impact on our society, narrow Mecklenburg County’s justice gap, and to build a stronger, more just community for us all.

THANK YOU!

Locally and Nationally Recognized Volunteers and Programs

We recognized nearly 100 volunteer attorneys who donated at least 20 hours of service in the last year. From executing wills to helping immigrant children, these attorneys are dedicated to access to justice in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and beyond.

Graphic of Mecklenburg County pro bono award recipients including head shots of Paul Kinny, Emma Merrit, and Blas Arroyo
Mecklenburg Bar Pro Bono Award Recipients

Of these attorneys, several were recognized for their commitment to pro bono by the Mecklenburg Bar. Blas P. Arroyo, senior counsel at Alston & Bird LLP, and Emma Merritt, attorney with Hunton Andrews and Kurth LLP, received this accolade for their respective work on criminal record expunctions and medicaid advocacy with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. Paul Kinny, a long term attorney with Duke Energy, spent ten weeks assisting Legal Aid of NC–Charlotte with housing cases. Moore & Van Allen PLLC received the firm award for their dedication of over 300 hours of representation in landlord-tenant cases. Learn more about those recognized here.

Finally, the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership received two awards from the North Carolina Bar Association and the Pro Bono Institute this year for its innovative approach to engaging local attorneys with and training them in six of the most pressing legal issues affecting Mecklenburg County: human trafficking, housing, social security benefits, driver’s license restoration, criminal record expunctions, and affordable healthcare. This year we trained over 200 attorneys and advocates to volunteer with our programs through the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership.

Meet Heryka Knoespel and Elizabeth Murphy: Learn their “Why”

Sometimes the best part about being an attorney is helping people in ways they never expected. Attorney Heryka Knoespel gives a great example of this when she talks about how she helped someone not only get justice but improve his life.
Attorney Elizabeth Murphy tells us about her experience as a pro bono attorney at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. For Elizabeth, the support she has received from staff and the gratitude she receives from clients makes the pro bono work priceless. Watch Elizabeth explain how she used her skills to help a little girl from South America stay in the United States where she had more opportunity.

Learn more about the Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners program

Katten Attorney Joins Advocacy Center to Support Community Redevelopment

Katten Muchin Roseman LLP has allowed one of its attorneys to join the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s staff this summer to support efforts to provide stability for families in the Charlotte metro region.

Max Swindle joined Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy May 26, as part of a three-month attorney loan program. Swindle, a real estate attorney specializing in commercial real estate finance, is working with the Advocacy Center’s Consumer Protection Program to help people clean up their criminal records and get drivers licenses restored.

For the more than 2 million North Carolinians with a criminal record, finding jobs, housing and opportunity is an uphill battle. And one in seven N.C. adults has a suspended drivers license, leaving them unable to effectively get to work, school or run everyday errands without a car.

These issues disproportionately impact people based on income and race, which is why the Advocacy Center’s Community Redevelopment Project seeks to eliminate these barriers to opportunity and promote equity in our community.

“I am so excited to have Max join us to do this important work,” said attorney Lashieka Hardin, who manages the Community Redevelopment Project. “I look forward to seeing all the great things we do together as team over the next few months.”

Adding a full-time attorney to focus on these two practice areas is an innovative approach that enables the Advocacy Center to serve more people in need, provide stability and promote economic opportunity.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Diana Godoy interviewed Swindle during his first week on the job. Learn a bit more about him in his own words:

About Max Swindle …

“I grew up in North Carolina, went to UNC-Chapel Hill for undergrad and then stayed there for law school. I graduated law school in 2017, and I moved out to Denver, Colorado to work. I was there until December 2018. And then my wife , who I met in law school, and I moved back to North Carolina. She’s originally from Charlotte. I’m from Winston-Salem. So, we just decided to move home.”

What he does at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP …

“Since graduating law school, I have been working as an attorney for Katten Muchin Rosenman and their real estate finance practice group. I represent lenders, different commercial banks and investment groups and originating new loans for the commercial mortgage backed securities market.”

Why he came to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy …

“With the COVID-19 outbreak, my practice area has been very slow the last few months, really ever since March. Our office managing partner and our deputy general counsel had been in contact with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to see if they could use some help over the next few months with the expunction and driver’s license restoration programs.

They asked me if [joining the Advocacy Center staff] was something I was interested in. And I said, ‘Yeah, that’ll be great.’ I just hope I can pitch in and pick up on these new areas of practice as quickly as I can to be of use.”

What he will be doing …

“For this first week, I’ve been working on a few cases in-house with Lashieka Hardin to kind of get my feet on the ground, kind of understanding how this all works.

And then I believe starting next week, I’m going to start helping with a new driver’s license restoration project. We look at clients that have already been in contact with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and they have either some misdemeanor or felony charges on their record that could be eligible to be removed if they meet certain criteria. We review those, figure out what we can do, and we file petitions with the different [N.C.] counties where those charges show up.

We hope to get these charges off people’s records because having different charges listed can hinder people getting housing, getting jobs, getting loans, things like that. And I think that’ll continue throughout the summer. I think some of it will be  helping coordinate clinics and with outside pro bono attorneys, kind of helping them handle different client interactions.”

What he’s looking forward to …

“Just getting to interact with a great group of attorneys who are very, very good at what they do. I’ve been a part of the few video meetings this first week with the Consumer Protection group. Everyone’s super nice, super passionate about what they’re doing. The work is great: helping people with complex problems that that can really affect your everyday life.

It’s about just getting to work with such great people and give back to the community. I don’t have as much time as I would like to do this work in my normal firm job, so this has been a great opportunity.”

What he hopes to get out of this experience …

“I’m going to try and just absorb as much information as I can so that hopefully when these few months are over, I’ll be able to maybe come back to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy as a pro bono attorney to help out with things like expunctions or maybe this driver’s license restoration project later on. I would like to stay involved. I’m just hoping to learn as much as I can so that I can continue to be necessary.”

Thank you to Katten for partnering with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in our mission to pursue justice for those in need. We are glad to have Max on our team!

Meck Bar Recognizes Access to Justice Pro Bono Attorneys

The Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners Program is proud to recognize its 2020 recipients of the Mecklenburg County Bar’s pro bono awards.

The Mecklenburg County Bar recognized these committed individuals May 21, during its Annual Meeting, which was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These attorneys and advocates enable us to serve more people in need, to narrow Mecklenburg County’s justice gap, and to build a stronger, more just community for us all.

This year’s recipients include attorneys, advocates and firms supporting Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina through their joint pro bono program, as well as Council for Children’s Rights and the Mecklenburg County Bar.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy

Blas P. Arroyo,
Alston & Bird LLP

Blas P. Arroyo is a skilled advocate and outstanding mentor who is generous with his time and considerable expertise. As a part of his Senior Counsel status at Alston & Bird LLP, Arroyo has dedicated several hours each week to work with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy clients as part of the Consumer Protection Program. 

He has invested countless hours into Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s criminal records expunctions work, including reviewing records for hundreds of clients and serving as an expert at dozens of expunctions clinics since joining the organization in 2017.

In addition to helping with existing programs, Arroyo also connected Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and The Relatives and launched a partnership to help the teen and young-adult clients of The Relatives receive advice and representation on expunctions. He has also helped litigate several consumer-protection cases. Arroyo is always willing to take the extra time to mentor and share his advice and wisdom. He is incredibly talented and compassionate and has made a deep impact on the programs and clients at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Emma C. Merritt,
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP

Emma C. Merritt has been a pro bono volunteer with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy since 2017, when she began serving clients with Medicaid and Social Security denials through the Medicaid Appeals Project at her firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. She has secured over $200,000 in benefits on behalf of clients through these cases.

While continuing these cases, Merritt added a major pro bono activity to her plate in 2018 when she joined Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Health Insurance Navigator Project as a healthcare “champion” leading volunteer efforts to support health insurance enrollment for Advocacy Center clients as part of the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership.

Merritt consistently approaches her role with enthusiasm and is always willing to give her time and resources. During her first year with the Navigator Project, Merritt was there to enroll clients in coverage all day on the last day of the 2018 Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment period—a day that is often long and busy for navigators. During the most recent open enrollment, Merritt helped with consumer appointments, check-ins at enrollment events, and enlisted her assistant to compile 1,000 healthcare information packets for consumers. We at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and our health access clients are fortunate to have Merritt on our team!

Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte

Paul R. Kinny

After a long career as a lawyer with Duke Energy, Paul R. Kinny spent 10 weeks volunteering with Legal Aid during his time off from his teaching position with Queens University last summer.  Although he is not licensed in North Carolina, Paul helped where he could on housing cases in numerous ways:  interviewing clients, negotiating with landlords, conducting research, and drafting pleadings and discovery.  Kinny has now been approved by the N.C. State Bar to represent clients in court and plans to continue his volunteer work with Legal Aid.  His dedication has resulted in better outcomes for many clients and eased the burden on Legal Aid’s housing attorneys.

Legal Aid is proud to recognize Moore & Van Allen, PLLC as this year’s recipient of the firm award for its work supporting access to housing.  Last year, 10 attorneys from Moore Van Allen volunteered to take on housing cases to protect tenants’ rights to decent housing.  Those attorneys spent a total of more than 300 hours working for those clients.  In addition, one of these volunteers continued to serve clients as one of three housing “champions” with the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership and placed dozens of housing cases with other pro bono attorneys at other firms in that role.

Council for Children’s Rights

Mandy Schuller was an obvious choice for this year’s pro bono award, as she is the epitome of a champion for Council for Children’s Rights. Schuller has been volunteering with CFCR in its Custody Advocacy Program for over 6 years, where she serves as a best interest attorney for children caught in the middle of high-conflict custody cases. In that time, she has successfully represented 14 children across 6 challenging, time-intensive cases.

Schuller has always gone above and beyond as a volunteer for our child-clients. If we have a difficult case that needs an experienced, dedicated, and passionate volunteer, we know we can always turn to her. For the last 3 years, Schuller, a member of Wells Fargo’s Legal Department, has been our point-person for the pro bono partnership between Wells Fargo and CFCR. She recruits and encourages talented Wells Fargo employees to volunteer with CFCR, and she is our liaison for matching up volunteers with children in need. We are so grateful to Mandy and all she does for CFCR, and we are so impressed that she does it all while being a busy lawyer and mom!

We are excited to announce Randi Guinn-Shirley as the recipient of this year’s pro bono award. Her passion to serve children and young adults is undeniable. Prior to relocating to Charlotte, she worked in New York representing children in matters involving custody and visitation, child protection, and juvenile delinquency to ensure their interests were protected and wishes expressed to the court. In January 2008, Guinn-Shirley and her family moved to Charlotte, and at that time she turned her focus on raising her children, one with special needs, and caring for her family.

When Guinn-Shirley reached out to Council for Children’s Rights about her interest in volunteering with the Special Education Advocacy for Kids (SpEAK) Volunteer Program, she seemed like a natural fit. She completely understood the need for students in foster care to have someone able and willing to make special education decisions on their behalf, especially for students who do not have anyone naturally involved in their life able to serve that role.

In May 2019, she was among the third group of volunteers to go through the SpEAK Volunteer Program training. Shortly thereafter, Guinn-Shirley was appointed to serve as the Special Education Decision Maker for a sibling group of seven, ranging from first grade to sixth grade. During this school year, she has dedicated countless hours (over 150!) to advocating for appropriate educational services for these seven students. She has become intimately involved, getting to know their schools, their teachers, their foster parents, their therapists, and most importantly these students. They have greatly benefited from her enthusiasm, commitment, and consistency. We are so grateful to Randi for her dedication and passion to this work!

Mecklenburg County Bar

Fitz Barringer is a partner at Robinson Bradshaw, where he plays an active role in promoting pro bono work within the firm.  In addition to coordinating a summer associate pro bono project in partnership with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Barringer also volunteers with Legal Aid of North Carolina on landlord-tenant matters.  His commitment to helping to serve the under served goes beyond the courtroom.  Barringer also volunteers his time advising the board of a preschool situated in a low-income area of Charlotte that offers tuition-free care and education.  In 2019 alone, Fitz reported 175 hours of pro bono work.  The Mecklenburg County Bar thanks you for setting the example and for your leadership in the community!

Lynna Moen of Moen Legal Counsel began her pro bono journey with Safe Alliance while still in law school.  She later became a Safe Alliance fellow and to this day continues to volunteer for Safe Alliance, representing domestic violence survivors.  She also volunteers with Moore & Van Allen’s Human Trafficking Project through the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Project, the Mecklenburg County Clerk’s Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the U.S. State Department’s Child Abduction Project.  The Bar’s Pro Bono & Legal Recruitment Committee received an outpouring of heartfelt support for this nomination from both fellow Bar members and the leaders of the organizations with whom she volunteers. Congratulations, Lynna. The Bar and the community are lucky to have you in our midst!

Congratulations to the 2020 recipients of the Mecklenburg County Bar Pro Bono Awards!

Mecklenburg County Bar 2020 Pro Bono Award Winners