The 2021 Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy Pro Bono Award: Elizabeth Murphy

If you looked at Elizabeth Murphy’s resume, you would learn she is a partner at Alston & Bird where she serves as Chair of the Commercial Real Estate Lending and Servicing Team. What you would not see is that she has represented fourteen immigrant children escaping brutal violence in Central America, volunteering over two hundred hours in the last five years, to ensure they are safe with their families in the United States and have a path toward residency and citizenship.  

For her endeavors, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is proud to grant Elizabeth Murphy our 2021 Pro Bono Award.  

Elizabeth Murphy

Murphy champions pro bono representation for children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)–a status granted to immigrant minors who have been victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment by a parent. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is the primary source of legal representation for these children in North Carolina and there are far more children in need of representation than we can assist without pro bono help. 

Murphy’s first SIJS case left a lasting impact on her and her client’s life. She represented a little girl from Central America who came to live with her mother in search of better opportunities. Thought to have a learning disability, she did not receive an adequate education in her home country. However, after attending a local Charlotte-Mecklenburg school, her family learned she only suffered from hearing loss. The child was given hearing aids and the proper tools to succeed. Without Murphy’s representation, she could have been deported.  

“She was written off. All it took was a little bit of the resources we have in this country to give her a better life to make sure she stays with her parent. The most menial benefits of a hearing test and a doctor changed her life forever. Being a meaningful part of her life is everything. It’s amazingly fulfilling to help do those cases and help those children. It’s so easy to see why we need to do this work.” 

With the surge of immigration at the Southern border, The Advocacy Center anticipates an increase of children in need of SIJS. As the coordinator for her firm’s Safe Child Immigrant Project, Murphy has been key in recruiting others at Alston & Bird to take on SIJS cases. Overall, the firm has represented twenty-two immigrant children. Any NC licensed attorney can learn to represent SIJS children at The Advocacy Center’s upcoming CLE on June 15th.  

Murphy says “it’s so easy to see why we need to do this work. I get to go to court and make sure a child can stay with his family and get a fantastic education.” 

Expanding the scope of her pro bono commitment, Murphy recently became a Charlotte Triage Champion for The Advocacy Center’s new Driver’s License Restoration Project. In this role, she recruits attorneys from Charlotte law firms and corporations to be trained and take on license restoration cases, increasing clients’ access to transportation, employment and education.  

“It shows the privilege of our legal education by giving just a couple of hours, we can help get someone their driver’s license back which immediately improves their economic outlook.  They get their life back, they can drive to work.” 

Her advice for those new to the legal profession or pro bono work? “No matter who you are, you can still do pro bono. No matter what your skill set is, no matter what your specialty is, there is still pro bono for you to do and you can still do it well. You just need to give what you can give.” 

Our volunteers are critical to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s mission to pursue justice for those in need. Murphy is a role model for the Access to Justice Pro Bono Partnership in Mecklenburg County, enabling us to serve more people in need, to narrow the Justice Gap, and to build a stronger, more just community for us all. Elizabeth, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and our clients thank you for your volunteerism and commitment to access to justice.