UNC School of Law is working to offer free legal services this summer to North Carolina charitable nonprofit organizations that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 Response Summer Project, which is expected to run through mid-July, aims to help fulfill nonprofits’ need for legal aid.
UNC law professor Thomas Kelley said that in North Carolina and around the country, the public often turns to nonprofit organizations for certain social safety needs that aren’t provided by the government. He also said that during times of crisis, the nonprofit sector is further strained.
“While the nonprofit organizations are being asked to do more, they’re also seeing their revenues drying up,” Kelley said. “People are stressed, people are not able to donate to them and so forth.”
The COVID-19 Response Project's services are being provided virtually by a group of UNC law students who are all certified through the North Carolina bar for student practice. They conduct interviews with clients and provide guidance under the supervision of Kelley.
Kelley said this project addresses nonprofits’ legal concerns related to CARES Act loans and loan forgiveness, real estate issues and employment law, as well as other legal questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s great demand for legal services, partly helping nonprofit organizations get access to federal relief funds under the CARES Act,” Kelley said. “For some nonprofit organizations, they are in such crisis mode, they haven’t even been able to pick up the phone to call us or anyone else for help.”
Martin Brinkley, dean of the law school and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law, also acknowledged the need to provide legal services for nonprofits, and said the project gives law students the opportunity to acquire experience.
“Nonprofits are the backbone to North Carolina communities and this project allows law students to gain hands-on experience while providing pro-bono services to these organizations who desperately need help,” Brinkley said in an email statement.
Jake Farrell, a law student working on the project, said many students' plans for the summer were canceled due to rescinded job offers because of the pandemic.
“This COVID project from UNC Law School has provided an opportunity for students who would have otherwise worked with other employers an opportunity to get really hands-on substantive legal experiences,” Farrell said.
As part of the project, law firms Troutman Sanders and Pepper Hamilton — soon to be Troutman Pepper — are helping to mentor law students.
Walter Fisher, partner at Troutman Sanders, said they hosted a two-day training session over Zoom, and now offer weekly office hours to answer students’ questions.
“We thought it was an appropriate and fitting way for our firms to make the contribution to the greater good during what is a very difficult time,” Fisher said.
Kelley said that though this project is only scheduled for eight weeks during summer, the need for the services being provided will likely continue past the program.
“In some cases, our perception is that the services that the law school is providing and that we’re providing mentorship and assistance with can really be the difference between the collapse or the continuation of some of the non-profits that are being served,” Fisher said.
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