Celebrating Pro Bono: Successful Collaboration Supports Employment through Social Enterprise
Pro Bono Week is an effort led by the American Bar Association to recognize, recruit, and engage lawyers who positively contribute to the growing unmet legal needs in their communities by providing pro bono legal services. Every day, committed lawyers provide free legal services to individuals and organizations that cannot afford an attorney. In celebration of Pro Bono Week, held October 21-27, 2018, North Carolina Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (NC IOLTA) recognizes the collaborations happening across our state that make pro bono possible.
As the charitable arm of the North Carolina State Bar, NC IOLTA administers grants to civil legal aid organizations and administration of justice initiatives statewide. Since its creation in 1983, NC IOLTA has administered over $90 million dollars to organizations that provide civil legal assistance for low-income individuals who lack the ability to pay an attorney to resolve legal issues relating to their basic human needs. In 2016, with funds received by IOLTA through the Bank of America settlement, IOLTA made grants to fund community economic redevelopment legal services projects. Each year, IOLTA also supports volunteer lawyer programs that engage private attorneys as volunteers.
With a 40-year track record of pursuing justice by providing legal assistance and advocacy to help low-income people in western North Carolina meet their basic needs and improve their lives, Pisgah Legal Services received dedicated funding from IOLTA to enhance their already successful community redevelopment initiatives. As part of that project, Pisgah Legal Services supports the creation, expansion, and operation of nonprofits engaged in community redevelopment work in their six-county service area.
One such community partner is Green Opportunities, a dynamic, innovative nonprofit based in Asheville, whose mission is to train, support, and connect people from marginalized communities to sustainable employment pathways. Green Opportunities offers technical training, life skills training, industry-recognized credentials, and personalized support services to unemployed and under-employed residents of Asheville and Buncombe County. While their vision and use of social enterprises, such as Southside Kitchen Catering and Southside Woodworks, has led to a sustainable business structure to benefit their nonprofit work, it also involves complicated legal issues including nonprofit, business, and tax law.
In creating their most recent social enterprise, UpStaff Personnel, Green Opportunities reached out to Pisgah Legal Services for advanced legal assistance. With the breadth of corporate legal expertise required to meet their needs, Pisgah Legal Services’ staff attorney, Justin Edge, and executive director, Jim Barrett, began reaching out to current pro bono volunteers and law firm partners.
Early in their IOLTA-funded community redevelopment project, Pisgah Legal Services’ attorneys had connected with Sylvia Novinsky, the director of the NC Pro Bono Resource Center, which was launched by the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission in April 2016. The Pro Bono Resource Center was formed to assist lawyers in fulfilling their professional responsibility under Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 with the goal of ultimately increasing pro bono participation statewide. Since its inception, the Center has launched a website (ncprobono.org) with a list of searchable pro bono opportunities, collaborated with numerous bar associations and legal services providers, worked with the NC Supreme Court to recognize attorneys who report 50 hours of pro bono legal services in a given year, and offered trainings and other resources to facilitate pro bono.
Sylvia and the NC Pro Bono Resource Center also frequently play the role of matchmaker, pairing interested lawyers and law firms seeking to contribute their skills together with legal services organizations and community groups in search of quality, committed volunteers.
Through its broad network of pro bono attorneys, the Pro Bono Resource Center identified an eager pro bono team to work with Green Opportunities: attorneys Ran Bell and Alyse Young of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP. Ran Bell, of counsel at Womble Bond Dickinson, has worked with nonprofit organizations for 25 years, bringing detailed knowledge of formation, expansion, management, and dissolution of 501(c)(3) charitable organizations and other tax exempt entities. Alyse Young, associate and member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, focuses her practice on transactional and corporate matters, including acquisitions, divestitures, mergers, corporate reorganizations, and general corporate governance matters.
“The Pro Bono Resource Center is honored to play a role in bringing together private attorneys with unmet legal needs. This particular collaboration truly highlights the importance and value of that collaboration,” says Sylvia.
With a pro bono team assembled, Pisgah Legal Services was able to expand resources available to Green Opportunities. “Ran and I enjoyed collaborating with Justin Edge and working with the Green Opportunities and UpStaff Personnel team to accomplish their goals,” says Alyse. “Justin was an invaluable partner in the process, providing critical guidance and knowledge regarding Green Opportunities.”
Each partner of the collaboration focused on their areas of expertise. Between Justin’s relationship and in-depth knowledge of Green Opportunities, and Alyse and Ran’s extensive experience in corporate, nonprofit, and social entrepreneurship issues, the team found a favorable business structure that would not adversely affect Green Opportunities’ non-profit tax-exempt status and would still allow for the social enterprise to provide a holistic approach to community and employment impact in Asheville.
UpStaff Personnel is now a thriving social enterprise, which provides motivated job seekers with a pathway to career-track employment, while offering Asheville-area employers a screened, dependable, and diverse workforce.
NC IOLTA is proud to help support the legal aid community and remains thankful to attorneys around the state who fulfill their professional responsibility of providing pro bono legal services to enhance the lives of those with the most need.
To learn more about how to get involved with pro bono opportunities in North Carolina, visit ncprobono.org.