Pictures of Professionalism
By Evelyn Pursley
Lawyers have written their expectations for a professional into the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct: “The legal profession is a group of people united in a learned calling for the public good. At their best, lawyers assure the availability of legal services to all, regardless of ability to pay, and as leaders of their communities, states, and nation, lawyers use their education and experience to improve society.” NC Rules of Prof’l Conduct, Preamble (2003). This article highlights two individuals who have taken different paths to meet those expectations and who have worked to instill those ideals in the next generations of our profession.
Charles Holton’s law firm profile shows that he is a member in the Research Triangle Park office of Womble Carlyle, where he concentrates his practice in handling sophisticated healthcare litigation matters. He is also experienced in handling complex construction litigation and arbitration matters, as well as construction contracting. But George Hausen, director of Legal Aid of NC (LANC), knows him as “a single-handed, pro bono force of nature.”
The profession has memorialized our expectation for pro bono service in Rule 6.1: “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.” NC Rules of Prof’l Conduct, Rule 6.1 (2003). Tripp Greason, Womble Carlyle’s full-time pro bono director, reports that, “Year after year, Charles has substantially exceeded the expectations of Rule 6.1. In the past decade, for example, Charles has recorded more than 2,500 hours of pro bono time, 388 hours in 2012 alone. Charles works with pro bono clients on a personal basis and regularly represents needy clients in fair housing, health care payment, and domestic abuse cases. Fluent in Spanish, Charles also sponsors an annual clinic to provide legal assistance to the Latino community in the Triangle area.”
Hausen notes that, as pro bono lead counsel in the last two years, Holton has contributed several hundred pro bono hours as co-counsel on the seminal housing cases—involving dangerous and hazardous housing conditions—that validated the working model of the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) program. “These cases have resulted in benefits for low-income tenants in Durham extending far beyond the individual clients involved,” Holton says. (For more information on the MLP program, see the IOLTA Grantee Spotlight in the Spring 2013 issue of the Journal, also accessible on the NC IOTLA website.) And, LANC staff attorneys who have worked with him as they got their first taste of complex, high-impact litigation describe him as “an incredibly generous mentor.” Madlyn Morreale, supervising attorney of the MLP program, notes that, “Charles has been very generous with his time to serve as co-counsel on ‘high impact’ cases, and I have personally benefitted from his willingness to serve as a mentor.”
Holton also works to establish collaborative programs, such as the partnering with lawyers from Womble Carlyle, GlaxoSmithKline, and LANC’s Durham office to handle fair housing cases. And, in late 2012 Holton initiated an effort to have lawyers and NC Central Law students work with residents of the Durham Rescue Mission to provide legal assistance to resolve issues that might hinder their successful re-entry into their communities as contributing members after they leave the program.
In recognition, Holton received the William Thorp Award for pro bono service from the NC Bar Association in 2013 and was one of six North Carolina attorneys honored with a pro bono award by the national Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in the fall of 2012. LSC President Jim Sandman notes that, “Mr. Holton’s work exemplifies the qualities LSC seeks in conferring pro bono awards.”
Holton also lends his energy and expertise in a leadership role with legal aid. Having served on the Legal Aid of NC Board since 2012, he begins a two-year term as chair of the board in 2013. He previously served for ten years on the Legal Aid of North Central North Carolina Board, a predecessor organization to LANC serving needy citizens in the Triangle.
Evelyn Pursley, director of IOLTA, spends a great deal of time with the legal aid grantees, including attending board meetings. As non-profits, these organizations are governed by their boards, and it is important to see the engagement of board members. “I am always amazed by the time spent by members of our profession in serving these organizations in this way. Sitting in a stuffy room trying to figure out how to keep a roof over the heads of legal aid staff may not provide the same adrenalin rush as taking a court case, or the heart-warming immediacy of assisting an individual client with a life problem, but it is crucial for the operation of these programs and for connecting them with their local legal community.”
As George Hausen says, “Charles embodies the highest ideals of our profession.”
Larry Nestler has devoted his life's work of 35 years and counting to provide legal services to those who could not otherwise obtain a legal aid attorney. In doing so, he has positively affected the lives of clients, co-workers, interns, the legal system, legal aid programs, and others.
In recognition, Larry is the 2013 recipient of the Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award presented to a legal services attorney who has made an exemplary contribution to the provision of legal assistance to help meet the needs of the poverty population in North Carolina.
Larry has worked as a legal aid lawyer for his entire career—and even before. While a law student at NC Central in the mid to late 1970s, Larry volunteered at the Durham Legal Aid office. There he learned about the tremendous need for low-income legal assistance. Despite the difficulties of working where requests for assistance greatly exceeded the available resources, he found that he liked the work so much he wanted to be a legal aid lawyer.
He began his career in 1978 serving the Eastern Cherokee Legal Services Organization, which later became the Sylva office of Legal Aid of NC. He helped expand the coverage area of the Sylva office into the seven counties it now serves, where he ably serves as managing attorney. Initially this office was located on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation. Larry was at the forefront of developing the legal system for the then newly formed Cherokee Court. He helped prepare the written rules and procedures for attorneys and the court to follow. As Gerald R. Collins Jr., Murphy attorney and current State Bar councilor for the 30th Judicial District notes, “In my opinion, his work greatly advanced the development of the Cherokee Tribal Court and provided credibility for that new court among members of the bar and the public at large. Larry's work also greatly assisted members of the bar who represented individuals appearing before the Cherokee Tribal Court in both civil and criminal cases.” Nestler currently manages the Eastern Cherokee Native American Legal Services grant and participates in the national Indian legal services group.
Larry has a dedicated commitment to serving domestic violence victims, both through his work and through community service. He currently serves as the board president of the 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance, a regional non-profit agency responsible for capacity building and creating a strong coordinated community response to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence, and elder abuse. His involvement with the alliance has been critical in not only ensuring legal services to victims, but also in serving as a catalyst to coordinate a community response to provide services to these vulnerable clients. As the alliance’s director, Sue Fowler says, “Mr. Nestler is more than an attorney for Legal Aid. He is a leader in his field intent on helping others in a quiet, focused manner through his passion for creating positive change. He works not just for victims, but for community and service providers, supporting collaborative partnerships among the victim service agencies.”
Larry has also been active and recognized at the state level for his domestic violence advocacy. He was appointed to serve on an Administrative Office of the Courts Domestic Violence Advisory Committee, which is composed of judges, attorneys, victim advocacy organizations, magistrates, clerks of superior courts, and educators. In 2010 this committee produced the NC Domestic Violence Best Practices Guide for District Court Judges to serve as the statewide standard for civil and criminal domestic violence cases and to provide guidance to both experienced and newer district court judges handling these cases.
As with so many of our finest professionals, Larry has found the time to serve as a mentor throughout his career. As Mark Melrose of Melrose, Seago & Lay remembers, “Larry’s door was always open and his time was always unrushed when I would pester him with questions about conflicts of interest, ethical quandaries, and often just what the ‘right’ way to practice law as a professional was. Larry helped instill in me and in others the desire to not just treat the practice of law as a job, but as a tool to help others in meaningful ways.”
Most recently Larry supervised a successful UNC Law Pro Bono clinic at the Cherokee Court serving 28 clients. Assistant Dean for Public Service Programs Sylvia Novinsky remembers, “During the week we spent with him in Cherokee, NC, Larry shared his time and his experience and helped to inspire another generation of soon-to-be lawyers. We are so grateful for his willingness to supervise and mentor our students.” (For more information and pictures, access the blog kept during the trip: blogs.law.unc.edu/probono/category/winter-break-trip-2013/.) Despite the anxieties felt by the students, meeting Larry and his staff let them know they “were in very capable, welcoming hands,” reports law student Brandy G. Barrett. “I have heard many people say that they want to become lawyers in order to ‘help people.’” she continues. “I have usually avoided this expression for fear that it sounds base or cliché. When I left the Cherokee courthouse on Thursday evening, I was tired, hungry, and ready for comfortable clothes. But I had the warmest feeling from knowing that my Carolina Law friends and I had helped people, and it’s a feeling that I never want to forget.”
George Hausen, director of Legal Aid of NC, sums it up: “Larry epitomizes a lawyer who not only loves the law, but also uses it for the good of his clients and the community.”
Evelyn Pursley has been the executive director of NC IOLTA since July 1997.