for the Charlotte Triage project, a collaborative program across the Charlotte legal community
to expand the reach of legal services to all
Charlotte is grappling with economic mobility challenges and an especially vulnerable homeless population despite being one of the most prominent hubs of the U.S. financial services industry. According to the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, at least 71 percent of low-income residents in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year, but only 14 percent were able to get the legal help they needed. In response to this, the Charlotte Triage program has brought together dozens of local law firm and corporate legal department leaders, led by Triage Partners McGuireWoods, Moore & Van Allen, Bank of America, Duke Energy, Husqvarna Group and Wells Fargo, to raise awareness of the unmet legal needs in the community and drive intentional pro bono volunteerism within the Charlotte community with a focus on critical legal needs like housing, health benefits, criminal expunctions, and human trafficking.
In coordination with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina, the project has brought together scores of in-house volunteers from corporate legal departments and law firms, including the Triage Partners. Since its inception, Charlotte Triage has trained more than 400 volunteers and helped deliver legal services in more than 390 matters. The Charlotte Triage Task Force, consisting of representatives of the partner organizations, worked together to identify the most critical areas of pro bono need in Charlotte, affecting economic equality and mobility, and determine how to increase pro bono involvement in those areas. They identified three key areas as high-priority needs for pro bono volunteer attorneys: housing eviction defense, criminal conviction expunctions, and healthcare enrollment. A fourth area, human trafficking, was added later.
The Task Force launched Charlotte Triage in September 2018 with a CLE event. Charlotte Triage also used a unique recruitment and mentoring model of identifying “champions” at each of the law firms and legal departments providing pro bono volunteers, who would raise awareness of the legal need, recruit volunteers, and serve as a resource for the legal service providers.
The partnership project made an immediate impact in the community. During their first year, Charlotte Triage volunteers represented 75 tenants in eviction-related matters. They interviewed 64 clients eligible for criminal record expungement and assisted in obtaining 72 expunctions. Additionally, pro bono volunteers attended 12 healthcare enrollment events, conducted 75 healthcare appointments, made 450 phone calls to former consumers and new potential enrollees, and enrolled 60 consumers in affordable health coverage.
Recognizing that there was no dedicated legal aid service provider for victims of human trafficking, Charlotte Triage expanded in its second year to train volunteers to assist clients in the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Project. Triage volunteers also are coming together to help families impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in the housing area by negotiating rent forgiveness for those families forced to stay in place in motels during the crisis.
In year two, Charlotte Triage continues to staff dozens of pro bono legal matters. Volunteers have already staffed 34 housing matters, worked on 80 criminal expunctions, and helped advise 66 clients on healthcare enrollment. Since the introduction of the human trafficking service area, over 76 legal matters for 57 different clients have been staffed with Triage volunteers. The numbers continue to grow every month. The project is also planning to expand into a fifth area of service, driver’s license restoration, for year three. Charlotte Triage serves as a project model for how legal services organizations, companies, and firms can work together efficiently and effectively to serve the community.
About the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award
Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a project of Pro Bono Institute, created the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award to recognize innovative pro bono collaborations of in-house legal departments with law firms and public interest organizations. Pro bono partnerships that include at least one in-house legal department with one or more law firms and/or public interest organizations are eligible. The CPBO Advisory Board selects the award recipients.
The award honors legal departments and the organizations with which they partner in the provision of legal services to those in need. The award recipients are departments, law firms, and public interest organizations that have demonstrated an impact in their community through their partnership project, shown substantial involvement in the project by in-house lawyers, made tangible steps toward sustaining the relationship among the partners, developed innovative substantive or structural approaches in support of the partnership’s effort, and addressed a critical legal need or assisted a particularly vulnerable community or target population.
Over the years, the impact and innovation of the projects supported by the award recipients have been tremendously important both in the projects’ ability to address the legal needs of the communities being served and in the role the partnerships have played in supporting and furthering pro bono work, especially within the in-house community. Through these partnerships, legal departments, law firms, and public interest organizations have devised programs that contribute to the legal profession’s efforts to close the justice gap and that create strong legacies of effective pro bono service.