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NC Bar Association presents 2009 Pro bono Awards

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The North Carolina Bar Association, in conjunction with the NCBA Foundation’s Public Service Advisory Committee, presented the 2009 Pro Bono Service Awards during the 111th NCBA Annual Meeting at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville.  Presentation of the awards transpired during the President's Luncheon on Friday, June 26.

The recipients are Thomas Berkau of Smithfield (William L. Thorp Award), Christine Trottier of Raleigh (Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award), Hunton & Williams of Raleigh and Charlotte (Large Law Firm Award), Charlotte School of Law (Law Students Pro Bono Project Award) and Laura Slaughter of Rutherfordton (Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Award, presented by the NCBA Young Lawyers Division).

2009 William L. Thorp Pro Bono Award
Thomas S. “Tom” Berkau
, Smithfield
[Tom Berkau (left) accepts award from NCBA President Charles Becton.] 
The William L. Thorp Pro Bono Service Award, originally established in 1984 as the Pro Bono Service Award, recognizes lawyers who provide exceptional pro bono legal assistance to low-income citizens in North Carolina. This award was renamed in 2002 in memory of Bill Thorp, a founder of Legal Services of North Carolina (LSNC).  For more than three decades, Thomas S. Berkau (Tom) has provided exemplary legal services to his clients, those who pay him and those who are referred to him by Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC).  Tom is a solo practitioner in Smithfield. LANC estimates that Tom has provide thousands of pro bono hours to serve the community either as an LANC pro bono referral or by representing those who walk through his door needing a lawyer. His quiet and selfless demeanor belies a tenacity that has earned him the respect of opposing counsel and others.  Tom’s pro bono service continues with his volunteer work as chairman of the Organizational Committee for the Johnston County Pro Bono Program and as the North Carolina Bar Association’s representative to the LANC Board of Directors. He has also served as the chair of the NCBA Foundation’s Public Service Advisory Committee (2002-04). Tom served as an attorney advocate with the Guardian ad Litem Program for Abused and Neglected Children from 1984-1993. In his quiet, steadfast manner, he willingly recruits other attorneys to participate in pro bono work. Not only does he provide pro bono legal services to the LANC-Smithfield office, but he has also honed his carpentry skills for his next door neighbor by helping cutting down a door to open up their reception area. Tom received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is married, has two grown children and lives in Smithfield.


2009 The Deborah Greenblatt
Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award

Christine Trottier,
[Christine Trottier (left) accepts award from NCBA President Charles Becton.] 
The Deborah Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award, originally established in 1991 as the Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award, is presented to an attorney employed by a legal services organization who provides exemplary legal service through an agency or other non-profit entity that serves low-income citizens. This award was renamed in 2005 in memory of Deborah Greenblatt, an outstanding lifelong legal services attorney. Since 1978, Christine Trottier has represented clients with mental illness and developmental disabilities. Christine has represented individuals and their families in a variety of contexts over the years. Christine, like Deborah Greenblatt (or Debbie) this award’s namesake, has worked tirelessly to advance the issues of her clients and to mentor younger lawyers, bringing to the problem a body of knowledge and a perspective that only one so experienced could offer. Christine worked with Deborah Greenblatt for many, many years with the former Carolina Legal Assistance (CLA).  Some may consider Christine a “legal services lifer” for having dedicated her entire legal career to representing the underrepresented indigent people with mental illness and developmental disabilities. She’s worked for the same organization, Disability Rights North Carolina (formerly Carolina Legal Assistance), since graduation from law school. She began as a Reginald Heber Community Law Fellowship Attorney, a “Reggie.” This fellowship program began in the Office of Economic Opportunity, President Johnson’s War on Poverty, and was continued by the Legal Services Corporation.  [Reginald Heber Smith is known as the father of modern legal aid in the United States.]  Christine has always seen the big picture and has taken the time and put her wealth of knowledge to work for the greater good by participating in impact litigation, public policy advocacy, community education and the training of her colleagues. She also sees the individual client’s big picture. She spends hours on the phone with mental health service providers in an effort to obtain needed treatment. Not only has Christine worked on behalf of individual clients, she also assumed leadership of CLA when its then executive director Deborah Greenblatt was ill. She filled the void and steered CLA through some difficult times. All the while, Christine remained dedicated to her clients and the community she served. Christine received her juris doctor from Hofstra University School of Law and her bachelor of arts from Syracuse University. She is married to Richard Trottier, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina, and lives in Raleigh. She has one son.

2009 Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Large Law Firms
Hunton & Williams
[Steve Epstein (left)  and Brian Cromwell (center) accept award from NCBA President Charles Becton on behalf of Hunton & Williams.] 
The Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Large Law Firms is selected for pro bono service by one of the 25 largest law firms in North Carolina. This award was established in 1997. Pro bono service is a core value at Hunton & Williams, instilled by the top level of the firm’s management and reinforced by partner-level coordination in every office. The firm values pro bono work so highly that it accords billable hour credit to all associates for each of the first 50 hours of pro bono service they provide each year. In 2008, they represented more than 200 pro bono clients. A newly revised pro bono policy and an effort to help attorneys identify pro bono projects that fit their individual interests boosted firm-wide pro bono legal representation. In North Carolina, they have developed new projects and worked with new organizations including NC LEAP (a North Carolina Bar Association Foundation program), Builders of Hope, National Veterans Legal Service Program and Urban Ministries. Some 14 years ago, Hunton & Williams became a signatory of the ABA’s Pro Bono Challenge, challenging large law firms to commit the equivalent of 3% of their billable hours toward pro bono matters. During 2008, their 78 North Carolina lawyers devoted more than 6,000 hours to pro bono legal representation, reflecting approximately 4.62% of their gross billable hours. Former ABA President Robert Grey serves as vice-chair of the firm’s Community Service Committee.  Brian S. Cromwell and Steven B. Epstein serve as Pro Bono Committee chairs for the Charlotte and Raleigh offices, respectively.


2009 Law Student Project Award
SelfServe Center Group Project

[Charlotte School of Law   
(From left) Sean Lew, Christopher Neeson and Christina Sullivan accept award from NCBA President Charles Becton on behalf of Charlotte School of Law.]  
The Law Student Group Pro Bono Project Award is presented to a law student group that provides legal service beneficial to low-income people in North Carolina.  Students at the Charlotte School of Law (CharlotteLaw) established a SelfServe Group Project to help the 26th Judicial District SelfServe Center as a “win-win” project for all involved: the local community, the local judiciary and the law school. Twelve law students provide community education training programs to patrons of the SelfServe Center. This Center is the first center of its kind in North Carolina.  Students participating with the SelfServe Group Project have benefited by working with the community, serving the underserved and gaining exposure to the judiciary in addition to learning the meaning of professionalism and confidentiality. Students receive extensive training before making their community education presentations. They also work under the guidance and supervision of a licensed attorney. Beginning in February 2008, students led sessions every Wednesday and Saturday partnering two students per session.  This project is chaired by students Christina Sullivan and Christopher Neeson.


2009 YLD Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Award
Laura Slaughter,
[YLD Chair Patti Ramseur presents award to Laura Slaughter (right).]
The Young Lawyers Division created the Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award in 2001 to promote pro bono activities among young or newly practicing attorneys. This award was presented during the Young Lawyers Division luncheon and Annual Meeting on Saturday, June 27. Laura Slaughter began practicing law at King Law Offices in Rutherfordton in October 2007. She is a family lawyer. During her first year of practice Laura donated 57 hours of pro bono service to the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyers Program based out of Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville. Her caseload includes 50B domestic violence matters, family law matters for victims of domestic violence and other family law matters such as adoption, termination of parental rights and name changes. One domestic violence client, whom Laura helped receive a protective order and a custody order, reported that Laura puts herself 110% into the case and really cares about her clients. Her understanding and compassion really made a difference to this frightened client, whose life had been threatened. She noted that Laura treated her with the utmost dignity and respect and did not make her feel less than because she was a pro bono client. Laura has committed herself to pro bono service. She finds that it renews and strengthens her practice and idealism in the law. She believes that it is an essential component to a complete practice. Prior to law school, Laura was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyz Republic. There she facilitated educational and community projects in a multi-ethnic town in Central Asia. She also taught Language Arts to English language learners in Chatham County. Slaughter received her bachelor of arts degree from Guilford College and her juris doctor from the Norman A. Wiggins School of Law, Campbell University.


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