For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Sunday, March 19, 2006

For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

I am writing this blog while on the plane headed back to North Carolina. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to New Orleans. It has been nice to bond with and get to know some new UNC law students whom I wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. Everyone on the trip had such interesting backgrounds. For example, I recently learned that Diane was in the Circus as an undergrad at FSU. She performed the double trapeze and the Mexican cloud swing -- whatever those are. Apparently FSU has a circus to go along with their nationally ranked football team.

Speaking of Diane...I was not sure how organized or disorganized the trip, as a whole, would be but I was very pleased with how smooth everything has been and Diane deserves most of the credit. I have been on several service oriented trips similar to this one and having a good group leader is crucial to the trip's goal and everyone’s enjoyment. Diane is amazingly well organized and good at relating to the different personalities in the group. Having talked to my fellow travelers I know we all appreciate her hard work and dedication.

I was in the group working on succession files. It was exciting for me because as a 1L, it was the first time I was able to apply material I have learned in my law school classes to a practical legal task. I was very pleased that the work we were doing had a direct connection to Katrina. In order to receive FEMA money, one’s real property has to be in his or her name. By filing a succession, heirs are able to legally claim their dead relatives real property, in which they are already living or at least were before the storm, and thus receive their FEMA money. We each had our own succession case to work on which was beneficial because we got to see all the steps/paperwork required to file a succession action. More importantly, I could say "my case", which made me feel important and I felt a certain connection and responsibility to "my client". There was some client interaction over the phone which was the most fun aspect of working on the succession files. Personal client interaction is one of the reasons I wanted to become a lawyer. "My client" was extremely nice and thankful which made her a pleasure to speak with on the phone.

Emily, Rachel, Elliot, and I went over to the Garden District on Monday night to check out a local bar, The Bulldog that Ellen (a lawyer with the New Orleans Pro Bono Project) had suggested. I felt that I was being helpful to the injured New Orleans tourist economy by eating out in the French Quarter and going out for a few drinks at night. We stopped in another bar while we were in the Garden District called Ms Mae's. While at Ms. Mae's I met a woman who had to be at least 70. She was born and raised in New Orleans and told me she had ridden out the storm in the bar drinking…only in New Orleans.

While on the trip we had the unique experience of seeing the 9th ward and one of the larger levee breaches. The 9th ward was a ghost town….it was eerily quiet and the neighborhood next to the levee breach was just flat out destroyed. It was hard to get a feel for the destruction from outside the homes. I think the gravity of what was lost really struck me when I peeked inside one of the homes near the levee breach. As I stuck my head in the door I was hit by a wave of mildewed air that made my eyes water. What I saw was a room just like my living room except it looked as though it had been sitting at the bottom of a muddy lake for months…which when I think about it, I guess it was. Everything was destroyed.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along with Ellen to the only men’s shelter in New Orleans that had reopened at the time. The shelter was called the Oz. We went to do uptake which basically involved listening to any of the homeless men’s legal problems and getting them into the Pro Bono system if appropriate. The most interesting thing about The Oz was the fact it was a self contained community. The men that stayed there also worked there, either in the kitchen, at the front desk, or as custodians. According to a man working the front desk a lot of the homeless have already moved back to New Orleans, or never left, because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I accomplished what I set out to do on the trip: I provided aid to a Katrina victim, got my first real taste of pro bono work and the UNC Pro Bono Project (I liked both and was extremely impressed with the UNC Pro Bono project), had my first practical legal experience, met some great new people, and hopefully represented the State of North Carolina well.


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