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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Alligators, jazz bands, nutria rats….and divorce petitions—oh my!

Alligators, jazz bands, nutria rats….and divorce petitions—oh my! I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in New Orleans, but I ended up being really surprised about how much the city has to offer and how grateful people are to have our help. Because I took I took family law last semester, I was excited about applying what I learned while volunteering at the Pro Bono Project.

I helped clients obtain simple divorces called 103(1) divorces. I completed divorce petitions, interviewed clients, and filed documents at court. I learned about small differences between two different parishes (aka counties), and about the procedural differences between couples that have minor children, adult children, or no children. Most importantly, Matt at the Pro Bono Project taught me to never, ever punch holes in a document that needs to go to court (Sorry Matt!). I never thought of the word “divorce” as having happy, positive connotations, but the clients we helped were so excited and grateful to begin the divorce process. All of the clients had unique stories to share, and many of them needed our help so they could move on with their lives.

Aside from the client interaction, one of my favorite parts of the trip was experiencing the Louisiana culture. The staff at the Pro Bono Project immediately introduced us to the vibrant New Orleans culture with a King Cake for breakfast on our first day. It was delicious and completely unexpected. It was just the beginning. One afternoon, we took a swamp tour through a bayou where I got to hold a baby alligator and see nutria, which are nasty, gigantic swamp rats. Even though alligator is on every restaurant menu in New Orleans, I associate the city with music. People play music on street corners, in clubs, in restaurants, everywhere.

Overall, I learned a lot, gained valuable client intake skills, and got to apply the black letter law I learned in school. More importantly, I feel like the work that UNC Law did in New Orleans was much needed and appreciated. In turn, we enjoyed and appreciated all that the special city has to offer.

Elizabeth Ann Ruiz


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