Fletcher Foundation gives $1M for legal clinic

Julia Vail

RALEIGH, N.C. — The A.J. Fletcher Foundation has awarded a $1 million challenge grant to the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University to set up a legal clinic in the school’s new facility in downtown Raleigh.

The clinic will be dedicated to providing pro-bono legal services to low-income and other underserved people in the Raleigh area.

“The vast majority of attorneys serve only 10 percent of the population,” says Barbara Goodmon, president of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal. “The other 90 percent are the ones that need legal service but don’t get it.”

The legal clinic aims to provide guidance to people struggling with mortgage payments and who are susceptible to predatory lending practices.

It also will assist seniors who are dealing with skyrocketing health-care costs and a shaky Social Security system.

“If they don’t have the money to move into an assisted-living facility, they’re really out of luck,” Goodmon says. “Many can’t afford medicine or transportation.”

The foundation, led by Goodmon and her husband, Jim, who is president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Co., aims to change public policy for long-term impact.

“If we can make the law clinic strong, it will really empower organizations to become more effective in helping people without a voice,” she says.

To receive the $1 million challenge grant, which will be used to provide space for the clinic, the law school must raise an additional $1 million in charitable contributions to fund its operations.

The clinic will provide a needed service to law students at Campbell University as well, says Britt Davis, development director for the law school.

“A law clinic is where the rubber meets the road,” Davis says. “They’re going to be interacting with real people with real problems who need help.”

Law students at Campbell University are no strangers to public service. On their own initiative, they got involved with several programs providing pro-bono legal services to underserved people.

One of those programs, the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, was instrumental in freeing Dwayne Dail, who served 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.

A group of Campbell law students also formed the “street-law program,” in which they visit local high schools and educate students on how the law affects them.

“This is a generation of young people who hunger for opportunities to serve and give back,” Davis says.

Founded in 1976, the law school at Campbell University has been honored by the American Bar Association for having the nation’s top professionalism program.

And for the past 20 years, the school’s graduates have had North Carolina’s highest success rate on the state bar exam.

The law school’s relocation to Raleigh from the university campus in rural Harnett County should be completed by fall 2009 and is intended to give the school’s 366 students better access to jobs and internships.

“The move allows our students significant opportunities to gain meaningful experience and employment within Raleigh’s legal and business community,” says Melissa Essary, dean of the law school.

About seven in 10 of the university’s 3,000 law-school graduates practice in North Carolina, including about 500 in Wake County.

“We’re coming to town with hundreds of bright and capable law students who are ready to roll up their sleeves and make a difference,” Davis says.

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