January 1st: a new year. For many, it will mean setting new intentions for the year, ordering new calendars, or finally setting aside that one bad habit. For Attorney Heather Culp of Essex Richards, P.A. in Charlotte, it means the start of another goal – complete at least fifty (more) hours of pro bono work for her fellow North Carolinians.
Veteran volunteer Heather Culp is no stranger to assisting her community through pro bono assistance. Heather has served as a volunteer attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Charlotte office since 2010. She was recognized in the inaugural 2016 Pro Bono Honor Society, her prior law firm, Mitchell & Culp, was awarded the Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont’s 2012 Outstanding Legal Services Award (Small Firm), and she is currently chairing the 2018-2019 Access to Justice Campaign in Mecklenburg County, to benefit Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Charlotte office. Heather strives to accomplish the aspirational goal of at least fifty hours of pro bono legal services per year as set forth by Rule 6.1, sometimes even accepting pro bono cases through her own intake system in addition to assisting legal service providers. For Heather, doing pro bono work is an acknowledgment of the special skills and training unique to those in the legal profession and of the duty all attorneys have to serve the public.
With her record of pro bono involvement, it was no surprise that Heather was one of the first attorneys to volunteer when the Mecklenburg County Bar and North Carolina Bar Foundation collaborated to bring the ABA Free Legal Answers program to North Carolina in 2017. The NC Free Legal Answers program (NC FLA) brings free limited-scope legal representation to the public through a secure online portal. Low-income North Carolinians can log into the public-facing side of the portal to submit their civil legal questions while North Carolina licensed attorneys in good standing can quickly register online to peruse and answer the waiting client questions.
The beauty of NC FLA lies in its flexibility. Because of its online platform, attorneys can log in wherever, whenever, and pick whatever questions they like. As Heather states, “I can answer questions on my own schedule and without a major time commitment.” At Essex Richards, P.A., Heather Culp focuses her work on bankruptcy, debtor/credit issues, and commercial litigation. She is also an active member of the NCBA’s Bankruptcy Section. Upon logging into NC FLA, Heather was immediately able to find questions that paralleled her day-to-day work. She found that there were numerous questions about outstanding debts and the collection process in North Carolina, as well as questions asking about collecting debts owed to the client. Attorney Culp found the experience meaningful and states, “It reaffirm[ed] my belief that most people who owe money try very hard to repay it but also need to maintain shelter, food, and transportation.”
It is time for us all to bring our resolutions to our practice, to set goals for the year that reflect the highest potential of the legal profession, and to acknowledge how our time and talent may be generously given so that our neighbors can have a better year.
So? How about you? How will you answer Heather’s call to work pro bono into your year? When you’re ready, the North Carolina Bar Foundation staff is ready for you and will be available to answer your questions, get you registered with NC FLA, and keep you motivated all year long.