Few things make people feel helpless like a natural disaster can. If you’re like most attorneys, your daily work doesn’t involve feeding people, clearing giant trees, or repairing homes. As we settle into our day-to-day work, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have anything to offer people who have lost basic needs like clothing and shelter.
But what we forget is that many of our jobs, at their core, DO involve helping people clean up messes – and the knowledge and skills we’ve picked up along the way are probably more useful than we think.
Molly Gross, a young lawyer in Hickory who’s been bitten by the pro bono bug, has figured this out. Molly’s story is proof that attorneys like you can impact people with big needs, even with just a little time. We at the NCBA Pro Bono Committee were so inspired that we thought we’d give her a shout-out.
A member of the NCBA YLD, Litigation Section, and Intellectual Property Section, Molly has been practicing with Patrick, Harper & Dixon LLP in Hickory since 2016. Business disputes, employment litigation, and trademark prosecutions are in her wheelhouse. But when Hurricane Florence attacked in September, Molly added a new project to her plate – providing pro bono counsel through the NCBA YLD’s Disaster Legal Services (“DLS,”) project, a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Legal Aid of North Carolina, with support from the NC Bar Foundation to provide pro bono legal advice to North Carolinians living in areas affected by natural disasters.
Molly is no pro bono rookie; she previously volunteered with DLS in 2016 following Hurricane Matthew, and as a student at the UNC School of Law, she served on the Pro Bono Board and completed more than 230 pro bono hours. After Florence, she jumped at the chance to help out again – she signed up within three days of DLS opening! Through DLS, Molly has advised storm survivors on insurance claims, real property rights, contractor and repair issues, and landlord/tenant matters.
Though her home and work are far from the coast, Molly felt compelled to take action when the storms devastated Eastern North Carolinians. “I think that following a natural disaster it’s common for people to wish they could do something to help, but time, distance, and opportunities to volunteer become a barrier,” she said. Molly hasn’t let those barriers stand in her way. She said DLS made it easy for attorneys like her to make an impact. “It’s not feeding or clothing people, but it’s giving them peace of mind over some of their problems, and helping provide a pathway forward when things are chaotic in their lives.”
Molly was no stranger to the chaos of dealing with natural disasters; in October 2017, a tornado damaged her home. She remembered that even as an attorney, navigating the aftermath was “disorienting and frustrating.” She added that “knowing that I can help make the recovery process clearer for someone else is very rewarding.”
For attorneys who feel intimidated by perceived lack of experience in natural disaster relief, Molly’s story is encouraging. “I didn’t think that I had any special skills that would help someone facing a great loss to their home or business, but the truth is that legal knowledge informs a lot of the practical solutions that can help people,” she said. “You don’t have to be a specialist in a certain field to solve most of the problems that people are having when you call.”