Campbell University’s law school will officially cut the ribbon of a new clinic in downtown Raleigh on Friday to give free legal help to disadvantaged residents.
The school’s new Community Law Clinic is housed at the historic Horton-Beckham-Bretsch House at 11 South Blount St., near Moore Square and City Market. Eight Campbell law students, overseen by the clinic’s director, will work in the clinic, which will take referrals from area nonprofit agencies – Raleigh Rescue Mission, Urban Ministries of Wake County and StepUp Ministry.
Campbell Law Dean Rich Leonard said the clinic should give students valuable practical experience while helping low-income residents who face legal hurdles.
“I think it’s one of the most exciting initiatives the law school has ever undertaken,” said Leonard, who won a grant for $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to launch the effort.
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Leonard said Legal Aid of North Carolina does a great job serving people, but can handle only a fraction of those who need legal services. “We decided that we can be what I refer to as the triage clinic,” he said.
Too often, he said, old legal problems crop up for people who are trying to get back on their feet. They need quick help before they can move forward to jobs, independent housing or other opportunities, but they can’t afford a lawyer.
Trial lawyer Ashley Campbell of the Raleigh firm Ragsdale Liggett will oversee the clinic. She also teaches a course to guide the Campbell students in their work. The clinic will only work with clients referred from its nonprofit partner agencies, she said.
“What I think is so great about this concept is they are already working with folks who are trying to move out of poverty and improve their own lives and the lives of their children,” Campbell said. “A lot of times they encounter legal issues that are barriers to making that progress. I see us as playing a really important role in helping remove a barrier to success.”
When the law allows it, she said, the clinic can help people expunge an old criminal record so that they can be more employable. Other stubborn issues can include overdue court fines, child support payments or landlord-tenant disputes. She said something simple, like trying to get an apartment security deposit back, can be very difficult for someone without legal representation.
Peter J. Morris, executive director of Urban Ministries, said clients may have previously passed bad checks, missed credit card payments or carry criminal convictions. “They are excluded from housing and even consideration for employment,” he said in a statement. “Legal counsel can be life changing for these folks, restoring their credibility and helping them to create a new future.”