RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA — A recent statewide assessment found around 70 percent of low-income families encounter at least one legal issue a year with 91 percent of those families listing cost as a top barrier, according to the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission and the Equal Justice Alliance.
That’s why the new Wake County Legal Support Center is so important to Judge Ashleigh Dunston, who, as the county’s lead child support judge, spearheaded this project.
County, court and community leaders, including Campbell Law School’s Dean J. Rich Leonard and Clinical Professor Emily Mistr, were on hand for a formal ribbon cutting at the center on Friday, Jan. 13, in the Wake County Justice Center.
In its first week, organizers say the center has served more than 50 residents. The mission of the Legal Support Center is to increase access to justice for residents of Wake County by serving as a resource hub for self-represented litigants in civil legal matters. Located on the Wake County Civil Courthouse’s first floor in Room 150 at 316 Fayetteville St., the center is currently open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We want to make sure anyone who comes into this center, landlord, tenant, custodial, noncustodial parents are able to come in here and receive free access and information provided to them. We are not checking incomes,” Dunston said during the ceremony. “Seeing what I’ve seen on the bench those types of things. I knew there was a need to ensure justice needs to happen. Charlotte had it for 20 years. We needed this yesterday.”
Campbell Law School is among the organizations supporting the new center including Wake County, the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts, N.C. IOLTA and the Wake County Bar Foundation.
The Wake County Legal Support Center is a place where residents can find helpful information about civil legal problems if they are not represented by an attorney.
“Everyone needs to be able to use our system,” Dunston added. “That’s what the constitution is about. That’s what the court system is supposed to be about and so if I can use my time as a judge to do that, then that’s the most important thing for me.”
The Legal Support Center staff can, among other things:
● Explain how the court works;
● Offer forms to assist residents with cases;
● Provide lawyer referral information;
● Direct residents to other agencies or resources for assistance.
The Legal Support Center provides access to legal forms and information packets to address common issues such as family law and housing. It also partners with community organizations to provide free legal clinics and access to other social services and community resources.
“We just want to make sure that we are increasing equal access to justice and it’s not equal if everybody does not have the opportunity to understand the system,” said Dunston, who is credited with getting the center off the ground in hopes of helping people better navigate the justice system.
Plans call for Campbell Law School students from the Blanchard Community Law Clinic and the Gailor Family Law Litigation Clinic to help assist in the Legal Support Center later this spring.
For more information, visit WakeLSC.org.
ABOUT CAMPBELL LAW SCHOOL
Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law has developed lawyers who possess moral conviction, social compassion and professional competence, and who view the law as a calling to serve others. Among its accolades, the school has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as having the nation’s top Professionalism Program and by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers for having the nation’s best Trial Advocacy Program. Campbell Law boasts more than 4,700 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2024, Campbell Law will celebrate 45 years of graduating legal leaders and 15 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.