RALEIGH – Family Law is one of the most important legal specialities because of who can be in the crosshairs: children. “It focuses on so many of society’s chilling realities, from domestic violence to homelessness to family abandonment.”
That’s according to preLaw magazine, who for the first time, has recognized Campbell Law School among the nation’s law schools as a leader in Child and Family Law.
Campbell Law earned an A- in the magazine’s Fall 2023 issue’s honor roll, which showcases programs and achievements from various schools across the country. Of North Carolina’s six law schools, only two – Campbell Law and Wake Forest Law School – made the list. Wake Forest also earned an A-.
The complete list is available online at this clickable link.
A shortage of family law attorneys who could handle pro bono clients prompted Raleigh family law attorney Carole Gailor to donate $250,000 to Campbell Law School to open the Gailor Family Law Litigation Clinic in August 2021. The clinic has continued operating thanks to donations from other family law attorneys and firms throughout North Carolina.
“While many family lawyers did the occasional family law case pro bono, so many were unable to be helped and were left to their own devices trying to navigate an often unforgiving legal system,” said Gailor, founder of the firm that is now Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC.
The needs assessment completed by the Chief Justice’s Commission on Access to Justice found this to be the greatest area of unmet need for legal services among North Carolinians of modest resources.
The clinic provides pro bono legal representation for indigent individuals with ongoing family law disputes, including but not limited to child custody, child support, spousal support, equitable distribution, legitimation, divorce and domestic violence.
“These are real cases with real clients with real problems,” said Richard A. Waugaman III ‘12, the director of the pro bono clinic and a practicing family lawyer in Raleigh. “These clients would be unable to afford any legal representation if not for the clinic as many of them are living below the poverty level (the average gross income of a clinic client is $1,380 per month). Our clients have included varying gender, race, orientation, and creed and include multiple clients for whom English is not their native language.”
As much as the community and clients of the clinic benefit from its operation, the positive experience is also shared by the students. The inaugural class of 10 students hit the ground running and has subsequently been followed by more than 50 students who have enrolled in the clinic since its inception.
“Approximately half of these students have already graduated, passed the bar exam, and have started their own careers as lawyers, including seven who are currently practicing family law (another six have accepted offers to start in family law in August 2023),” Waugaman explained. “Word of mouth about the clinic grows with each passing class, not only from the students themselves, but also from the judges that they practice in front of and other attorneys that they litigate against as certified legal interns. The students gain an invaluable skill set that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom, such as how to set boundaries with clients, maintain a professional relationship and learn to appreciate a work/life balance.”
The students are exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly of Family Law, Waugaman continued.
“Students experience actually trying a case in a real courtroom setting. They have been exposed to cases that are heartbreaking and cases with outcomes that benefit all involved. They have the benefit of experiencing the realities of working in the legal profession before graduating from law school.”
As the clinic completed its second year of operation, neither its impact nor its work has slowed, according to Waugaman.
“To date, 242 case files have been opened, students have gone to court over 200 times and students have conducted 102 contested trials and hearings in District Court,” he said. “There are currently 13 students enrolled in Fall 2023. These students are desperately needed to address the constantly expanding waitlist of clients.”
The clinic works closely with the Wake County Clerk of Court, the Wake County Legal Support Center, Interact and the Wake County District Court Judges to identify and connect with eligible clients to help satisfy their legal needs and resolve their legal issues.
“The feedback – both from clients and our community network – has been overwhelmingly positive,” Waugaman said. “While the clinic can only provide representation in Wake County cases at this time, the need is great throughout North Carolina. We have fielded calls from over half the counties of North Carolina form Buncombe to Brunswick. The need for justice and legal services in North Carolina for those who are impoverished is great. The clinic is a resource for North Carolina citizens in Wake County and we hope to grow with the support of the legal and business community but cannot do it alone.”