By: Celia Olson
Last week, students from Charlotte School of Law (CSL) attended a panel put on by the Public Interest Law Society. Three practicing attorneys and a co-chair of CSL’s Beazer Restitution Clinic made up the panel, which was moderated by Professor Burgess, an Associate Professor at CSL. The three attorneys acting as panelists included Sarah Demarest and Kelly Dourdin, who are the co-founders of the LGBTQ Law Center in Charlotte, a non-profit geared toward the often under-represented members of the LGBTQ community; and Deborah Whitfield, an attorney working with the Council for Children’s Rights, was the third panelist. The three attorneys each brought their own life experiences to the table, all of which led them along their own paths towards practicing in public interest law.
Whitfield, the Children’s Rights Attorney, started a non-profit from the ground up geared toward assisting families with disabled children, and then handed off the organization while she continued on her public interest journey. Whitfield recalled a mentor who gave her advice that stuck throughout the years: “Do what you love AND what you hate.” If you’re scratching your head at that—you’re not the only one!
To find something that you are passionate about, she explained, you have to hate something. Whitfield hated the social stigma and isolation that surrounded her disabled child. Passion also includes love—to have passion for your job, you have to love what you do. Whitfield loves education. Whitfield found her passion by forming a non-profit that emphasized educating others about disabilities. This combination of her love and hate co-mingled seamlessly to fuel Whitfield’s formation of this non-profit.
Whitfield wasn’t the only one doling out advice that night. Demarest and Dourdin, the LGBTQ co-founders, made sure to emphasize the importance of professionalism and networking. Every attorney had their story of the judge they met at church, or the attorney they met in the grocery store, who they later encountered in while practicing law. The key to networking, according to Demarest, is to be nice to others. Demarest, a recent CSL graduate herself, cautioned students to remember that professors, practicing attorneys, and judges all use the elevator, grocery shop, and may even be sitting next to you at the bar the next time you’re out with friends. One of these same attorneys, judges, and professors could be the next person interviewing you for a job. If you made an impression—either good or bad—they will remember.
All three of these attorneys shared something in common. All three started a non-profit that matched their passion. They emphasized the ease at which a newly-minted lawyer can start their own non-profit organization—by simply filling out a two-page form on the Secretary of State’s website. They suggested that anyone who is determined, creative, and courageous can find a fulfilling and emotionally rewarding career by molding their passion into its niche in the non-profit market. As students look toward graduation, starting a non-profit is a viable option to consider in a struggling job market.
Students looking for more information on starting a non-profit can go to http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/howtostartanonprofit.