Something’s Been Cooking at the Clinic: The Beginning of Charlotte’s Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans

May 13, 2015

By: M. Claire Donnelly

FINALLY, it is time for the Clinic to share a little project we have been working on all semester! As part of Charlotte’s 10-Year Implementation Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness, a team of community leaders approached the Clinic in September 2014. Members of the team included representatives from Helping Homeless to Housing, Urban Ministry Center, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, the Public Defender’s Office, among others. These leaders, who knew the Clinic from our successful efforts with the Ban the Box movement, were interested in the Clinic getting on board with an initiative to start a homeless court here in Charlotte that would serve all of Mecklenburg County.

A homeless court is a specialty court designed specifically for individuals who are homeless and are charged with a status offense based on their homelessness. These charges include public urination, solicitation, trespass, etc. For many of these individuals, getting to the courthouse and keeping up with court dates is nearly impossible. Even if these individuals do make it to their court date, research shows that the criminal justice system is not meeting their needs and the cycle of homelessness continues.

The Clinic was immediately interested in the project and decided that this something we should take on. During the Fall 2014 semester, we completed research that we presented to the team of leaders at the end of November.[1] In our research, we looked at 9 homeless court models across the country, from Orange County, NC, to Birmingham, AL, to San Diego, CA, and more. Each court was unique in its own way, and we quickly found that like the courts we researched, our court in Charlotte-Mecklenburg should be tailored to our court system’s and our client’s needs.

Clinic students presenting research in November 2014.

Clinic students presenting research in November 2014.

San Diego began the first Homeless Court program in 1989, and has since provided the model program for other courts that have begun across the nation. The American Bar Association (ABA) used San Diego’s model in their adopted proposal for homeless courts. According to the ABA, “[t]o counteract the effect of criminal cases pushing homeless defendants further outside society, this court combines a progressive plea bargain system, an alternative sentencing structure, and proof of community-based shelter program activities to address a range of misdemeanor offenses. Homeless courts expand access to justice, reduce court costs, and help homeless people reintegrate into society and lead productive lives.”

Most homeless court models represent a marriage between service providers, community volunteers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. Typically, this team of people works together to figure out the needs of the homeless individual, whether the need is employment or housing or education or addiction services, etc. Then, the team creates a “sentence” related to that need, and if they follow through with their sentence, they get a dismissal for the charge.

During the Spring 2015 semester, the Clinic met with the team again and discussed next steps. It was decided that the court initiative would be tentatively named “Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans.” A proposal was written to submit to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), who we hope will eventually approve the court in their budget. We attended two BOCC Public Policy workshops this semester, and there were optimistic comments regarding the start of a court. [2] The Clinic plans to continue assisting in any way we can to get the City on board with the court as soon as possible!

We also got a chance to travel to Orange County’s Outreach Court in the spring semester, which took place at the courthouse in Chapel Hill. Our team was WOW-ed by this visit and it really got us excited for the potential of a court of this type in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It was absolutely incredible to see that just down the road, a court of this type was not only so successful, but so compassionate for their clients.

The Clinic has tremendous hope for the start of this court here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and plans to stay actively involved in keeping it going. Keep following the blog as we provide updates on our progress!

For a great article and updated information on Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s efforts to end homelessness, see this article in the Observer from May 4, 2015.

[1] For access to our research document, please email

[2] The meeting where Commissioners discussed the proposal occurred on April 28, 2015, and can be viewed at: segment regarding Specialty Court for the Homeless and Veterans begins around 1:29:48 and ends around 1:35:15.

Charlotte Fails to Protect People by Rejecting Non-Discrimination Policies

April 7, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

On March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council (“the Council”) voted on an ordinance that would allow all people to be treated equally and fairly under the law. Unfortunately, the Council failed to adopt these much needed policies that would prohibit private businesses and certain public positions, such as for-hire transportation and city contractors, from freely discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The final vote came down to 1 single vote, as it ended up 6-5. This single vote came after hours of debate from both sides of the aisle, and at that point the controversial bathroom portion of the ordinance was already stricken. The bathroom portion of the ordinance would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify themselves. This was the most controversial piece of the policy, and even though it was removed it seems that certain members of the Council still used it to vote against what was being presented. “All over the world, there are restrooms for men and restrooms for women,” said Ed Driggs, a Republican Council member. “It does not place an unreasonable burden on them and it does not stigmatize them.”   Another Republican Council member, Kenny Smith, asserted that the bill was not a measure to stop discrimination, but to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Opponents to the policy at the Council hearing. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

When discrimination is discussed in the government, it should not become an issue of alleged morality. Discrimination in and of itself is immoral. Discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applied to the states through the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fifth Amendment. It is simple–and yet disturbingly difficult–for people who oppose equality under the veil of a religious responsibility to do so.

Jason Arter, a current Clinic student, attended the meeting and shares his first-hand account of the spectacle at the Government Center that day. Mr. Arter informs us that, “[The scene] was about religion, and the damnation that is going to occur. . . not just for those in favor of the ordinance, but also for those that have selected to be comfortable with who they are, in whatever gender they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.” Mr. Arter also reveals that the Council members opposing the ordinance insisted on continuing to make links between bathroom usage, homosexuality, and pedophilia even after the bathroom portion was stricken from the vote. When asked about how he felt after the vote, Mr. Arter has a very strong opinion to share, “Community members should be outraged, not just that the ordinance failed, not that those who are elected failed to fairly represent all members of a community, but that religion has yet again dictated the course of the future for all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community instead of the government.”

The question remains: “Why would Charlotte not want to join to rest of the country in passing these protections?”

Out of the country’s twenty largest cities by population, Charlotte is one of three that does not have in place non-discrimination policies. The other cities that join Charlotte are Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Throughout the country seventeen states and over 200 municipalities have non-discrimination policies in place to protect people who identify as LGBTQ. While visiting Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 7, 2015. During his speech he urged that the entire country needs to pass non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBQT community and stressed that those policies need to be passed now.  Biden also affirmed his support for a “federal non-discrimination . . . bill that is expected to include protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, education, jury service and federal funding.” The bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this spring.

If you feel that Charlotte should join the rest of the country in protecting all people from discrimination, continue to reach out my emailing and calling your city leaders:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes

Claire Green Fallon

David Howard

Vi Lyles

Patsy B. Kinsey

Al Austin

LaWana Mayfield

Gregory A. Phipps

John N. Autry

Kenny Smith

Edmund H. Driggs

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!

UNCC Adopts New Policy for Transgender Students

March 26, 2015
Photo courtesy of UNCC.

Photo courtesy of UNCC.

Last week, the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) adopted a new policy allowing students who identify as transgender to use the restroom of choice. In the midst of Charlotte City Council’s rejection of a similar policy, the school quietly posted the change to its website: “The current policy states that any student, faculty or staff member may use the restroom that corresponds to the individual’s gender identity.”


An Old Problem, New Face

November 6, 2014

By Johnny Hollis

One of the oldest issues in our society is homelessness.  It affects every state, county, and city in our nation.  Studies show that nationally 19 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, while in individual states that number ranges from 8-106 out of every 10,000 people.  Causes of homelessness range from loss of employment, mental and physical changes in health, loss of loved ones, and other traumatic life events.[1]  While homelessness is decreasing in our country, in general, there is a rise in one particular area: within the transgender population of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.[2]

What does “transgender” mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, and the term is used to refer to persons whose gender differs from what they were born as.[3]  Transgender persons often express themselves through their clothing, change of names, or medical procedures, all which help further their desire to live their identity.

What are the causes of homelessness among the transgender population?

Among experiencing discrimination from family members, in educational environments, and in the workplace, transgender individuals also experience discrimination in homeless shelters—the very place designed to assist them in times of crisis.  To start with, they are often isolated and alienated by family members at young ages, thus leaving them with no place to go.

Next, obtaining an education becomes hard because of the ridicule, immaturity, and bullying transgender individuals face from peers as well as faculty and staff.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 15% of those who identify as transgender drop out of school because of the pressures that derive from bullying.[4]

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion, the law fails to protect certain classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.[5]   This leaves room for discrimination in the work place in the form of harassment by coworkers through taunting and/or isolation, as well as discrimination by employers through job application barriers, promotion denial, and by being fired.[6]

With the lack of familial support, education, and work, some transgender individuals are forced to either conform to the societal definition of gender and sexual orientation, or live in distressed conditions such as homelessness.

The Challenges of Being Transgender and Homeless

The difficulties and challenges that arise for transgender individuals are greater when they experience the effects of being homeless.  For example, even the task of finding a homeless shelter becomes quite tiresome.  Because transgender individuals identify opposite of their “born” gender, many shelters will not recognize identity over outward physical appearance.  This causes many to have to either live on the street, or participate in “survival sex” work in order to have a shelter for the night.[7]  Survival sex is defined as “involving individuals over the age of 18 who have traded sex acts (including prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc.) to meet the basic needs of survival (i.e., food, shelter, etc.) without the overt force, fraud or coercion of a trafficker, but who felt that their circumstances left little or no other option.”[8]


What Can We Do to Advocate for Equality?

Interested advocates can begin helping this population by reaching out to local LGBTQ organizations in order to gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges that are faced within.  Local organizations such as Equality NC: North Carolina LGBT Organizations and the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund are good places to start.

Advocates can also engage locally by contacting their local homeless shelters and demanding that they create a safe, open, and inclusive environment for all people.  An inclusive environment would include safe zones, which are areas that are designated to prevent harassment and discrimination.  The shelters should also provide adequate information and resources that help facilitate individuals’ transition from homelessness to full independence again.

Furthermore, we can petition our state to prohibit any further discrimination within our K-12 and post-secondary schools.  We can not only petition against discrimination, but also petition for education relating to transgender and the LGBTQ community in totality.  We can also continue to reach out and lobby our local, state, and federal government requesting amendments to the language of our employment protection laws to include protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity.

The Civil Rights Clinic began contributing to the cause by reaching out to the local community, and as a result, was able to persuade the City of Charlotte to include gender discrimination in their discrimination policy, and is assisting Cabarrus County in updating their policy as well.


Although homelessness currently affects many transgender individuals, it does not have to continue its climb to prevalence.  Through advocacy, education, and awareness we can eliminate the factors that contribute to homelessness within the LGBTQ community.



[3] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 3, 7 (2003).




[7] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 4 (2003).


#DayOneNC: History at your Doorstep

October 14, 2014

By Celia Olson

It was a rainy day in Matthews, N.C.  The kind of weather that marks the beginning—and the end—of scary movies.  I was sitting in a Chili’s restaurant, eating a juicy bacon cheeseburger when I got the news: Judge strikes down North Carolina gay marriage ban.  Several advocacy groups had been live-tweeting updates on the status of North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban throughout the week, so I had been following the Civil Rights Clinic Twitter feed all day, refreshing at 20-30 second intervals, waiting for the precise moment when history would be made.  I had the search keyed up so that every time someone tweeted on the topic I would find out instantaneously: #DayOneNC.  And so, at just after 5 PM on Friday night, I found out that same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

As far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of catastrophic world-ending events or activity since Friday night.

But let me back up and set the stage for you.

As recently as two weeks ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.  Of those nineteen states, three states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, eight by state legislature, and eight by court decision.[1]

This seems crazy considering that as of right now, 8:15 AM on October 14, 2014, same-sex marriage is legal in 30 states.

The tides turned last Monday, October 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court—in unexpected fashion—declined to decide whether states can ban same-sex marriage by rejecting appeals in cases involving five states.  All five states (Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and Indiana) had lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans.  Immediately, those five states reverted back to the lower courts’ binding precedent, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage.  In the span of one week, six other states followed, all of which were bound by the regional federal appeals court rulings that had struck down other bans.[2]

So what does this mean for North Carolina?

North Carolina, along with Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado, have since legalized same-sex marriage through subsequent court rulings, bringing the total states with legal same-sex marriage to thirty.  Even more are expected to follow in the upcoming weeks.[3]

Amendment One, North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, went into effect during a Republican primary in May of 2012 when it was approved by a majority of voters.[4]  On Friday, October 10, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn struck down Amendment One, citing the controlling Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s case, Bostic v. Schaefer, as precedent.[5]  Bostic v. Schaefer involved two same-sex couples: one couple was denied a marriage license in Virginia, and the other couple’s valid California marriage license was not being recognized in Virginia.[6]  They were successful in their fourteenth amendment claim at the trial court level with strong wording by the presiding judge, whose decision was later affirmed by the 4th Circuit:

“A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that “all men” are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” – Virginia Eastern District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright[7]

In North Carolina, with Judge Cogburn’s ruling, same-sex marriage could begin immediately—and it did.  In Buncombe County, the Register of Deeds stayed open an extra two hours Friday night to ensure that every couple who had been waiting in line could get their marriage license.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

In Mecklenburg County, the first same-sex marriage license was granted at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2014, to Terrence Hall and Christopher DeCaria.[8]  Unfortunately though, the morning was not all peace, love, and rainbows.  Protesters gathered at the courthouse by 9 AM, yelling at the waiting couples that they were “going to hell.”[9]  Some protestors were asked to leave, while some remained, silently holding signs.  Despite the negativity, 62 couples were able to successfully receive marriage licenses in Charlotte—and others were even married right there at the courthouse!

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

Whether you are straight or gay, if you think this does not affect you—you are wrong.  A recent study conducted by The Williams Institute estimated that with the legalization of same-sex marriage, North Carolina stands to add $64 million to the state and local economy over the next three years due to the increase in weddings being performed in-state.  What same-sex marriage does not affect are the pre-existing and future marriages of heterosexual couples.  Believe it or not, they still will hold valid marriage licenses.

Allowing everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., to receive equal rights under the law is the hallmark of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Thank you, North Carolina, for stepping up and standing on the right side of history.


[2] In 30 states – AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus Washington, D.C. – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.

[3] In an additional five states (Arizona, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), federal appellate rulings have set binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the legalization of same-sex marriage there as well.  Id.



[6] Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352,  (4th Cir. 2014).

[7] Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F. Supp. 2d 456 (E.D. Va. 2014) (language comes from the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs).



Baby Formula: How Theft-Rings Impact an Entire Generation

October 2, 2014

By: M. Claire Donnelly

Think you can still walk into a store and grab a can of baby formula for your child?  Televisions, laptops, and phones are not the only popular items disappearing from retail shelves.  Over the past few years, baby formula theft has become an increasing problem nationwide.  Now, many stores have baby formula behind the counter or with anti-theft devices attached to it.  According to one newspaper: “stores are worrying less about teens stealing CDs than about … [organized theft of] millions of dollars of baby formula…”  Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Walgreens report losing millions due to theft of this product.  The Food Marketing Institute reported that baby formula was the fourth most-often-shoplifted good as early as 2004.  These thefts have caused many issues to arise in how mothers can get a simple can of baby formula to nourish their child.  Thus, not only has this placed a significant financial impact on struggling mothers, but also health concerns have arisen.

What is causing baby formula to be hot-ticket item?

Baby formula, which costs on average $24 per can, can cost a family up to $175-200 a week to feed one baby.  The product is necessary to simulate milk for mothers who cannot breastfeed or have trouble breastfeeding.  When you consider that only 49% of mothers can breastfeed at six months, the population at risk here is significant.  Children need the nourishment provided by breastfeeding or baby formula for up to one year, according to the Center for Disease Control.  Because of its high price, baby formula has become a hot item on the secondary market, where a high demand for the product exists.

In addition to increasing prices, baby formula is a part of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.  This federally funded program provides support for parents with limited means by providing monthly issuances of food packages, along with other resources such as education and health care referrals.  As supportive and helpful as this program is for struggling parents, states also benefit by having the ability to regulate retailers and the shelf life of products through WIC.[1]

The need for regulating baby formula arose in the late 1990’s when it became clear that baby formula not only presented an economic threat to low-income parents, but it also presented a health threat to young children.  One of the largest theft-rings of the era involved the re-packaging of baby formula and the shipment of these counterfeit products to unsuspecting stores.  Drug addicts and people looking for quick cash worked in the theft-rings as low-level thieves by getting paid $1 per can of stolen baby formula.  Once stolen and turned into the ringleaders, the can would be re-packaged as a more expensive brand so that retailers paid a higher price for it.

This re-packaging scheme also caused the cover-up of unsafe ingredients and passed expiration dates because the cans could be resold on the secondary markets where expiration dates and ingredients are un-regulated.  Eventually, investigators uncovered the theft-ring after it had netted $44 million in a span of eighteen months.  Criminal theft-rings can sell baby formula to secondary stores for 30% of the retail price, which in itself explains why the product has become so attractive for theft-rings.

In addition to fraudulent re-packaging, baby formula also can be used to manufacture illegal drugs.  Manufacturers mix baby formula into certain drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, to cut their potency.  Formula can also be used to stretch the product when supplies are low.  However, baby formula demand among consumers remains higher than among drug dealers.

Even more concerning is that the large-scale criminal theft-ring does not even begin to include the thefts by young mothers who feel they have no other option but to steal formula to feed their child.  The product has become popular for both populations—struggling mothers and high-profile criminals.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

States Crack Down

As mentioned previously, states are taking action to regulate baby formula.  Some states, such as Texas, have created legislation requiring retailers to buy from approved wholesalers.  Other states have amended criminal statutes to prevent baby formula from disappearing from retailers’ shelves.  For example, Michigan legislators wanted to make organized theft, which most often is behind baby formula theft, a felony.

The North Carolina legislature has recently passed a law making larceny of baby formula over $100 a Class H felony.[2]  Because North Carolina’s punishment for stolen goods is typically not a Class H felony unless the property is valued at $1,000, punishing $100 worth of stolen baby formula at this level is severe.[3]  North Carolina legislators also worked to write a bill that would fine retailers up to $2,000 for having adulterated or misbranded food for sale.

A Population is Affected

The theft-ring and resulting legislation severely impacts low-income families.  As the cans disappear from shelves, stores raise their prices.  If parents look for other means to get formula to feed their baby, they risk getting expired formula or formula mixed with unsafe ingredients.  The legislative intent behind the new laws clearly attempts to prevent all of this; however, it may only be causing more harm.

Many stores are taking measures into their own hands by attempting to safeguard inventory by putting baby formula behind a courtesy counter or using electronic tracking devices.  Joe LaRocca of the National Retail Foundation told ABC news: “Grocery chains will tell you that formula is targeted so often that in some cases they have locked it up, moved it behind the cash register, strategically put it on the floor, and in some cases, put only a limited supply on the shelves.”  This may be a key solution to the problem; however, price is still an issue and remains the driving force behind baby formula theft.  In addition, when stores place formula behind the counter, further safety measures may occur such as escorting a customer to the cashier.  This can make the consumer feel extremely uncomfortable—as if they are being accused of a crime.

In addition to WIC, community organizations provide support for struggling mothers.  Organizations like Loaves and Fishes in Charlotte provide formula to young mothers, as well as many church-sponsored food pantries.  As much as these organizations try to help mothers, they have a tough time keeping the product available once an order comes in.  In fact, Loaves and Fishes recently stated that a $9,000 baby formula order will only last one month in their seventeen Charlotte-area pantries.

Because of the crime associated with baby formula, and the high prices of the product, the needs of low-income mothers are often not met.  Community support is available, but it is limited.  While retailers and legislators are working to crack down on crime of this product, an entire generation of children are being adversely affected.

[1] WIC is a federal program designed to provide food to low-income mothers and babies under five years old.  The United States Department of Agriculture funds the program and each state administers it for their residents.  Thus, the state has capability to regulate through WIC by setting boundaries in how the program is administered.

[2] NCGS § 14-72.11.

[3] NCGS § 14-72.

An Investigative Response to “After 8 Years, Charlotte School Of Law Has Become NC’s Largest. So What’s [the] Value Of [a] Degree?”

September 22, 2013

By: Hailey Hawkins

I am not a reporter, and I may not be what many would consider a “traditional” law student.  I entered Teach for America immediately after college and taught high school math in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for three years.  During my second year of teaching I met and fell in love with the man who is now my husband, a CSL graduate, and an assistant public defender in Gaston County.  When I decided to leave the classroom to change careers and attend law school, my primary goals were to stay close to Charlotte and attend a school that made the most economic sense for me.  Now that I am in law school, involved in the Civil Rights Clinic, Moot Court Honor Board, and Law Review, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing faculty members, students, and practitioners in Charlotte.

On Thursday, September 12, 2013, WFAE Reporter Julie Rose released her investigative journalism piece on Charlotte School of Law. Like every strong investigative journalist, she approached her research by looking for a particular story, and focused on the evidence that supported her theories.  Unfortunately, in a venture to paint Charlotte School of Law (“CSL”) as the biggest school in North Carolina with the lowest quality, there were several facts that were ignored or misrepresented.

Charlotte School of Law is not the “traditional” law school.  While every other law school in North Carolina has an average age of 24 for the entire enrollment, the average age of a first year student at Charlotte School of Law in 2012 was 27.  Many students at CSL are not the traditional students coming straight from undergraduate school who knew their whole lives that they wanted to be lawyers.  Rather, the nontraditional student may want to start his or her own business based on past experiences and areas of expertise, already own a business and want the legal education to better manage that company, or see the opportunities for dual-degree programs or part-time curricula that fit in with their familial or professional lives.  There are also traditional students, those coming straight from an undergraduate institution, who wanted to live in Charlotte or already lived in Charlotte.  Other students have families and spouses that work and live in Charlotte, and for these individuals, commuting nearly three hours every day, or even once a week, is not an economic option.

Julie Rose quoted Elie Mystal, editor of the blog Above the Law: “If you’re that dead set on going to law school and staying in North Carolina, you should go to the absolute cheapest law school you can get into, get your degree, pass the bar and then hustle for a job.  Unless you go to Duke, you’re gonna have to hustle for a job and so, you might as well hustle for a job with as little debt as possible hanging over your head.”  This statement may be true, and if this is the case then it actually supports most students going to Charlotte School of Law. There are several students in Charlotte School of Law with high LSAT scores and GPAs from their undergraduate school who have made the financial decision to attend CSL because they have earned merit scholarships.  There are students here because this is the only opportunity they had based on other factors, such as having a family in Charlotte, attending undergraduate school years ago, or not doing as well on the LSAT.

The reality is that Charlotte School of Law is giving people an opportunity to achieve a higher level of education that may or may not have otherwise been available.  Classes of students of different of ages and backgrounds lends to conversation and case analysis far beyond what is written in the book.  Most of the faculty members have practiced in their respective fields and can bring real-life situations into every class.  The diversity of the student body, combined with the clinical, practice-ready approach built into the curriculum, has allowed individuals to grow beyond just the black letter law to develop practical skills that can be applied in their professions.

Ms. Rose spoke with Isaac Sturgill, a recent alumnus of Charlotte School of Law who works for Legal Aid of North Carolina in Charlotte, and instead of changing her thesis that CSL provides a low quality education, she explicitly states that “he is not the norm.”  However, this statement leaves the question, “what is the norm?”  The numerous clinical opportunities available to students provide hours of pro bono resources in the city, and since 2006 over 140,000 hours of legal services have been provided to Charlotte. Of these hours, 67,155.46 hours are pro bono, 59,432.36 hours through externships, and 14,465.03 are hours of community service.  Julie Rose sat in on one of the meetings for the Civil Rights Clinic and, despite witnessing a conversation outlining a research proposal that could positively impact the administration of justice for parties to criminal district court proceedings, the only reference to that meeting was the picture on the website, supplementing the article.  In spite of all the evidence suggesting that this clinical approach and focus on legal services actually was “the norm,” Rose focused on the cost and size of the school.

Julie Rose’s article and the statements contained therein do not paint an accurate picture.  Although the CSL bar passage rate for the North Carolina July 2013 bar was 58%, this is not the average that Charlotte School of Law has produced since its inception.  In February 2010, July 2010, February 2011, and February 2013 Charlotte School of Law students were above the average passage rate in the state, and over the past four years the bar passage rate has averaged approximately 70%.  In terms of employment, 88.9% of the 2012 graduates were considered employed per the NALP, a national organization of legal recruiting and placement professionals that has collected legal employment data for nearly 40 years.  Of this nearly 90% of graduates employed, 89.4% are employed in positions that require bar passage or a law degree, and 5.8% are employed in other professional positions.

As Rose identifies, “many of [the professors] graduated from top law schools—[and] rave about the freedom and support they get from the school.”  Charlotte School of Law not only hosts professors from top law schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and UNC, but also individuals who excelled or still excel in their practice areas.  The focus on practice ready, clinical, non-traditional education allows professors to offer greater advice and experiential learning opportunities so students can hit the ground running as soon as they enter a firm or practice, or start their own firm.  The faculty, which defines the quality of education available at a school, is focused on ensuring that students are leaving CSL with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the legal profession.

Our school is young, and our alumni base is not as established as Duke, Wake Forest, or UNC, but as the alumni base grows so will the job market in Charlotte.  John Lassiter, President of Carolina Legal Staffing, stated, “The challenge is the legal profession always has biases to highly-ranked schools that have strong alumni bases.”  The alumni that graduate from CSL are neither less qualified nor less intelligent to compete for the jobs, but the reality of these biases does play a role in the job market.  Students from CSL will need to work twice as hard, if not more, to overcome the presumptions that Rose’s article exacerbates.  Charlotte School of Law is young in the legal community, and being new naturally causes uncertainties in an established community.  However, the timing and focus of Rose’s article adds greater stress to those students who just graduated, passed the bar, and are now entering the grueling job market because it builds on a negative presumption that these new lawyers will need to overcome.

Students and faculty members of Charlotte School of Law have been fighting the uphill battle to build a positive reputation and earn a position of respect in the North Carolina legal community.  Rose’s article demonstrates that the battle is nowhere close to over, and calls for action on behalf of all students, faculty, and alumni of Charlotte School of Law.  It is our task to prove these stereotypes wrong and demonstrate that our school and students are intelligent, talented, and providing a service in the Charlotte community.  Through perseverance, hard work, and time, we can show that graduates striving for public justice and excelling in their respective fields ARE the norm.

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