Congrats to new CSL Grad & Clinic Alumna, Edith Hinson!

May 21, 2015

Edith Hinson, CSL Class of May 2015 and Spring 2015 Justice Leaguer, has recently been offered admission to Georgetown University Law Center to pursue her Advanced Law Degree. Edith will matriculate this August, and graduate in May 2016 with her LLM with a concentration in Human Rights. Edith plans to thereafter continue serving the underserved through devoting her practice of law to the areas of indigent criminal defense and humanitarian immigration.


Congrats to Graduating Clinic Student, Jessica Petitt!

April 2, 2015

One of our very own, Jessica Petitt, is graduating in May and is heading back to her home state to work in civil litigation. She will be working at Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, PLLC. The firm has four branches, with the main firm based in Charleston, West Virginia. Jessica will be at the Beckley, West Virginia office as an associate attorney. Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe is a civil litigation firm, focusing primarily on insurance defense, but also defends businesses and corporations, workers compensation disputes, and toxic tort cases.


Why Entrepreneurs Need a Feasibility Study before a Business Plan

January 29, 2015

By: Kathy S. Magee

Successful entrepreneurs are often described as tenacious, passionate, flexible, and natural risk-takers.[1]  They are visionary thinkers, confident, and tolerate ambiguity.  Even if an entrepreneur possesses all of these character qualities, a successful business venture requires a viable business concept and a realistic plan.

Student attorneys in the Entrepreneurship Clinic meet many clients who possess the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs but who lack a viable business concept or realistic plan to implement the concept into a working small business.  Clients, though passionate about their business idea, often do not think about the costs associated with starting and maintaining a business, marketing their business to consumers, state and city compliance and regulation issues, or the time investment that a small business requires.  As attorneys are bound by ethical rules in advising clients, attorneys should encourage clients to complete a feasibility study and business plan before assisting client in their small business venture.

2

A feasibility study serves “as a filter, screening out ideas that lack potential for building a successful business, before an entrepreneur commits the necessary resources to building a business plan.”[2]  A business plan, on the other hand, is a “planning tool for transforming an idea into reality.  It builds on the foundation of the feasibility study but provides a more comprehensive analysis of the business.”[3]  While a feasibility study and a business plan overlap in some information and insight that they provide to the entrepreneur about his or her business concept, they each serve an important but separate purpose in the business start-up process.  Both can also serve to assist the entrepreneur with information gathering to assess the business concept, including legal compliance requirements, costs, and marketing.

For example, a potential client comes to the Entrepreneurship Clinic with a creative business concept for an ice cream sandwich business using a push-cart.  After reviewing compliance requirements for this type of business, it would be determined that the business idea is not viable because of state and city regulations of ice cream businesses.  Had the client created a feasibility study, the client would have learned that regulations prevent ice cream from being stored in a home, and that push-cart businesses are only allowed to sell pre-packed items.  Luckily, she had not made purchases for her business idea or invested other financial resources into the business that does not meet compliance requirements.  However, this is not typical of entrepreneurs who often make purchases for their business before determining viability through a feasibility study, then move forward solely based on their business idea.

Feasibility studies should be encouraged—even required—for entrepreneurs because they help determine the workability and profitability of a business venture.  A feasibility study that determines a business is not viable could save an entrepreneurship client money, time, effort, and resources of a failed business venture.  However, if a feasibility study determines that a business concept is viable, the entrepreneur can be advised effectively on how to move forward to create a business plan to implement the business concept into a working business venture.  As future attorneys, we can assist our clients in open discussions of feasibility of their business concepts.  We can encourage clients to conduct a feasibility study and complete a business plan before advising them to expend money, time, and energy into starting a business that is not in compliance with state laws or will not produce the profits the client wants to achieve.

[1] Joe Robinson. The 7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs. (Accessed October 9, 2014) http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230350.

[2] Chapter 4: Conducting a Feasibility Analysis and Crafting a Winning Business Plan. http://www.prenhall.com/behindthebook/0132294389/pdf/Zimmerer_CH04.pdf at 123.

[3] Chapter 4: Conducting a Feasibility Analysis and Crafting a Winning Business Plan, p. 123. http://www.prenhall.com/behindthebook/0132294389/pdf/Zimmerer_CH04.pdf (Accessed October 5, 2014).


Actual Justice

January 8, 2015

By: Kevin Friley and Cynthia Vogler, Criminal Justice Clinic Members

Most law schools require students to take courses in criminal law and criminal procedure in order to graduate.  What is not required is clinical experience. Clinical experience develops the actual skills required for lawyering. Criminal law teaches you the elements of common crimes, such as the mens rea and actus reus of crimes.  However, it does not teach you how the details of the incident and the nuances of each situation can change the perception of those elements.  Criminal procedure teaches the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.   Illegal searches, defective warrants, and failure to advise of Miranda rights are all the red flags we are taught to look for.  While this information is undoubtedly important, the procedural aspect that will most likely help your client is the one you learn in the courtroom, not in the classroom. These applications in the field are something you can learn through clinical experience.

Clinical experience prepares you for lawyering in a way that a classroom cannot.  All of the factors that come into play when you are dealing with real people, real crimes, and real life cannot be replicated in a traditional educational setting.  The fear and anxiety that settles upon you in a courtroom when your client’s fate hangs in the balance is indescribable. Although in the Criminal Justice Clinic, we represent clients charged only with misdemeanors, these crimes can result in jail time, significant costs, and a criminal conviction that could forever damage their career and educational opportunities.

Procedurally, the defense attorney and the client are at the mercy of the prosecutor, who wields a significant amount of power.  The prosecutor decides what charges to bring initially and what charges to dismiss.  The prosecutor also controls the docket, thereby controlling the procedures of the courtroom. In a law school classroom, you are not taught the intricacies and responsibilities of each of these players in the criminal courtroom.

Although criminal law and procedure are essential courses for understanding basic legal concepts, real-world advocacy extends well beyond burdens of proof and the statutory schemes professed in the classroom.  As aforementioned, the roles played by others within the justice system are frequently glossed over in the classroom but are often the keys in successfully resolving cases.  Simply put, the personalities and motivators of the arresting police officer, the prosecutor, and the judge can prove just as important in defending a client as the governing statute or Constitutional provision.

Our first case of the semester had an interesting fact pattern, to say the least.  The client, Joan English,[*] was in her early twenties, unemployed, with a history of minor mental issues.  On the day Ms. English was taken into custody, the police had been dispatched several times.  Ms. English was having one of those days where everything just gets to you.  Everyone has had one of those days, when your friend from high school gets your dream job; your relationship with your boyfriend ends unexpectedly; everything is just going wrong.  That was Ms. English’s day.  She decided to go out for a bicycle ride.  She was weaving in and out of traffic, acting erratically, and several people called the police to report her strange behavior.

Ms. English returned home.  However because of her erratic behavior, the police encouraged her mother to have her committed.  This process involved going to the magistrate’s office and having an involuntary commitment order entered, as Ms. English’s mother felt she was a danger to herself and had no choice.  An involuntary commitment is a civil process as opposed to a criminal one.  In this case, Ms. English was committed to Carolinas Medical Center.  Before her mother could do that, Ms. English left her home again, this time to go to a retail shopping area.  She stole a basket assortment of candies, which she later discarded in the parking lot.  The police were again dispatched regarding Ms. English’s bizarre behavior.

The police officers came upon Ms. English in the retail parking lot and engaged her in conversation.   Ms. English’s mother completed the necessary paperwork at the magistrate’s office and the officers were instructed to pick up Ms. English and deliver her to the local hospital.   Ms. English was told she was not going to jail, but instead going to a mental hospital to get help.  The officers tried to handcuff her and she stiffened up.   Eventually, the officers did get the handcuffs on her and then attempted to put Ms. English in the police car.  Ms. English refused to comply, stiffening her body and resisting being put into the car.  The officers did succeed in getting Ms. English into the car and to the hospital without any injury or further incident.  Ms. English was in the local hospital for eleven days.  She attended therapy sessions that included coping skills and anger management, and was provided medication for her diagnosed mental illness.  Upon her release, Ms. English continued outpatient care and therapy.   Ms. English was arrested after her release for the charges of larceny and resisting a public officer, stemming from the incidents on the day of her commitment to the hospital.

In the English case, the characteristics of the arresting officer and two district attorneys ultimately determined when and how the case was disposed of.  From the outset, the client and her family expressed an understanding that the arresting officer was sympathetic towards her situation. A brief conversation with the officer on the client’s trial date confirmed this.  The officer understood that Ms. English had been experiencing some degree of mental distress at the time of the crime, and that her actions were likely the result of that distress rather than any criminal intent.  In this respect, the officer believed a criminal penalty would not benefit Ms. English.  The officer, without being prompted, stated that he was not opposed to dismissing the case.  When Ms. English’s case was ultimately dismissed, the assistant district attorney (ADA) deferred to the officer before making this decision.

Had this police officer not been compassionate and legitimately concerned with what was best for Ms. English, the case would have proceeded to trial.  The officer could have easily stood his ground and contended that Ms. English’s actions were within the meaning of the relevant statutes and that she should submit to the consequences of her actions.  Instead, the officer was thoughtful and understood what was best for Ms. English.  He wasn’t concerned with which actions were legal and which were illegal, he was concerned with the best outcome for the parties involved.  This is what justice is really about, rather than harsh, indifferent results that can fracture peoples’ lives.

Prosecutors and police officers play a substantial role in when and how a case is disposed, as prosecutors have a great deal of discretion.  How a particular prosecutor chooses to exercise her discretion can influence the outcome of a case far more than a statute or fact.  For instance, some prosecutors are focused primarily on efficiency in an effort to dispose of more cases, and thereby make quick decisions based solely upon the nature of the charge itself.  Others, however, are interested in the smaller details of the crime and are more invested in what outcomes are just.  We were fortunate Ms. English had a thoughtful prosecutor and police officer, both of which led to a just result.  Redefining justice as more than seeking a conviction and exacting a pound of flesh can be the first step in a serious dialogue with communities about the true meaning of justice.

[*] The name has been changed to protect the confidential attorney-client relationship.


Former CRC member sworn in at Mecklenburg County Courthhouse

October 20, 2014

Thom Prince, member of the Civil Rights Clinic from 2013-2014 and all-around great guy, passed the North Carolina Bar Exam in July and was officially sworn in to practice in North Carolina by our very own professor, Jason Huber.Swearing Huber

Thom is currently employed as an attorney with Milazzo Schaffer Webb Law, PLLC.

The Civil Rights Clinic would like to congratulate Thom on his excellent achievements!


Attend the next Charlotte ACLU Meeting!

September 30, 2014

The Homeless Prevention Team of the Charlotte ACLU, in cooperation with Legal Aid of North Carolina, will provide the programming for the ACLU’s general meeting on October 5th at Unitarian Universalist Church of Christ at 7:00 p.m.   The Charlotte ACLU’s general meetings are open to the public and the public is encouraged to attend.

At the meeting, District Court Judge Rebecca Tin will present her perspective on the courtroom process where tenants at risk of losing their home must represent themselves without an attorney.  Former Civil Rights Clinic member and current Legal Aid staff member, Isaac Sturgill, and Shanae Auguste from Legal Aid will join her in that presentation.  They will show a film that depicts a woman facing eviction and how she prepares for her court appearance.  Following the presentation will be a question and answer session.

For more information:  http://www.aclu-charlotte.org/events.html.


Passion in the Law: Interning in Costa Rica with an Unexpected Ending

September 29, 2014

By: Brandon Pierce

Many law students are not sure which legal path they wish to pursue.  Until recently, I was one of those students, searching for my passion within the law.  Fortunately, I found that passion 5,000 miles away nestled in a Costa Rican rainforest.

THE REPUBLIC OF COSTA RICA

Home of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Costa Rica is a pluricultural and multiethnic country with a diversity of scenery, languages, and people.  [1]  But with that diversity comes an assortment of communal problems with generational impacts.  Those problems need attention, which is why I decided to work in such a diverse country.

Brandon on the judges’ bench at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Brandon on the judges’ bench at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

DIVING IN HEADFIRST

I had the privilege this summer to intern with the C.R. Office of the Ombudsman, a public institution that protects the rights of Costa Rica’s citizens.  My assignments dealt with citizens’ rights in four areas: (1) education, (2) disability, (3) LGBTQ relations, and (4) minority groups, e.g. afro-descendants, indigenous tribes, etc.  My first day on the job included meeting with community leaders and attending sessions to educate citizens on the laws that impact them.  Work within these areas included visiting rural towns on high mountain peaks, interviewing foreign diplomats, and even sitting before the seven judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

THE UNEXPECTED “AHA!” MOMENT

Costa Rica consists of eight indigenous groups that inhabit twenty-four territories and utilize seven legally recognized languages.  It wasn’t until I reached the small indigenous community of Shiroles that I realized the power of passion.  As my colleagues and I found ourselves trekking through a muddy Costa Rican rainforest, I never expected to find that “aha!” moment that inspired my future career path.

A bridge leading into the Shiroles Community.

A bridge leading into the Shiroles Community.

Man-made houses, handwoven clothing, and raw nature made up the community I visited.  Instantaneously upon arrival, community leaders, students, and parents assembled to hear our group.  These individuals were concerned for the future of their community.  They wanted to voice their concerns on the threat of losing their culture, the contamination of their natural resources, and the government’s illegal deprivation of their land.  My job was to document their stories and educate them on the law that protects their culture.  Their stories involved matters we take for granted or may never experience.  In many instances, indigenous students are prohibited from using their native language in school, many domestic violence disputes go unreported, and agricultural companies pollute the natural water sources used to nourish communities.  Most indigenous communities inhabit their lands without legal title, that is, a government-issued document that demonstrate they own land.  Their lack of title is reasonable considering they have inhabited these lands for centuries, even before any form of government existed.

This lack of legal title makes these communities vulnerable to unlawful foreclosures.  Consequently, foreign corporations, tourists, and even the government, has illegally taken land from indigenous territories to develop more infrastructure.  This information we gathered was used to draft a complaint against the government.  Most of my initial interactions with the Shiroles people consisted of me speaking and receiving confused, unwelcoming stares in return.  Though discouraging at times, I continued to work with the people and tried to make some sort of connection.  After working for a week in the community, something remarkable happened on the last day.

Brandon interacting with members of the Shiroles community.

Brandon interacting with members of the Shiroles community.

That day a student pulled me aside.  He explained to me the struggles of growing up feeling this his government does not care about his culture, ancestral history, or rights as a living being.  In the end, the student thanked me for being “a voice for us who have no voice.”  I was speechless.  The gratitude and satisfaction in knowing that I helped make a difference in someone’s life stays with me today.  With that humble encounter, I realized how I wanted to move my legal career forward.  It was there that I determined I would be a human rights attorney, a voice for those without a voice.

ADVICE FOR CAREER PASSION SEEKERS

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Passion is energy.  Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

This euphoric quotation informs us all that our energy is derived from our passion.  If you believe the author, you would agree that without passion there can be no energy.   In a field that requires long work hours, such as law, there is undoubtedly a great amount of energy required.  Therefore, finding passion in one’s work is imperative.

I was privileged to sit with indigenous people, converse with community elders and sing with school children.  I was so blessed by those encounters while interning abroad and received more than I think I gave to them.

Brandon touring the Shiroles indigenous community.

Brandon touring the Shiroles indigenous community.

I discovered that we are more alike than different, full of compassion rather than hate, and full of peace, not violence.  Through this internship, I discovered that human rights can awaken us to the power and worth of our own lives.  Then, it is our responsibility to use that power to fulfill our life’s purpose.

Ask yourself:  What job excites me?  What is the one thing I can’t stop thinking about?  An even harder question: If I had to do it for free, would I still do it?  Your passion lays in the answers to those questions.  My experiences in the Shiroles community helped to find my answers.  What will it take for you to find yours?

As you step onto your mark, and get set to find your career passion, there is only one thing left to say as you take the first step.  “Go!”


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