Pro Bono History

Pro Bono Teamwork: A tradition of the Buncombe County Bar

The obligation to provide pro bono service to the poor has been a responsibility and distinction of the legal profession since its beginnings. While attorneys historically provided pro bono service individually, in modern times the challenge of meeting our community’s need for pro bono service in an increasingly complex society has spurred the growth of organized efforts by attorneys from the national to local level to meet that challenge.

For over 30 years, the Buncombe County Bar has been committed to working together to meet the pro bono service needs of our community. During that time, pro bono service has evolved from an ad hoc group of volunteer attorneys into a unique “pro bono partnership”, which in 2000 enabled PLS and local attorneys participating in the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyers Program to assist over 3,400 Buncombe County low-income residents with legal problems affecting their basic needs.

Following are some of the highlights and milestones of the Buncombe County Bar’s tradition of organized pro bono service.


The Legal Aid Society of Buncombe County is formed. Lawyers who sign the Articles of Association include Frank M. Parker, president of the Buncombe County Bar Association (1965-66) and later one of the first judges on the newly-created North Carolina Court of Appeals; Harold K. Bennett, Association president (1972-73) and Superior Court Judge (1949-52); H. Kenneth Lee, Association president (1963-64); Ruben J. Dailey, the first black attorney to practice in Buncombe County; E.L. Loftin; Francis J. Heazel; and Alfred M. Salley. Other members of the Society were Eugene C. Ochsenreiter, later mayor of Asheville; Frank Marder and Harry Winner, both Asheville businessmen.


The Legal Aid Committee is administered successively by attorneys Karl Straus, Barry Kempson and William Wolcott, III. Karl Straus formalizes a referral system to distribute indigent cases to private attorneys who represent them pro bono. In the first 14 weeks, the Committee averaged 16 requests a week. Of the 224 requests, 100 were assigned a volunteer lawyer.


The Buncombe County Bar Association is awarded $122,040 by the Legal Services Corporation to use staff attorneys and members of the private bar to provide legal aid to the poor.


On January 18, 1978, the Legal Aid Service of the Buncombe County Bar Association receives its first client, a young woman seeking “separation papers” and child support. Using a “judicare” approach, private lawyers are paid for handling 182 cases for the indigent. Over the next three years, the Legal Aid Service will see over 2,000 people in its Buncombe County Courthouse offices.


Approximately 400 cases are opened by the Legal Aid Service with 172 referred to the private bar. A study by the Legal Services Corporation concludes that clients served by the private bar receive “high quality, efficient services.”


The Legal Aid Service applies for funding to expand services into Henderson, Madison, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties. Legal Services of North Carolina signs a contract with the Legal Aid Service of the Buncombe County Bar Association to provide civil legal services in all six counties. The Legal Aid Service purchases the Gudger House at 89 Montford Avenue in Asheville from the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County.


The Legal Aid Service changes its name to Pisgah Legal Services. New attorneys and support staff are hired to serve the six-county area. 641 cases are handled by staff and private attorneys between January and November 1981. The Gudger House is renovated to house the expanded staff. The house, built in 1895 and now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, stands as an important cornerstone in the redevelopment of the Montford Community.


The Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer Program begins and is administered by PLS to screen low-income clients and coordinate volunteer services of local attorneys.


The first United Way funding is secured by PLS to provide legal services to the poor after federal funding is cut by one-fourth.


The Pro Bono Committee of the Buncombe County Bar and Pisgah Legal Services develop a tantalizing “MENU” of pro bono service options, including the “Lawyer for the Day” program, resulting in an 86% increase in volunteers for the MAVL program.


Americorps volunteers are employed in the two-year Rutherford-Henderson Community Development Project.


The Buncombe County Bar (Buncombe County) wins the NCBA Chief Justice Award for outstanding public service. The Children’s Law Project is established at PLS to help disadvantaged children access essential services. Funding is provided by local attorneys, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, United Way, IOLTA and Buncombe County. PLS appears on CNN in story about federal funding cuts. PLS and the 28th Judicial District Pro Bono Committee begin the MAVL TEAM Project to focus on a “teamwork” approach to helping pro bono clients.


PLS charts a course to decrease a dependence on any single funding source as federal funding is cut by one-third and state funding is cut by one-fourth.


The Pro Bono Hotline begins the first of its kind in the State. The Mountain Violence Prevention Project is established at PLS to expand legal assistance to victims of domestic violence and child abuse. The Henderson Family Assistance Project begins to expand service in Henderson County with local resources. The annual value of volunteer services by local attorneys to low-income clients exceeds $200,000.


The Disability Assistance Project is established at PLS to expand legal services for the disabled to help them access health care and subsistence income. PLS decides to remain a community-based legal services corporation, rather than merge into Legal Services of North Carolina, Inc. In response, LSNC terminates funding to PLS effective November 15, 1998. PLS implements a strategic plan to maintain and expand legal services to the poor as an independent, community-based non-profit agency.


The Buncombe County Bar (Buncombe County) is again selected to receive the NCBA Chief Justice Award, the second time in less than 5 years. The honor is shared with attorneys throughout the 6 county service area of PLS, in recognition of their combined pro bono services valued at over $296,000 and their financial support for PLS.


PLS obtains funding to establish new offices in Henderson and Rutherford Counties and establishes the Elder Law Project. Buncombe County attorneys and 5 local firms donated more than $38,000 to help PLS leverage over $400,000 in additional funding. PLS staff and MAVL volunteer attorneys combine to serve over 3,432 Buncombe County residents.


Two new pro bono teams, the tax Team and the nonprofit Organization Team, are established in the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer Program. PLS is honored with the statewide North Carolina Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award, highlighting PLS’s community collaboration among other strengths. The Justice for All Project is established at PLS to serve low-income, non-English speaking immigrants meet basic needs. Attorneys in Buncombe County support PLS with over $50,000 in donations, and donate over 1,700 hours of pro bono service valued at $258,000.


Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyers (MAVL) program receives the North Carolina Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service from the Governor.


The law firm of Adams, Hendon, Carson, Crow and Saenger, PA is awarded the NCBA Small Law Firm Pro Bono Award, and attorney Heather Whitaker Goldstein is awarded the NCBA Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Attorney Service Award.


Attorneys in Buncombe County support PLS with over $66,700 in donations, and donate over 1,838 hours pro bono service through the Mountain Area Volunteer lawyer Program valued at $275,700.

The “Gudger House Defense Team” which includes Phillip S. Anderson, Sharon Tracey Barrett, Roy W. Davis, Jr., Cynthia Eller, Eugene Ellison, Mary E. Euler, Kerry Friedman, George Ward Hendon, Robert B. Long, Jr., Dennis L. Martin, Jr., Larry McDevitt, W. Carleton Metcalf, Martin K. Reidinger, Cindy M. Rice, Phillip J. Smith, Wyatt S. Stephens, Claire Vujanovic and T. Douglas Wilson contribute more than 696 hours to successfully resolve a legal challenge to PLS’ ownership of the Gudger House.


The law firm of Stone & Christy, P.A. (shareholders: William H. Christy, R. Walton Davis, III, James M. Ellis, and Bryant D. Webster is awarded the NCBA 2006 Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for Smaller Law Firms.

Susan Chitwood Barton, Jacob C. Ehrmann, Cindy M. Rice, and Allan P. Root are nominated for the NCBA 2006 William L Thorp Pro Bono Service Award.

The Buncombe County Bar is nominated for the NCBA 2006 Chief Justice Award and the ABA Harrison Tweed Award for the Bar’s exemplary commitment to organized pro bono service programs.

Mission Hospital attorneys Gary Bruce and Ann Young help to establish the Health Education And Legal Support (HEALS) Program, a medical-legal partnership providing indigent patients free civil legal assistance to meet their basic needs through PLS and the MAVLP.


James M. Ellis takes over from Dale A. Curriden as Chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the Buncombe County Bar.

Holly J. Fairbairn, William C. Frue, Jr., David G. Gray, Jr., and Esther Manheimer are nominated for the NCBA William L Thorp Pro Bono Service Award. The Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer Program is nominated for the NCBA Chief Justice Award.

PLS receives a special challenge grant from IOLTA to hire a part-time attorney to increase MAVLP referrals.