Pro bono project offers legal services to cancer patients

Cancer patients at UNC and Duke have one less thing to worry about, thanks to the recently launched Cancer Pro Bono Legal Project. The cutting-edge collaboration among the law schools and cancer centers at the two universities and the North Carolina Bar Association offers free legal services to local cancer patients. The project has won funding from the Kenan Biddle Foundation as well as the North Carolina Bar Foundation.

Carolina Law students will assist pro bono attorneys in providing legal assistance at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center on the second and fourth Friday of each month while Duke Law students will offer monthly sessions at the Duke Cancer Institute on the first and third Fridays. Under the supervision of licensed attorneys — all of whom are working pro bono — the students work with patients on advanced directives, financial powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney and living wills. In addition to providing direct services, students and pro bono attorneys will also offer cancer patients monthly “Know Your Rights” seminars on a variety of legal topics including employment rights, disability insurance and insurance rights.

Sylvia Novinsky, assistant dean for public service programs at UNC School of Law, says that the project furthers the law school’s mission to educate and serve. “Our students will learn some very valuable skills, such as client interviewing and document drafting,” she says. “At the same time, it’s a tangible way for students to give back to the residents of our state.”

“This project allows cancer patients to get their affairs in order without worrying about the cost, which is a real issue for many cancer patients,” Novinsky says. “We are so grateful to be able to serve in this way.”

Last May, while attending the ABA Equal Justice conference, Novinsky heard about a pro bono legal program at George Washington University Law School, which helps cancer patients without access to legal services. After learning that program founder Chrissy Cianflone was moving to the Duke Cancer Institute, Novinsky approached her about a UNC-Duke partnership to create a similar program. 

Novinsky says that the reaction among Carolina Law students has been heartening. “We have 60 UNC students signed up, each of whom has completed two three-hour trainings,” she says. “So many of the students have been touched by cancer, whether they have had it themselves or have seen a family member suffer. This program offers a way for them to use their skills to help people at what is probably their most vulnerable time.”

“We’re in the fortunate place of having more volunteers than we need for the clinics so we are able to look at how else we can provide services,” says Novinsky. “We also have really committed partners who all say, ‘How can we do this better?’ I’m really looking forward to helping people in this way.”

Published March 26, 2013.