Becton asks lawyers to assist state’s poor

Published 4:28 am Thursday, October 4, 2007

By Staff
Pitches state initiative to provide justice ‘4ALL’
Staff Writer
Charles Becton, president-elect of the North Carolina Bar Association, wants Beaufort County lawyers to use their expertise to help the poor.
Speaking at a meeting of the Beaufort County Bar Association at a Washington restaurant on Wednesday, Becton explained and touted a NCBA initiative to offer legal services to North Carolinians living below the poverty line. As “social engineers,” Becton said, lawyers have an obligation to ensure that “even the least of us have equal access to our courts of law.”
The state bar has launched an initiative called 4ALL that aims to offer legal services to the nearly three million state residents living under the poverty line. The program has four tenets: To educate, legislate, donate and participate.
Legal Aid of North Carolina, a statewide nonprofit group that provides pro-bono legal services to the poor, employs 220 lawyers, according to Becton. Eight of every 10 cases the agency encounters have to be refused, he said. Taking cases free of charge also improves the image of the legal profession in the public’s mind — a goal Becton has set for his term as NCBA president. To that end, the state bar is campaigning for lawyers statewide to begin taking on pro-bono cases.
Becton said lawyers are “social engineers” charged by society to solve problems and uphold the law. In times past, he said, families of victims of tragedies such as the sinking of the Titanic had little legal recourse to secure adequate compensation for their losses. The families of the 1,517 people who died in that tragedy received an average of $64.65 in compensation, he said.