Nonprofit law firm opens in Washington

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

There’s a new kind of law firm in town, and it’s one of only a few in the state.

Inner Banks Legal Services is a new, nonprofit firm, serving clients no matter their financial situation and only charging what they can afford. Opened by Fuquay-Varina native Sarah Beth Withers, it’s making a home right here in Washington.

“A lot of people will go to an attorney’s office, and they’ll be told, ‘Yeah, it’ll cost you $200 an hour,’ and then they can’t estimate how many hours it’ll take. There just aren’t a lot of flat fee services,” Withers explained. “I come from a squarely middle-class family, and I know what it was like growing up for my parents struggling to make ends meet. … The majority of America falls into that middle class, struggling each month just to cover their own expenses, much less hire an attorney when they need legal help.”

That’s where the concept of “low bono” services comes into play. Attorney fees are set up on a sliding scale, based on the client’s household size and income. Withers described her work as falling in between free legal aide and traditional, for-profit firms­ — closing what is called a “justice gap.”

“It’s a very new concept. In fact, it start just a few years ago with a firm called Open Legal Services in Utah, and since then, a lot of law schools have opened up legal clinics, and then from there, some of the attorneys that worked in the legal clinics have started working on these nonprofit firms,” Withers said.

She said there are two nonprofit firms about to open in Greensboro and Asheville, while another firm with a similar setup is located in Wilmington.

Encouraged by a love for eastern North Carolina and seeing a need with low-income and middle-class families in the area, Withers said she knew this was the place to serve. Withers attributes a large part of her inspiration today to her time as an intern working for the late Judge Randy Doub.

“He just really instilled in me a passion to serve those in eastern North Carolina that really are of low income, which is the majority of people here in the east,” Withers said. “Right now I’m only doing bankruptcy services, but I’m currently interviewing other attorneys, so hoping to expand to other areas here within the next few months, particularly family law, criminal — employment law is a possibility.”

Withers said she and her husband were impressed with the hometown feel of Washington, which is what led them to put down their roots here. He works at a law firm in Greenville.

Now all that’s left is to get the word out about Inner Banks Legal and let area residents know the services available to them. It’s a task Withers does not take lightly, as she is striving to help as many people as she can.

“(Christ) calls us to serve those in need, and so, I guess part of my Christian mission is to serve those in need,” she said.

Inner Banks Legal Services is located at 130 E. Second St. in Washington. For more information, call 252-495-0585 or visit