The North Carolina Central University Civil Litigation Clinic affords students the unique opportunity to develop their skills in the craft of lawyering in the field of civil litigation, while providing assistance to low income and vulnerable members of our community, furthering our commitment to “Equal Justice Under the Law.”
Currently, the Civil Litigation Clinic is divided into two semesters. In the Fall semester, students receive intensive training in areas of civil litigation using practical simulations, case examples, and actual cases within the clinic. Clinic cases include a wide range of legal problems in areas such as landlord – tenant, consumer protection, government benefits, employment, and civil rights. For example, the Civil Litigation Clinic currently represents people with housing discrimination claims and unemployment benefits cases. The Civil Litigation Clinic is also currently representing prisoners in a federal civil rights action challenging prison conditions in the Western District of North Carolina. The Civil Litigation Clinic also investigates cases of police misconduct, excessive force, and wrongful death.
In the Fall semester, students learn client interviewing and counseling, factual investigation and case analysis, preparation of pleadings, discovery practice, motion practice and pre-trial preparation. Students also learn to manage documents and files in complex litigation cases.
In the Spring semester, students handle their own caseload primarily made up of low-income clients referred by the Durham Legal Aid Program. Students are certified pursuant to North Carolina’s Third Year Practice Rule and, under the close supervision of Professor Scott Holmes, the supervising attorney, students learn to translate their knowledge of legal theory to tangible legal assistance for clients. As a result, students learn skills not offered in other parts of the law school curriculum—applying sound legal judgment, using common sense, and expressing compassion and commitment to solve legal problems facing people and the communities in which they live. In the process, students gain a more holistic and practical knowledge of areas of the law in practice including civil procedure, real estate, constitutional law, civil rights litigation, administrative procedure, contracts, evidence, and other substantive areas of law.
To be admitted into the Civil Litigation Clinic, students should have completed or should be contemporaneously enrolled in Trial Practice. Students with questions about the Civil Litigation clinic should contact Professor Holmes in Room 33, or call (919) 530-7463, or email Scott.Holmes@nccu.edu.
What Students Have to Say About the Civil Litigation Clinic
The only true way to prepare to practice law is to participate in a clinic. The Civil Litigation Clinic gave me the practical skills needed to competently begin my career as an attorney. The opportunity to assume a civil case from start to finish and reach a successful resolution was a powerful learning experience. The weekly meetings with clinic peers and the clinic supervising attorney simulate the experience of working with other attorneys in a law firm and offered a supportive learning environment. – Ruth Bradshaw, Class of 2006
The Civil Litigation Clinic prepared me for my current position where I will conduct a heavy amount of litigation. The course is one that heightens confidence not only in the courtroom, but also within pre-trial preparation, as I consistently reference the course’s writing assignments and reading materials. The course is strongly recommended, as students will enhance their legal knowledge by directly applying the North Carolina Rules of Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Rules of Court, and eases students into an advocacy role of which can only be successfully taught through simulation and real cases. – Jennifer Sanders
An Example of the Civil Litigation Clinic’s Advocacy in Action
In 2008, as media reports surfaced about the subprime mortgage melt down and rampant predatory lending practices by lenders, 64 year old Annie Smith (not her real name) sought legal assistance from NCCU’s Civil Litigation Clinic. Ms. Smith was facing foreclosure of her home because she was allegedly behind in her payments. The clinic student handling her case quickly discovered that Ms. Smith was current in her payments. The problem was the way in which the mortgage company treated her escrow payments. A simple misunderstanding like this should have been quickly resolved with a phone call or letter. Case closed, right? Not exactly. The mortgage company dug in its heels and continued to pursue foreclosure.
The student redoubled his efforts finding that Ms. Smith, in fact, was the victim of a predatory lending scheme. Two mortgage companies induced her to enter into separate adjustable rate mortgages in less than three years. Each time, a mortgage broker took an exorbitant commission for “flipping” the loans. There also was clear evidence of broker fraud and misrepresentation throughout the transactions. To make matters worse, the record-keeping by the mortgage companies was abysmal. At this point the student learned, first hand, about the “securitization” debacle unfolding across America. As the student noted in the case file, “I guess Ms. Smith’s mortgage is just another toxic asset held by some unknown entity.”
The student filed a complaint with the State Banking Commission and prepared to litigate Ms. Smith’s case if the mortgage company pursued foreclosure. While the case was pending, two mortgage companies that held Ms. Smith’s mortgage went out of business. To make matters worse, all of the opposing lawyers the clinic had been negotiating with were fired or laid off. With no one to negotiate with, it felt like the Clinic was shooting at a moving target.
In the end, the student’s perseverance and hard work paid off. A new mortgage company, represented by a “reasonable” lawyer, was assigned the loan. A favorable settlement was quickly negotiated and Ms. Smith’s loan was refinanced at a rate that cut her monthly payments by nearly $200. Today, she is current on her house payments and is thankful for the assistance offered by the Clinic.
When her case was closed, with her new found savings, Ms. Smith offered to pay the Clinic for its work on her behalf. She was informed that the Clinic cannot accept contributions. Not to be dissuaded, Ms. Smith prepared a batch of her world famous banana pudding and delivered it to the students and faculty in the Clinic on a sunny spring afternoon. It was, without a doubt, the best banana pudding anyone had ever tasted!!
What the client had to say about the Clinic’s representation
I was scared and thought I was going to lose my home. My student lawyer researched my case and explained the law to me in simple terms I could understand. He was very professional. I always felt I had an advocate in my corner. He saved my home. I cannot say enough good things about the work done by the lawyers and students in the Civil Litigation Clinic.
Supervising Attorney: Scott Holmes
Potential Clients: If you need legal assistance, please contact Legal Aid of NC-Durham at 919-688-6396.