Profile: Carol Spruill

February 26, 2007Duke Law News

-Name: Carol Spruill

-Title: Senior Lecturing Fellow and Associate Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono

- Time at the Law School: I will have completed 15 years in August. That will mean that I have had two 15-year careers. My first career was as a legal services attorney.

-Family members: My husband, Jack Nichols, is an attorney in Raleigh. My son, Charles Nichols, 24, is a Colorado College graduate, and is still in Colorado Springs working in a day care center but about to move to parts unknown for a profession unknown. My other son, Jackson Nichols, almost 26, is a break dancer who is about to graduate from Duke Law School. He will be a Triple Dukie.

-Where is home? I was born in Washington, NC - a small town on a big river in Eastern North Carolina. My mom still lives there in the house we moved into when I was 12. Now I live in Raleigh and commute to Durham everyday. Other than a year in Boston and several summers elsewhere, I have lived in North Carolina all my life.

-Favorite sports or hobbies: These break down into the things I actually do (exercise through kick boxing, step aerobics and yoga; gardening; taking photographs; travel; reading) and the things I imagine would be the most fun to get back to if I had the time (water colors; singing; dancing; writing; piano; more of all in the first category).

-Many of us have seen your water-color paintings, we know you sing and you are an attorney. The left and right portion of your brain must duke it out daily. Let's just say that at work I look for every possible right-brain opportunity in a left-brain profession.

-Best thing about your job: Working with some of the most talented, bright and dedicated students in the world, and taking pride in their public service accomplishments both at the Law School and after graduation.

-You and Kim Burrucker go out of your way each year to recognize all of the hard work students have put into helping others with their legal skills, has it always been that way? Why so much effort on your part toward this? When I first came to Duke Law, I had many experiences with students coming one-on-one into my office and saying, "I'm not like these other people." Then the next student would come in and say the same thing. I would tell them, "You are like these other students. There are lots of you who want to use at least a part of your careers on behalf of those who are not as fortunate." Our efforts over the last 15 years have been to build a public interest program that is very visible so that the vast majority of Duke Law students with public service values can find each other and know they are not alone.

-When did "Pro Bono" become a noun rather than an adjective? It was on April 17, 1967 at 9:57 a.m. Seriously though, I will take this platform to address a larger issue, which is the difference in pro bono and public interest. Pro bono, whether noun or adjective, means doing uncompensated work for the public good or on behalf of someone who otherwise would be unrepresented. Public interest is a much broader term. In the context of our Office, on the pro bono side we work with students who are volunteering pro bono to provide law-related legal services in the community. However, we also help find places for people to work for pay or for law school credit, and we sponsor many opportunities for the Law School community to get together to discuss public service values and contemplate what their role will be in the future. So the Office is about a lot more than pro bono. We're also mistakenly called the "PILF Office," whereas PILF is a student organization, but there is not space here to explain that one fully.

-You have served on civic boards, worked for Legal Services of North Carolina and been at Duke Law School since 1991. What has been your most rewarding professional experience to date? I am very bad at superlatives. I can never pick just one thing. I have had an enormous number of rewarding professional experiences. As a legal aid lawyer, I worked with hundreds of clients and had many incredible experiences. I also spent eight years on the NC Child Day Care Commission and engaged in some of my fiercest advocacy battles there. As Deputy Director of Legal Services of North Carolina, my most dramatic memory is of fighting investigation teams sent by the Reagan administration to catch us doing something they had prohibited. I'm about to start a new venture as a member of the NC Access to Justice Commission to deal with the enormous problem we have of 80% of low-income people not having access to an attorney in our civil court system. Etc. This is all in addition to the incredibly rewarding experiences that I have working with students at Duke Law.

-Hardest thing about your job: Being torn in so many directions. Many days I feel like an air traffic controller when sitting at my computer quickly dealing with an onslaught of email messages through which I am trying to help organize various groups of people who are planning events, designing a new pro bono activity, seeking a new job, working on a poverty law paper or externship, etc. And I always have more ideas than I can get around to implementing. Oh, and I should add that commuting back and forth to Raleigh in rush hour every day is no picnic.

-Something other Law Schoolers don't know about you but you'd like them to: I'm pretty open, so anyone who wants to listen knows a lot about me.