1Ls lead all Duke Law classes in pro bono hours
Building a habit of pro bono service starts in the first week at Duke Law. This fall's recorded pro bono hours show a continuing trend of high engagement in service among entering classes.
The first semester at Duke Law is packed with new faces, places, and experiences, not to mention adjusting to the rigors of the curriculum. So one would forgive 1Ls for being absorbed in their own lives.
But it appears students are coming to law school more enthusiastic about pro bono work than ever before, adding community service to their already full plates. In the fall semester, the JD class of 2026 accounted for more than half of all pro bono hours recorded by Duke Law students – including 2Ls, 3Ls, and LLMs.
“Anecdotally, the 1L class is far more engaged in pro bono than in previous years,” said Director of Pro Bono DJ Dore. “For whatever reason, whether it’s our messaging, the students’ own interests, or they’re all just more committed to doing pro bono, a lot more students have been involved. The 1Ls are doing a great job.”
When Dore joined Duke Law last year from Legal Aid of North Carolina, where he oversaw pro bono projects with Triangle area law schools, he set out to revitalize and expand the program after two years of pandemic-related restrictions. That effort is paying off: Duke Law students have tallied over 2,000 hours of pro bono service so far this semester through more than a dozen student-run pro bono groups; pop-up, virtual, and recurring clinics; participation in long-term community programs; and special cases.
“There have been a ton of projects going on with a lot of impact,” Dore said. “Everything is going gangbusters.”
Students have been receiving more exposure to pro bono as part of the curriculum. 1Ls learn about pro bono work during a professional development class, and are challenged to volunteer at least two hours through a class competition called “A Taste of Pro Bono.” As a capstone for his fall class on legal interviewing and counseling, Dore organized a Lawyer on the Line clinic to help Legal Aid clients with private landlord-tenant issues such as roach infestations, mold, and lack of electricity and water.
“As a law student, I knew I would only be in this area for a few years and I felt that it was my responsibility to try to give something back to the local community,” said Zeke Tobin ’25, who began pro bono work as a 1L, joining the Durham County guardian ad litem program last spring to advocate for abused and neglected children.
“It's easy to exist in a Duke or Duke Law bubble and become detached from the realities that so many of our neighbors experience.”
Read on for highlights of some of the pro bono projects Duke Law students participated in this fall.
Five 1Ls sworn in as Guardians ad Litem
This fall, five 1Ls became non-attorney guardians ad litem (GALs) – an unusually large number from one law school. Maame Adu JD/LLM ’26, Emily Bass ’26, Madison Detweiler ’26, Arielle Roos ’26, and Ryan Welch ’26 were sworn in at the Durham County Courthouse on Oct. 27 by District Court Judge Kendra Montgomery-Blinn ’03. Dore attributes the strong interest in the program to student leader Jungi Hong ’25.
“Jungi has been an outstanding advocate,” Dore said. “At a panel during LEAD Week, he talked about GAL in a very moving way and said it was the best thing he’s done in his time at Duke by far. And I think his description to the 1L class was really what motivated these students to get involved.”
GALs are trained community volunteers who investigate and advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children, many in foster care, whose cases are referred to the court by the Department of Social Services. Duties include monthly visits to the child or children, interviewing people in their life, drafting court reports, and testifying about their findings and recommendations. The program requires a significant time commitment, including 30 hours of training, and GALs are expected to serve until a permanent plan is approved for their client.
“I believe it’s important to talk about GAL to people who love working with children,” Hong said. “I recommend the program if you want to advocate for a child in the dependency court system and are passionate about helping kids navigate a very tough and traumatic part of their lives.”
Hong said GALs can improve both their people and investigative skills by forming relationships with social workers, therapists, and foster parents, and seeking information on the best interests of a child. He first learned about guardian ad litem work while volunteering at a summer camp for foster children, and as he wrote in his Duke Law application essay, it’s one of the reasons he applied to law school.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with children, and the most rewarding experience has been building a relationship with the kids,” Hong said. “Having a connection helps so much in knowing what I need to do to advocate for them, and for them to have someone to trust and talk to. Although I want to work at a federal agency, I hope I can become a GAL again in D.C. because I have enjoyed this experience so much.”
Broad Street Law relaunches
Broad Street Law returned after a pandemic-related hiatus. Formerly known as Street Law, the program offers 2Ls and 3Ls the opportunity to teach, mentor, and motivate young people in detention.
Student facilitators visited the Durham Youth Home twice a week this fall to teach residents an interactive pre-law lesson designed by the group’s curriculum builders. Topics include the criminal justice system, children’s rights, the political system, and constitutional issues, with material drawn from classes like Torts and Criminal Law.
“The goal is to make it comprehensive yet digestible, engaging yet not daunting ... to build enthusiasm for legal education and learning in general,” said Ceren Ege JD/MA ’25, who co-directs the program with Lucy Walton ’24.
Their students repeatedly surprised facilitators with their candor, curiosity, and willingness to engage, Ege said, wanting to learn more about specific areas of the law such as self-defense rights, adoption rights, and marriage and marriage equality. They also reflected meaningfully on issues such as who should decide laws, ideal qualities in judges, and the power juries hold.
“Every week we ask our students, ‘What was your favorite thing that happened today?’ and many state it’s been talking to us,” Ege said.
“We love that they enjoy us coming every week and that we can be a safe space for them to speak, learn, and grow. It is a privilege to get to meet these youths and share in their enthusiasm for their future—whether that be graduating high school, opening up their own food business, designing a fashion line, becoming a chef, or attending law school.”
To further encourage their learning, Broad Street Law is running a Winter Book Drive to refresh the Youth Home library with titles appropriate for teenagers. Especially appreciated are books by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors, urban fiction, and books about mental health. Books can be shipped through the Amazon Wishlist or can be dropped off in boxes in the Blue Lounge January 15th-February 2nd.
Ege and Walton encourage students interested in joining Broad Street Law as a facilitator, curriculum builder, or co-director to contact them.
New partnerships help seniors and veterans with vital legal documents
In September, Duke Law began a new partnership with the North Carolina Central University School of Law Elder Law Project (ELP) Wills Clinic. The clinic operates monthly during the academic year at the Durham Center for Senior Life.
Led by Lakethia Jefferies, pro bono legal clinic director at NCCU School of Law, students and volunteer attorneys complete wills, advance directives, and durable power of attorney documents for low-income senior citizens in Durham County.
"Participating in the Elder Law Project allowed me to gain valuable experience working with clients while also giving back to the Durham community,” said Anne Hicks ’24. “Moreover, I enjoyed meeting the NCCU law students involved in the Elder Law Project and connecting over our shared experiences.”
Cindy Cheng ’25 marked her second time volunteering with the clinic by successfully closing a case for a client. “The support and guidance from supervising attorneys were invaluable,” Cheng said. “Collaborating with students and faculty members at NCCU was a rewarding experience.”
Duke Law has also begun a new partnership with San Francisco-based veterans assistance organization Swords to Plowshares. Beginning next semester, student volunteers will work on VA benefits claims and military discharge upgrade applications for homeless and low-income veterans in California. Swords to Plowshare’s deputy legal director is Olivia Cole Stanwyck ’17, who conducted training at the Law School for 15 students in November.
Special case advocacy results in maximum award for young victim
Dore took on a special case this summer after learning of a crime victim who needed representation in an appeal. A teenager from an indigent family had suffered multiple sexual assaults as a child, and she and her mother had applied for financial assistance from the North Carolina Crime Victims Compensation program, which helps pay medical, dental, and counseling services for victims of violent crimes. Their application was denied due to untimely filing.
Dore volunteered and was appointed attorney guardian ad litem for the client. He recruited Tobin to assist with research, interviewing, and drafting of pleadings, briefs, and affidavits.
“It was an easy yes because otherwise she might not have had representation,” Tobin said. “I was nervous given the challenges and my relative lack of experience, but DJ did a great job of guiding me through the process.”
The challenges were significant: The client lives in eastern North Carolina, her parents speak limited English, and there were sensitivities involving gender and the nature of the crimes. To build trust, Dore and Tobin brought along a Spanish-speaking woman as an interpreter on their trips.
“We have a good relationship now with our client, but it’s probably the first time that she felt she could trust somebody to do right by her and not take advantage of the situation,” Dore said.
After extensive investigation into the nature and extent of damages and the timeframe in which the crimes occurred, Dore and Tobin moved for and received summary judgment, and their client was granted the maximum award – a five-figure amount that is significant to the family. The money will be set aside until the victim is 18.
Tobin said he was impressed by the strength and resolve of the client and her family and their persistence in pressing forward despite their difficult circumstances.
“I am happy we were able to secure that maximum award, but that doesn’t begin to truly compensate her for what she went through,” he said. “I know that the money she receives will help her, but I also walk away knowing that she deserves more. And by more, I mean she deserves peace and to be able to fully enjoy her childhood and adolescent years.”
Added Dore: “It’s one person out of probably thousands. But if each student can help one person, it adds up. And that’s why it’s so important to get 1Ls on this track so that they see these problems and continue to use their privilege to help.
“Zeke got involved in pro bono as a 1L and got exposed. And then when an issue presented itself, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The takeaway for students is, you don’t have to be an expert. An attorney who’s caring and is going to work hard can be the difference between a good outcome or a bad outcome, eviction or no eviction, a five-figure judgment or nothing at all. And it’s just showing up and being present. That, to me, is the definition of pro bono.”
He is currently supervising Taylor Dempsey '25 on another special case where the client, a human trafficking survivor, has decades-old criminal records that are not eligible for regular expunction. But under a recent North Carolina statute such convictions can be expunged if victims can prove they occurred during the time they were trafficked.
Dempsey was highly engaged in community service as an undergraduate and jumped into pro bono work as a 1L last year. Dore, who while an attorney at Legal Aid was the first person to use the new statute, is now guiding Dempsey as they work with the woman to build her case and get the charges expunged in Buncombe County Superior Court.
"Taylor and I will probably go at the end of January to represent this woman in court and Taylor will be able to take the lead, which will be quite exciting for her," Dore said. "It'll be quite impactful if we're able to get all these matters expunged."