PUBLISHED:April 21, 2009

E. Carol Spruill praised for building thriving pro bono community at Duke Law

April 21, 2009 — At an afternoon reception on April 20, Duke Law students and faculty paid tribute to Senior Lecturing Fellow Carol Spruill and her stewardship of the Office of Pro Bono and Public Interest over 18 years as associate dean.

Earlier in the day, the Duke Bar Association, which sponsored the reception, presented Spruill with a special award for her distinguished service to the Duke Law community. She also received the Law Alumni Association’s A. Kenneth Pye Award for her work in shaping the Law School’s pro bono community as its first dean of Pro Bono and Public Interest, at the Reunion 2009 kick-off celebration on April 17.

As the first in a series of speakers, Jennifer Ma ’09 praised Spruill’s “skilled and graceful stewardship” of pro bono and public interest activities at the Law School. Ma recalled Spruill’s “comforting presence” and guidance as she handled a challenging pro bono legal case, as well as Spruill’s generosity with her time. “When I would wander into her office, she never made me feel rushed, she never looked at the clock. If she had, I’m sure she would have discovered that she had given a thousand six-minute increments just to me over the course of a semester,” said Ma.

Like Ma and other student speakers, Jeff Ward ’09 thanked Spruill for offering gentle guidance and wise counsel to students, “emboldening” them to pursue their dreams. “She’s the person who will truly challenge you to think about the choices you’re making, to think about the kind of possibilities that lay before you,” said Ward. In her Poverty Law class, he added, she urges students to see the world as it is and think about all the ways they can make it better. “Dean Spruill has been the undeniable centerpiece of a thriving community of service-oriented students at Duke Law,” he said. “She has directed our energies, encouraged our ideas, and fortified our habits of service.”

The Law School’s nationally-recognized pro bono program “was really created in the landscape that Carol built,” said Clinical Professor Jane Wettach, director of the Children’s Law Clinic, who also noted Spruill’s long and successful tenure as a Legal Services lawyer before coming to Duke. Speaking on behalf of the entire clinical faculty, Wettach praised Spruill’s blend of creativity, enthusiasm, and leadership, and her ability to develop every pro bono idea that came her way into an opportunity for service. “There are no barriers, only opportunities,” said Wettach, listing some of the many programs Spruill facilitated or created locally and nationally.

Spruill, who will continue to teach her popular Poverty Law class, expressed her appreciation for students’ readiness to respond to needs they see in the community through public interest and pro bono work. Over many years, she observed, student leaders launched programs which were continually maintained and improved by subsequent classes.

“One of the things we want most is a sense of purpose,” she said. “You are all folks who care about that. You are all so talented and have so many advantages in life. And it’s so wonderful that you are willing to share that.”