Two newly minted lawyers with a deep dedication to public service are prepared to launch a yearlong effort to aid poverty-stricken residents of rural Richmond County.
Kaitlyn A. Girard and Meghan Melo, recent law school graduates who passed the state bar exam in July, are officially eligible to practice law in North Carolina and will mark the start of their Clifton W. Everett Sr. Community Lawyer Fellowships by assisting residents of Richmond County. As Everett Fellows, Girard and Melo will spend a year providing free legal help to impoverished residents struggling with civil legal problems involving family law, housing issues, public benefits, employment and more.
More than a quarter of all Richmond County residents live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, placing it high among the state’s poorest counties. Next year’s Everett Fellows will continue Girard and Melo’s work.
Though they only just graduated from law school, Girard and Melo already have demonstrated a serious commitment to social justice, say officials with the Fellowship program.
Girard, a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law, served as executive director of the school’s Pro Bono Project, coordinating public service efforts to benefit community organizations and individuals in need. She also participated in a spring break service trip to LANC’s Pembroke office to work on elder law issues, and interned at the Children’s Law Center of Central North Carolina in Winston-Salem and Rappahannock Legal Services in Virginia.
“We’re doing a lot of really cool stuff around the county … ,” Girard said. “We’re going to be in a variety of different places, and hopefully doing some community education as well. It’s such a great experience for a first-year attorney … a lot of times you get stuck behind a desk when you’re a young lawyer, but with this, we’re able to assist real people.”
Melo, a graduate of UNC School of Law, already has a long history with Legal Aid of North Carolina. From 2005 to 2008 she was a paralegal first with LANC’s Battered Immigrant Project and then with its Farmworker Unit. During law school she participated in the Civil Litigation Clinic and interned at the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Global Workers Justice Alliance in New York City. She has received awards for her civil rights work and her commitment to immigrant workers’ rights.
“This year, they really wanted to focus on Richmond County, because there hasn’t been a lot of Legal Aid presence in the past,” Melo said, adding that she has previously worked in Moore County, but was excited to see more of Richmond County. “One of the reasons I was interested in doing the Fellowship is because I knew they wanted more of a community outreach component. I really enjoy educating people about their legal rights and what it can offer them, so I’m prepared to provide legal services but also provide educational services for people in the county.”
“The depth of Kaitlyn and Meghan’s dedication to social justice at this point in their careers is truly impressive and bodes well for their ability to make a meaningful difference in Richmond County,” said David Richardson, a LANC staff attorney who will supervise the fellows.
A swearing-in ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. on Sept. 10 in Courtroom 2B in the Richmond County Courthouse on 105 W. Franklin St. District Judge Amanda Wilson will preside.