How Charlotte School of Law students are hands-on in the community

Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the Charlotte School of Law in the Charlotte Plaza on S. College Street. What I learned surprised me. Charlotte School of Law is a fully accredited law school and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall. 

Currently, they have 780 enrolled students with 240 anticipated May 2016 graduates. The active student body and faculty support local and global issues through symposiums, campus organizations and community projects.

The school’s emphasis is on serving the underserved through community service and pro bono work. Every graduate is required to have hands-on experience practicing alongside a supervising North Carolina attorney through their Experiential Education programs. Their clinics offer ways for students to learn and provide legal assistance for qualifying Charlotteans.

Scott Sigman is an associate professor at Charlotte School of Law and the director of the 13 different clinics. The clinics are free to the clients and cover a range of areas, from immigration to homelessness prevention to driver’s license restoration and entrepreneurship.

Sigman said, “Small groups of students are selected to participate in individual clinical experiences where they deliver real legal representation to real clients under the supervision of a licensed clinician.”

The school encourages business development in the community through the Entrepreneur Clinic. They provide help to small business owners and entrepreneurs by assisting with filing necessary documents for a limited liability corporation, intellectual property, copyright and trademark protection. They sponsor advice-only workshops on special topics throughout the year at the public library.

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Second-year student Cemile Sanli, 24, has been working with the Access to Justice: Human Rights Clinic alongside the Immigration Clinic. She is learning how to advocate for clients, apply for special visas and work alongside colleagues.

Sanli said, “It means more to me than words can really express. I actually want to do immigration law and this has solidified that for me. It has grown my confidence and helped me determine what type of attorney I want to be.”

The Driver’s License Restoration Clinic helps people who have lost their driving privileges. Sigman explained how an unpaid traffic violation can lead to the “death spiral” – loss of license leads to inability to get to work, then can’t pay rent and finally, face homelessness.

Sigman said, “The absence of driving privileges hits underserved populations to a much greater extent than any other population because those folks cannot afford what it takes to pay for the fine for the infraction. It has spiraling effects that the average person does not think about.”

Eligible clients for the various clinics are referred through private referrals or partnering agencies like Legal Aid of NC, Safe Alliance, Public Defender’s Office and Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont.

Joteveer Singh (Charlotte School of Law student), Emanuel Mejia Lopez, Makan Mashhour (Charlotte School of Law student) and Fernando Núñez (Charlotte School of Law Assistant Professor)Joteveer Singh (Charlotte School of Law student), Emanuel Mejia Lopez, Makan Mashhour (Charlotte School of Law student) and Fernando Núñez (Charlotte School of Law Assistant Professor)

Emanuel Mejia Lopez, 26, is a recent client of the Immigration Clinic. Lopez sought asylum in the US when he was harassed verbally and attacked physically for being a gay man in Mexico City, Mexico. He was referred to the Charlotte School of Law through Faith Action International House in Greensboro. Students in the clinic advocated for him in court and Lopez was given asylum in May of last year. He lives and works in Charlotte and hopes to attend college in the fall.

Lopez said, “My life was saved because it was a matter of time before something happened to me. The work the clinic did allowed me to stay here (in the US).”

Charlotte School of Law: 201 S. College Street (704) 971-8500

Photos: Shantal Ortega, Emanuel Mejia Lopez