4ALL: A Chance For Volunteers To Help In Real Time

4ALL Statewide Service Day, scheduled for March 1, gives North Carolinians the opportunity to ask law-related questions of NCBA volunteers at no cost. The event is sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Foundation. Click here to register to volunteer.

By Nicolette Fulton

The first Friday in March is blocked on my calendar. I am a 4ALL volunteer. Across the state, hundreds of attorney volunteers like me staff seven call centers where they will to respond to about 10,000 callers. It’s a full day!

My day starts when I walk into the WRAL studios, to be there when the phones start ringing at 7a.m., and I stay until the phones stop at 7 p.m. As 7 a.m. rolls around, the station broadcasts our call-in number, and the first phone rings. I have before me my trusty notebook (did they cover this in law school?), my reliance that my coffee(s) has kicked in, and my hope that I have not forgotten everything from my former private practice life. (I haven’t always been an Associate Raleigh City Attorney.)

Traffic ticket  ̶  I know those! Easing into the day. The hours roll by, and some of my calls get harder. Some calls will be light, some will require the assistance of a Legal Aid of North Carolina floater. The calls ebb and flow. Volunteers can stay for one session or stay all day. I can promise that time flies, and in the interim, you make great connections with other attorneys, new and not so new.

While each call is supposed to last no more than five minutes, I would be lying if I said I followed that rule all of the time. On the other end of the phone is a person, a human being, seeking help or an answer. One of the hardest calls I ever answered during 4ALL was from a woman trying to make a new way for her and her children by escaping an abusive spouse. She had to make the call while her husband was at work. Another memorable call was from an elderly lady who had just lost her husband, and did not know what to do. The phone calls run the gamut. There may be tears, there may be laughs but there will most definitely be a “thank you.” It amazes me the impact of simply being able to speak to another person; sometimes, that is all your caller needs  ̶  somebody to listen.

4ALL lets you broaden your horizons to areas outside of your normal practice. In one 4ALL day you will cover: Real Estate, Family Law, Estates, Criminal Law, Bankruptcy, Civil Litigation and there will likely be some other interesting matters thrown in for good measure. If you don’t know the answer, there are LANC volunteers available. If you can’t answer, the volunteers can answer as well. For example, I once answered a phone with a caller who simply stated: “How can I sue the City?”  I handed that call to a LANC volunteer.

4ALL is the opportunity to help someone on an individual basis that you often miss when you represent the government or even a large organization. Until recently, government attorneys have been limited in how we could conduct pro bono. 4ALL lets us. With short three-hour session(s), one day a volunteer has a chance to help someone by answering a question, providing information or referring them to the NCBA Lawyer Referral Service. For me, 4ALL feels like the opportunity to help 10,000 people in one day.

At 7 p.m. when 4ALL ends, I look forward to the next year, when I can again be there for some of those 10,000 persons who are seeking answers, information, somebody… help.