By Rachel Royal
Perspective. That is what Michael Martinez, Bankruptcy and Corporate Attorney at Grier Wright Martinez, P.A., gleans from his pro bono work. He shares, “It really helps the effectiveness of my tact and approach dealing with my corporate clients when I’m simultaneously working with a pro bono client trying to save a house or put food on the table.” Although he has worked at the same firm since graduating from law school in 2009, Michael has volunteered for a wide variety of pro bono causes.
One of the most meaningful projects was one that he essentially pioneered in 2012 when he assisted terminal cancer patients at a local rehabilitative and palliative care clinic with end-of-life-planning. This project was particularly important because most of the patients were immigrants or underprivileged and unable to otherwise afford the legal assistance needed to prepare their families for the aftermath of their deaths. Many of these patients would leave behind minor children who would subsequently be orphaned which magnified the significance of this work. This project became so successful that it was too much for one person to handle. Michael eventually handed it off to the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, an organization that was able to streamline those services and funnel patients to a larger group of attorneys who could continue to assist them with their needs.
Michael makes his pro bono work a priority because of the satisfaction he feels when he has used his “particular knowledge and skills to help those who cannot afford to exercise their rights.” This desire to serve the underprivileged has gained the respect and admiration of his colleagues, as he was awarded the 2013 Legal Services of Southern Piedmont Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award and the 2018 NCBA Bankruptcy Section Outstanding Achievement in Pro Bono Award. He also recognizes the value in membership as a North Carolina Bar Association member of both the Bankruptcy Section and the Young Lawyers Division. However, he takes a step further than just being a participant and serves as a council member of the Bankruptcy Section and Chair of the Bankruptcy Section’s Annual Seminar Planning Committee. He has previously served with the YLD’s Pro Bono and Poverty Issues Committee and the Project Grace Committee in addition to volunteering for the YLD’s Wills for Heroes clinics.
His mission to stay involved and serve in a pro bono capacity has not waned. Michael continues his advocacy of underprivileged clients through both the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Lawyer on the Line. He primarily assists clients with debt and creditor issues through both projects. One of his most recent rewarding experiences has been assisting a client “who is homeless and unable to find meaningful employment because she cannot qualify for a driver’s license and, therefore, cannot demonstrate an ability to consistently arrive to scheduled shifts.” This client’s debt largely stems from a weighty judgment due to a motor vehicle accident, and it is this unsatisfied judgment that prevents her from obtaining a driver’s license. Michael is currently assisting the client with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition to discharge that debt and set her on the road to financial recovery. Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding both bankruptcy and homelessness which only exacerbates life circumstances that may not entirely be an individual’s fault. Attorneys like Michael who use their education and experience to learn an individual’s story and donate their time to assist are changing these perceptions once case at a time.
To find out more about the Lawyer on the Line project and volunteer, visit Legal Aid’s website here.