By Rachel Royal Steve Epstein considers it not only his duty as a lawyer, but his privilege, to provide pro bono service. “If not for me, who will do this work?” he questions. Since April 2010, Steve has spent his days as a Civil Litigation attorney at Poyner Spruill, LLP with a focus in Family Law. By contrast, his pro bono work is where he steps out of his everyday comfort zone to delve into landlord tenant issues and customer disputes with car dealerships. He does this through Lawyer on the Line, a partnership between the NC Bar Foundation and Legal Aid of North Carolina. Steve has been volunteering for Lawyer on the Line since its inception as the formerly known “Call 4All.” He handles approximately half a dozen calls per year, but he often assists the client well beyond the initial call, which has included writing demand letters, problem resolution, and even filing suit on the client’s behalf.
It is obvious that Steve is passionate about his career as an attorney and that he does not take for granted his ability to provide a service for which a very small percentage of the population is educated and licensed. One of his proudest moments in his pro bono service was a recent Lawyer on the Line landlord-tenant case in which he advocated for a client whose landlord refused to rectify issues that made her home all but uninhabitable. The client had continued paying her rent despite multiple inoperable appliances and an insect infestation that lasted over a year. Though these were reported code violations, the landlord failed to correct them, despite continued notification. Steve advised the tenant to stop paying rent due to the code violations, at which point the landlord threatened eviction. Steve then responded on the client’s behalf with a demand letter, which resulted in the waiver of several months of rent, as well as the return of the client’s full security deposit. Because of Steve’s advocacy on the client’s behalf, she was able to avoid eviction proceedings and use her rental savings to secure alternate housing without habitability issues.
Lawyer on the Line offers a remote opportunity for attorneys to provide free legal services to low-income individuals who cannot otherwise afford legal advice or representation. “Spending just a few hours can make a huge difference in the life of a pro bono client. That isn’t a whole lot to ask of each and every lawyer who is given the privilege of practicing law in this state,” Steve urges. He adds, “When you do right, it feels right. And reminds you of why you went to law school in the first place.”
To find out more about the Lawyer on the Line project and volunteer, visit Legal Aid’s website here.