2024 Pro Bono Recipients Announced

The 2024 Pro Bono Award winners have been selected and will be recognized during the NCBA Annual Meeting on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Charlotte. The honorees are:

  • Greenblatt Outstanding Lawyer Award: Rona Karacaova – Legal Aid of North Carolina
  • Thorp Pro Bono Service Award: Kerry A. Friedman – Patla, Straus, Robinson & Moore, PA
  • YLD Pro Bono Award: Palmer E. “Tripp” Huffstetler III – Sosna & Huffstetler
  • Outstanding Paralegal Pro Bono Service Award: Andrea M. Blosser – Robinson Bradshaw
  • Law Firm Pro Bono Award: Robinson Bradshaw
  • Outstanding Collaborative Pro Bono Award: NCBA SOGI LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics
  • Law School Pro Bono Service Award: “Better Together” – Duke University School of Law, NC Central University School of Law, UNC School of Law
  • The Filling the Justice Gap Award: Rachel Royal: Royal Touch Project Solutions, LLC

Greenblatt Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award – Rona Karacaova

Presented to a lawyer who is employed full time by a legal services program in North Carolina and who has made an exemplary contribution to the provision of legal assistance to help meet the needs of the poverty population in North Carolina. Deborah Greenblatt served as the executive director of Carolina Legal Assistance for more than two decades, where she persevered as a champion for the rights of individuals and children with disabilities despite challenging political and judicial setbacks.

Rona, a woman with brown hair, wears a bright blue blouse and grey jacket. Rona Karacaova is the Managing Attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Immigrant Pathways for Victims (IMMPAV), which provides representation to immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Before joining Legal Aid of NC in 2002 to create IMMPAV, Rona worked with Connecticut Legal Services and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont.  Rona obtained her B.A. in international relations from Tufts University in 1993 and her J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1998. Prior to attending law school, Rona worked with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara, Turkey, interviewing Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers, and was the Assistant Director of a Bosnian refugee camp on the Bulgarian border of Turkey.

Thorp Pro Bono Service Award – Kerry A. Friedman

Presented to an NCBA member attorney who practices in North Carolina and has provided substantial legal services, in excess of the aspirational goals of Rule 6.1, with no expectation of receiving a fee, to a client or client group that could not otherwise afford legal counsel. The nominee should have engaged in the direct delivery of legal services to clients or a client group over an extended period of time, and those efforts should be ongoing. Nominees must not be employed on a full-time basis by an organization that has as its primary purpose the provision of free legal services to the poor.

Kerry, a white man with white hair and a mustache, wears a white shirt, purple tie, navy jacket and khaki pants.A founder of Legal Services of North Carolina, the Pro Bono Service Award was renamed in 2002 to recognize William Thorp’s service to the low-income people of North Carolina.

Kerry A. Friedman is an Asheville native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina in 1976 and UNC School of Law in 1980. He has been a lawyer with the Asheville law firm of Patla, Straus, Robinson & Moore, PA since 1980, concentrating his practice in business law. Throughout his career, Kerry provided free civil legal aid to the most vulnerable communities of people in Western North Carolina through his volunteer work at Pisgah Legal Services (PLS).

While on the PLS Board in 1983, Kerry led the local bar’s effort to form the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer (MAVL) Program.  He helped the bar create a Pro Bono Committee that furthered efforts to expand the volunteer involvement of attorneys in Buncombe and surrounding counties. As a pro bono volunteer, he has shared his expertise with clients, staff, and the board for over 40 years. Kerry has provided consultation and representation to Pisgah Legal Services clients in consumer law, debtor’s rights/debt relief and landlord/tenant law. As an attorney, Kerry sees it as his duty to give back to the most vulnerable populations. Since 2006, he has taken on 575 cases for PLS. 

Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award – Palmer E. “Tripp” Huffstetler, III

Presented by the NCBA Young Lawyers Division to an NCBA Young Lawyers Division member who has made extraordinary contributions by providing exemplary legal services without a fee and increased access to justice on behalf of persons of limited means and/or charitable groups or organizations. Nominees must not be employed on a full-time basis by an organization that has as its primary purpose the provision of free legal services to the poor.

Tripp, a white man with brown hair, wears a white shirt, red and navy striped tie, and navy suit.Palmer E. “Tripp” Huffstetler III is the managing partner of Sosna & Huffstetler Law Offices PLLC, headquartered in Rocky Mount. Tripp began practicing law in 2014 and has dedicated his practice to consumer bankruptcy.

So far just this year, Tripp has filed three pro bono Chapter 7 cases with a personal goal to file at least six pro bono Chapter 7 cases per year. Tripp regularly provides pro bono consultation to individuals needing guidance for resolving debt concerns outside of filing for bankruptcy. He views his pro bono work as one of the most rewarding aspects of his practice, having filed 17 pro bono Chapter 7 cases since taking over as his firm’s managing partner in 2018.

In 2023, Tripp was recognized for his pro bono service by the NCBA Bankruptcy Section, which awarded him the Outstanding Achievement in Pro Bono Award.

Outstanding Paralegal Pro Bono Service Award – Andrea M. Blosser

The Outstanding Paralegal Pro Bono Service Award is presented to an outstanding NCBA Paralegal Division member who has volunteered a substantial amount of time in pro bono legal service to increase access to justice on behalf of persons of limited means and/or charitable groups or organizations. Pro bono service must have been completed under the direct supervision of an attorney licensed in the State of North Carolina in accordance with Rule 6.1. Nominees must have worked as a paralegal in a part-time, full-time, or freelance capacity in the year they are nominated for the award or be a retired paralegal who continues to give back to the community through pro bono service.

Andrea Blosser is a litigation paralegal with the law firm Robinson Bradshaw. She holds a Master of Studies in law, with a concentration in business law and compliance, from Wake Forest University School of Law and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

In 2023, she began serving as a council member for the North Carolina Bar Association’s Paralegal Division. Since 2011, Andrea has also served on the board of directors for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, focusing on mental health awareness and suicide prevention for young adults.

During the past year, Andrea’s pro bono work at Robinson Bradshaw has included representing a federal prisoner in a First Amendment challenge and assisting a former nursing home employee in a jury trial for racial harassment. In 2023, Andrea gave 270 hours of time to her firm’s pro bono practice.

Andrea also has contributed time to the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Driver’s License Restoration Project and Charlotte Expunction Clinic, the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Wills for Heroes Clinic, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases in the 26th Judicial District.

Law Firm Pro Bono Award – Robinson Bradshaw

The Law Firm Pro Bono Award recognizes law firms for their commitment to pro bono service through the contribution of pro bono hours, the percentage of billable hours devoted to pro bono work, the number and percentage of firm attorneys providing pro bono legal service, the firm’s creative approach to pro bono engagement, the consistency and sincerity of its pro bono program and the presence of a law firm culture that is grounded in the observance of Rule 6.1 (Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Robinson Bradshaw logo appears in dark blue.Robinson Bradshaw provides pro bono services to individuals and organizations that assist underserved populations, including matters referred by Legal Aid of North Carolina, the NC Justice Center, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Charlotte Legal Initiative to Mobilize Businesses (CLIMB) and the Council for Children’s Rights. Lawyers at the firm also provide pro bono assistance to nonprofit charitable organizations in the community.

A team of Robinson Bradshaw attorneys recently represented the nonprofit Oak Meadows Community Association in an appeal from the North Carolina Property Tax Commission to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The Property Tax Commission found that Oak Meadows was not entitled to a tax exemption that applies to real property owned by nonprofits that provide housing to low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

Attorneys Emily Schultz and Curtis Strubinger agreed to take on this representation. Mr. Strubinger provided deep knowledge of taxation and Ms. Schultz led the team. Other RBH attorneys contributing to the representation include Emma Perry, Tim Misner, and Hunter Bruton. They spent countless hours prosecuting the appeal. The Court affirmed the Property Tax Commission, but regardless of the outcome, Ms. Schultz and colleagues have provided distinguished service on behalf of the public that has earned the gratitude of Oak Meadows residents.

Outstanding Collaborative/Group Pro Bono Service Award – NCBA SOGI LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics

Presented to a group of law firms or attorneys, or a local, district, statewide bar organization whose members have engaged in significant and notable legal services or have contributed outstanding support and assistance to the maintenance of pro bono legal services for low-income individuals. This award recognizes creativity in the provision of pro bono legal services as well as innovative approaches to engage and encourage North Carolina attorneys to participate in pro bono legal service. Honorees will have demonstrated a commitment to pro bono service by engaging a group of attorneys in a cooperative pro bono effort that has a deep impact on the lives of low-income North Carolinians.

Katie, a white person with brown hair, wears a black shirt and a black sweater. Collins, a white person with brown hair, wears a grey polo, light grey jacket and round glasses.

Katie Jenifer, left, and Collins Saint, right, are the Pro Bono and Public Service co-chairs of SOGI.

The NCBA Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee created the LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics, specifically Name Change Clinics, with the goal of supporting transgender North Carolinians in drafting the required documents and filings for seeking a legal name change to affirm their gender. Seeking name changes for transgender individuals is a vital part of living fully authentic lives. Often, individuals in this community do not have the financial resources to afford an attorney or live in a legal desert where there are not affirming attorneys available.

SOGI Pro Bono and Public Service co-chairs Katie Jenifer and Collins Saint were actively involved in helping law schools with these clinics and sought to streamline and standardize these important clinics under the umbrella of the NCBA SOGI Committee. The SOGI LGBTQ+ Clinics were approved by the NCBA Pro Bono Committee in March 2023. Since that time, SOGI has held nine clinics collaborating with Equality NC, Elon Law, Wake Forest Law, the NCBA Estate Planning & Fiduciary Duty Section, and LGBTQ+ Centers in several counties. The clinics have served over 100 clients and engaged over 90 attorney, law student and paralegal volunteers.

The NCBA SOGI Committee continues to work on ways to expand pro bono opportunities and is currently working to develop a series of webinars and brief advice clinics on legal issues that most often impact members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Law School Pro Bono Service Award – “Better Together” Duke University School of Law, North Carolina Central School of Law and UNC School of Law

Presented to an outstanding law student group whose pro bono project advanced access to justice in North Carolina. Consideration will be given to law school groups or projects engaging two or more North Carolina law school students who are not receiving law school academic credit for their work and who have provided assistance to low-income people in North Carolina.

The image displays the graphics of three law schools, Duke, NCCU and UNC. The Duke Law graphic is shown in dark blue. The word "Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono" also appear.The NCCU School of Law graphic is shown. NCCU is in maroon and "School of Law" is in grey.A graphic with the UNC logo in blue is displayed. "School of Law" is also shown.

Launched in 2022, “Better Together” is a partnership among Duke University School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, and UNC School of Law students to provide criminal-record expunctions to Durham residents. “Better Together” fosters connections among service-oriented students to provide high-impact criminal record expunction work.

Expunction is a critically important service in Durham, where thousands of residents have criminal records. Such records create serious roadblocks to securing and maintaining safe and affordable housing, and stable and sustaining employment. While those with means can afford to hire private attorneys, low-income residents with criminal records — who, because of systemic racism, are disproportionately Black and Hispanic — must rely on the help of public-interest organizations to secure a clean slate.

Through the project, students review client records and draft expunction petitions under the supervision of Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) Program attorneys.

The Filling the Justice Gap Award – Rachel Royal: Royal Touch Project Solutions, LLC

Presented to an attorney, law firm or organization making innovative strides with providing legal services to close the legal services gap in North Carolina. The legal services gap exists when clients of limited means do not qualify for free civil legal services/representation in matters affecting their basic needs by a legal services provider and cannot afford to retain an attorney. The nominee shall have demonstrated how their innovative approach has helped close this legal services gap for these clients of limited means.

The Royal Touch Project Solutions logo is pictured. It has a purple background with white font and the image of a crown above an "R."Founded in October 2020, Royal Touch Project Solutions, LLC is owned by Rachel Royal, a paralegal whose personal challenges in navigating the legal system as a pro se litigant inspired her to forge a path in the legal field with the ultimate goal of helping others similarly situated.

Through Royal Touch Project Solutions, Rachel works with nonprofits to develop technological innovations and implement process improvements that enhance service delivery for those unable to afford legal help. As a council member for the North Carolina Justice For All Project, she contributes her experience in the legal field and dedication to volunteerism to broaden access to justice for the state’s most vulnerable.

Rachel served as the NCBA Paralegal Division’s Pro Bono Co-Chair for five years. She took on roles as a council member for three years and an officer for one year. Her efforts during this period included leading a project in partnership with Legal Aid from 2018 to 2020, launching and coordinating a custody clinic in 2022, planning an immigration CLE in 2023, and writing multiple blog posts about the importance of pro bono work and access to justice.

Rachel was an active volunteer during the 2018-2019 Hurricane Florence efforts with Disaster Legal Services and the Pro Bono Resource Center’s FEMA appeals clinics. In January 2021, she began contracting with the PBRC to coordinate its Driver’s License Restoration Project and also coordinated the Housing Stability Project in partnership with the North Carolina Bar Foundation in 2021 and 2022. She was also instrumental in creating the technical framework for the Wake County Legal Support Center launch in 2023.