by Hon. Carla N. Archie
I recently subscribed to an online reading plan to enhance my morning meditation routine. After browsing several options, I chose a plan based on the 5 Love Languages written by Dr. Gary Chapman. Day One of the plan led me to a Biblical scripture about fervent charity: “Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves.”
When I was a child, I went through an inquisitive phase; and like most children, I turned first to my parents for answers. Both of my parents were educators - classroom teachers early in their careers, before later moving into administration. Instead of answering my questions, my parents frequently directed me to “look it up.” These days, there are no hard-bound volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica anymore. First published in the late 1700s, the company printed its final edition in 2010. Now, there is only an online version of the encyclopedia, alongside search engines like Google and Wikipedia. But I digress…
Since those early trips to the bookshelf, fueled by my curiosity and mandated by my parents, it has become my practice, when reading critically and thinking analytically, to look first to the dictionary for answers because words have meaning. My mother, an English teacher, used to remind me to be careful to “say what you mean, and mean what you say.” Although there are synonyms, no two words are alike; otherwise, there would be no need for a different word.
So what do the words “fervent charity” mean? According to Wiktionary, “fervent” means exhibiting enthusiasm, zeal, conviction, or persistence. And “charity” means an attitude of kindness and generosity; a benevolence to others less fortunate than ourselves.
Words also have context. The 5 Love Languages reading plan is focused on fervent charity toward the person we love the most. However, I thought of fervent charity in the context of our profession, the clients who need our help the most, but who can least afford to pay the cost of our expertise. I thought of the ethical obligations outlined in the preamble of the Rules of Professional Conduct:
“[A]ll lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel… The basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer. Personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in, or otherwise support, the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged.”
My thoughts ultimately landed on Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont (LSSP) and Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) and the fervent charity they provide to those less fortunate than ourselves. On March 12, 2015, LSSP and LANC will partner together to host the annual Access to Justice Luncheon at the Westin Hotel. The keynote speaker will be The Honorable Mark Martin, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and Chair of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. For more information, visit www.lssp.org/JFA15.
As learned members of this noble profession, we should take advantage of the opportunity to hear from Chief Justice Martin, the highest ranking member of the state’s judiciary and chief administrative officer of our state’s justice system. I am certain he will share his passionate perspective about pro bono legal services. Likewise, it is important to hear, see, and learn more about the tremendous work that LSSP and LANC provide in the areas of health care and public benefits, consumer law, employment, immigration, and elder law, among many others.
As the Rules of Professional Conduct remind us, “the provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees continues to be an obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession generally, but the efforts of individual lawyers are often not enough to meet the need.” Organizations like LSSP, LANC, Council for Children’s Rights, and others are critical components to bridging the access gap.
But it will take our collective, fervent charity--- enthusiastic, persistent benevolence to those less fortunate than ourselves--- to close the gap for good.
I look forward to seeing you at a future Bar event!