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SBJ photo by EMILY LETTERMAN

A Conversation With … Nate Dunville on Fairbanks AD

Posted online
What is Fairbanks Advisors and Advocates, aka Fairbanks AD?
It’s a partnership between the Drew Lewis Foundation at the Fairbanks and the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association – more specifically, the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Foundation, which is the charitable wing of the SMBA. Fairbanks AD is a legal clinic we put on in conjunction with the programming offered at the Fairbanks. We started in the fall of 2015. The first official clinic was in 2016.
 
What is your role with the group?
I am the chairman. I am also a member of the board for the Drew Lewis Foundation and a member of the board for the SMBA Foundation. Essentially, my role as chairman came about because I served on both boards. I became a natural centerpiece to be able to coordinate goals.
 
How did the project get started?
It’s really been an evolving concept. Originally, there was enthusiasm for the Fairbanks and the Northwest Project and the idea was to create a clinic that matched up with the Fairbanks mission and the programing they offer. It’s not your typical legal clinic model with someone just sitting there waiting to do pro bono representation.
 
What sort of legal counsel do you provide?
When we started, we expected to see a lot of criminal background resolution and similar employment issues. A lot of the work at the Fairbanks is related to increasing opportunities and giving resources and social capital to people that might not otherwise have access to them. The advice we give really ranges and surprisingly, it isn’t all legal advice. Some of it is stuff that people who grew up under different circumstances would take as common sense. When it comes down to it, a lot of the issues we have seen are things that help people free themselves from the cycle of poverty. For example, we have somebody who takes care of their sibling’s kids, but they don’t have custody. So, they can’t pull them out of school; they can’t take them to a doctor’s appointment and they can’t afford to do anything about it. We’ve found a whole range of legal issues that seem to be pretty common such as child custody, estate planning, creditor/debtor rights and bankruptcy.

You started quarterly clinics, but switched to bimonthly. Is there a large need?
That is a result of the quick growth and evolution of the Fairbanks. We’ve been trying to grow with it. A big part of what we do is not just showing up and offering pro bono work; it’s about building relationships with the people. You share your expertise and experience, which are things you might take for granted. We found we were having the most impact in sharing our experiences, being present and engaging with people. It’s more than a legal clinic now; it’s about being a community ally for the program participants. There are about 10 to 12 people who go though these cohorts, which is where we are focusing our efforts. We’ve had clinics where a couple people come for advice and clinics where a dozen people come for legal representation.
 
How do you recruit lawyers to volunteer?
It really has been mostly word-of-mouth. It has created enthusiasm. We try to have anywhere from two to five lawyers at any of the clinics. From there, we try to keep a bank of people who’ve said they were interested in helping in the future.

Nate Dunville is an attorney with Neale & Newman LLP. He can be reached at ndunville@nnlaw.com.

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