Ron Gillespie’s dream of launching a food cart featuring Indian cuisine in downtown Cincinnati was in doubt.
Being new to the business, Gillespie faced confusing rules and regulations that threatened to keep his idea from getting off the ground. But a Free Legal Advice Day at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law’s came to the rescue.
And now Injoy Street Food has been dishing up Indian-inspired tikkasala bowls and roti rolls since early 2016.
The pro bono legal help Gillespie needed came from Duke Energy attorneys, who recently won a worldwide Pro Bono Corporate Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).
Gillespie was able to ask questions directly to lawyers.
“It was great having so many people come together in one room,” Gillespie said. “The experience was hands down one of the most productive and helpful days to help get my business started.”
Duke attorneys helped Gillespie determine his business structure, file for incorporation and ensure compliance with applicable regulations.
The Pro Bono Corporate Award recognizes members, chapters and committees worldwide who have demonstrated leadership, service and commitment to the in-house counsel community. The award is the culmination of a pledge made in 2009 by the Duke Energy Legal team that at least 50 percent of staff would participate in pro bono work annually. They achieved the goal in 2011 and by 2015, 84 percent of the staff was participating.
Duke's lawyers are providing a diverse range of free legal services, partnering with many organizations to prepare wills and estate planning documents for public school employees and first responders, clinics assisting senior citizens and low-income families.
The lawyers have long provided free legal services. “We are fortunate to be in a position to help others,” said Melissa Feldmeier, Duke Energy deputy general counsel in Cincinnati. “ We believe we have a responsibility to do our part to help ensure access to legal services for those who cannot afford it.”
Gillespie appreciated that attorneys thought of many potential issues ahead of time: “The resources at the legal clinic gave us the reassurance that what we had planned for was correct, and they found a few things we had not thought about.”
Providing free help, Feldmeier said, is rewarding. “We enjoy the opportunity to work together with different issues, interact with the law students on real-life legal issues, and provide support to our local communities.”
Deanna Walker, Supervisor, Legal Operations East, agrees. She, along with about 20 Raleigh office Legal Department employees, volunteer helping to prepare estate planning documents for underserved elderly customers.
“We do not usually get to work with the public directly since our only client is Duke Energy,” she says. “But, for these events, we get to go out into the community and use our skills to make a difference in someone’s life. They would not have been able to have these documents prepared without Duke Energy’s volunteers, and they are very grateful. We have a lot of hugs and even some tears.”
Duke Energy's helping hands
Other pro bono work by the Duke Energy legal team includes:
Children’s Crossing Borders: Senior paralegal Bambi Lohr has worked on immigration cases, expunctions and preparation of simple estate planning documents. Recently, Lohr worked on a "children crossing borders" immigration case, which led to her first immigration client being granted permanent custody of her minor daughter.
Partnership with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. Duke Legal department personnel from the Plainfield office partnered with the nonprofit Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic to provide representation and preventative legal education to low-income families including immigrant families. Duke provides one attorney or paralegal each month from January through November.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
State and County Bar Intake Programs. The Duke Florida office routinely provides legal department personnel to participate in intake programs sponsored by the Bay Area Legal Services in Tampa, Community Law Program in St. Petersburg and Legal Services of North Florida in Tallahassee. These programs focus on providing free legal assistance to low-income clients on a variety of matters including family law, domestic violence, bankruptcy, foreclosure and probate.
Read more: Duke Energy General Counsel Anne Warren’s pro bono efforts assisted an Iraqi human rights activist in becoming a U.S. citizen.