A Raleigh firm brings free legal advice to the people.
There’s a blue, yellow and white Winnebago with men clad in polos, flip flops and sunglasses parked outside in lawn chairs. It’s also before noon, on a weekday and in a Food Lion parking lot, so no, you’ll surmise, this isn’t a scene from a low-key, mid-summer, out-of-state tailgate; actually, it’s business, a mobile law office, the first of its kind in North Carolina and one of just a few such models in the country.
For two or three times a week since April, the members of the Raleigh firm Osborn Gambale Beckley and Budd have been bringing their services with an RV and wireless hotspots, to where the people are. They post up in shopping centers, parking lots or near busy bus stops—the Raleigh Boulevard Shopping Center, or Forest Hills in Garner, for instance, are ideal—and wait for folks to come to them for legal advice for free.
“We were adamant we didn’t want any type of means testing, no income requirements,” says Justin Osborn, one of the firm’s founding members. “We meet people from a lot of walks of life. But, predominantly, it’s middle class to lower income individuals because of the areas we pop up in, where people work extended hours and are unable to get to a law firm, or have difficulty.”
The attorneys—Osborn, Matt Gambale, Seth Beckley and Joe Budd—all left corporate jobs with a desire to help address the obstacles that prevent people from seeking out needed legal services. In their new roles, they advise on everything from traffic violations and accidents to personal injury, wills and trusts, employment and housing discrimination, insurance disputes and criminal matters. The RV offers privacy (and air conditioning) and, often, the lawyers can resolve issues in a single sitting. People who need more help are taken on as clients or referred to partners, including other attorneys, Legal Aid, clinics and local law school initiatives. For the days they’re not manning the RV, the lawyers are working in offices or in court.
Full prices for legal services are clearly laid out on the firm’s website, but profit wasn’t the motive that put the lawyers’ idea to start their own firm, using a pop-up, mobile office, into motion; rather, it was the opportunity to serve the wider community.
“Working on behalf of individuals was our favorite, the most rewarding aspects of what we were doing in our previous lines of work,” explains Budd. “We were all looking for a vehicle, or a method, to find more of that and less of…”
“Representing corporate interests,” says Gamable. “There were impediments to doing this kind of thing with the frequency we all wanted to do it. Now, if we want to give away our services two days a week, we can without having to cut through red tape or explain things to management.”
As their business gets off the ground, the lawyers, who have assisted around 400 people pro bono so far, say they hope to be able to host pop-up hours more frequently, to partner with other organizations who can use the RV and to show up at more events where they can help out, including Wills for Heroes clinics and events in the LGBTQ community.
“Repetition is key,” says Beckley. “Every single time we pop up, somebody comes up and asks how often we’re here. The more often we can be at places, the more receptive the community will be to coming up and talking to us.”
It’s all, they explain, part of a larger goal: to build trust.
“Building goodwill is really important,” says Gambale. “Helping people without charging them, talking to them about their problems, can lay the groundwork for them. Being available to communities who have a little mistrust, or there’s a degree of unavailability or they don’t feel like connecting with a lawyer—we provide that opportunity. We want to build a reputation with communities that may have a bad taste in their mouth about lawyers. And we’re trying to get people to change their minds.”
For more info, a pop-up calendar and pricing visit OGGB’s website at counselcarolina.com.