Twice annually, if you enter the offices of The Pro Bono Project in downtown New Orleans, you’ll find volunteer lawyers, paralegals and admins running a divorce clinic with extreme precision, ensuring the numerous clients are able to close out their civil matters and relish in new beginnings. You’ll likely also see Hancock Whitney’s own Kurt Duncan volunteering his time.
Duncan, a corporate counsel for Hancock Whitney has been involved with The Pro Bono Project for more than six years, and when he joined Hancock Whitney in the spring of 2020, he worked to get his fellow associates involved too. “The divorce clinic is a joint effort by The Pro Bono Project and outside volunteer attorneys,” shares Duncan. “My role is to find attorneys to staff the clinic on a pro bono basis to meet with the clients individually, go over the legal documents that already have been prepared by The Pro Bono Project staff, explain the no-fault divorce process, and obtain signatures on the documents.”
The divorce clinic, along with the other services provided by The Pro Bono Project offers assistance to low-income families, individuals, and the elderly in need, helping them gain access to lawyers to help resolve civil matters like divorces, custody agreements, successions, debt issues and more.
Duncan believes the efforts of outside volunteers is extremely helpful to the organization. “The organization doesn’t have the man power, and as a nonprofit, doesn’t have the budget to go out and pay people to provide these services,” says Duncan. “People like to do pro bono work and help others,” shares Duncan. “But sometimes it’s hard to take that first step or know where to start.”
Duncan is using his experience to encourage and guide his colleagues through that first step.
Hancock Whitney corporate attorneys Kurt Duncan (Left) and Cory Vidal (Right) assist individuals during The Pro Bono Project’s recent divorce clinic in New Orleans.
A helping hand
No stranger to The Pro Bono Project, Cory Vidal jumped in as Duncan’s first volunteer partner from Hancock Whitney. Vidal who also serves as a corporate counsel currently sits on The Pro Bono Project’s Board of Directors. “I’ve served on the board and supported in that capacity, but this was my first experience working a clinic for The Pro Bono Project, to be able to get my hands dirty doing the work that needs to be done,” describes Vidal.
Vidal touches on the apprehension some attorneys may feel to provide pro bono work and how The Pro Bono Project stands out in preparing their volunteers. “One thing that may frighten attorneys is that the focus may fall outside of their expertise,” says Vidal. “The great thing with this organization is that they give you training wheels—anyone who passed the bar can competently go into their clinic and do what is necessary to help their clients with legal needs.”
Vidal also applauds the effectiveness of The Pro Bono Project. “Unique to the divorce clinic, is the efficiency of the process. The narrowly focused initiative and the meticulous prep work facilitated by The Pro Bono Project’s staff allows volunteer attorneys to assist a large number of people in a short time period,” shares Vidal. “Not only does this help move individuals forward, out of situations that may be restraining their growth, but it is also beneficial to the entire community.”
Duncan echoes that experience. “The clients there are just so happy to receive assistance, as they would be unable to afford the divorce proceeding on their own. Each client has a different story, and many clients share their reasons for coming to The Pro Bono Project for assistance. Whether it is an emotional reason, a financial reason, or a family-related reason, they want to move on with their lives. It’s a happy experience rather than a sad one, and a way for us to give back to the community.”
The notion of giving back is part of the culture of Hancock Whitney, with support coming from all levels of the organization. “The bank is always very supportive and open to contributing either time or dollars to community organizations,” says Vidal. Both he and Duncan are living Hancock Whitney’s core value of Commitment to Service while inspiring others on their team and in the company to volunteer. “This partnership is something we will continue to do and we have more bank attorneys interested in participating in future sessions,” shares Duncan.