Elizabeth & Kevin Murphy: Giving back

A boy from Atlanta and a girl from Charlotte met at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended law school at the University of Georgia in Athens. Where are they now? Elizabeth A. and Kevin P. Murphy, both 2010 School of Law graduates, currently reside in Charlotte, where they are raising their son, Lincoln; practicing law and contributing to their communities.

Elizabeth and Kevin Murphy familyElizabeth has spent her entire legal career at Alston & Bird’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office working in commercial real estate finance. “I represent lenders in making loans on commercial real estate – hotels, apartment complexes, shopping centers, mobile home parks, you name it.”

The “coolest deal” she has helped close was the restructuring of the Atlantis Bahamas – a “$3 billion workout.” On the same day, she also closed a $1 million loan on a self-storage facility in Texas. “There are big deals and small deals and what I love about my job and my experiences is that I have gotten to do all of that,” she said.

Kevin, who practices labor and employment law, operates his own law practice after having worked on the employer-side of the business for several years. He said he has found greater satisfaction representing individuals.

One particular case that stands out for him involved a young woman who was sexually assaulted by her boss at a coffee shop he owned and where she worked. “The local DA’s office dropped her case because they did not feel like they would get a conviction,” Kevin said. Noting his law school experience in what is now called the Prosecutorial Justice Program, he added, “I certainly respect that [the DA has] the ethical obligation to bring only what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but sometimes even though you might lose a case it needs to be brought. So that is what we did.” Kevin and his client won the case but he said what was most important was that it was in the same location where the DA had dismissed her case. “It was in that same courthouse that 12 people stood up and said [the defendant] did this and he needs to be punished. I think that is helping my client on her path to moving forward.”

Twelve years into their legal careers and 11 years into their marriage, the couple is grateful for their personal and professional successes. They also recognize that their good fortune comes with a responsibility to give back and support others.

Last year, Elizabeth was presented with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Pro Bono Award. She said her philosophy when it comes to pro bono work is to “figure out a need in your community and learn how to do that one thing. … Pick one thing you can do and get good at it and do it over and over again. My thing is working with special immigrant juvenile children and helping them gain legal status in our country.” She recognizes it is a “niche” need but, with each case taking roughly 20 hours, she can commit to several cases a year.

Kevin, who routinely logs service hours with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s “Lawyer on the Line” program, also takes special immigrant juvenile cases.

He said one reason Elizabeth won the pro bono award is not just because of her own direct involvement in the courtroom helping her immigrant clients. He said she takes advantage of the skill that she has from her day-to-day work. “It’s what I, with an outside view, see is that she gets stuff done. She gets stuff done by leveraging other people and what she does for the special immigrant program is making sure that I am taking a case and that my partner is taking a case and that her associates are taking cases.”

Kevin’s brother, Brendan F. Murphy (J.D.’08) who serves as chief magistrate of Cobb County, has also been a big influence in the couple’s plans to give something back. Brendan began his legal career as a prosecutor before serving on the bench.

By witnessing his service, the couple realized that it is important to make sure the best and the brightest lawyers are prosecutors, public defenders, government attorneys and nonprofit lawyers. “This was the impetus for us to find a way to try to help make that happen,” they said.

Earlier this year, the couple established the law school’s largest annual public interest fellowship that will support a top performing student with a full summer public interest/pro bono placement after completing his or her second year of law school. Named in honor of Elizabeth’s grandmother, Annie Bool, and great aunt, Mary Simkins, the selection process for the fellowship will take place prior to the start of a student’s second year of law school – when students are typically seeking future paid summer positions in law firms or other organizations.

Elizabeth said it will provide students with “money to make it through the summer and really follow that dream [of public service], if that is what they want to do. It is hard to make that choice. It is a choice we didn’t make and one we are really in awe of for those who do.”

Kevin added that by naming the fellowship after the two women – who have demonstrated a lifetime of hard work and commitment to family and who they both greatly admire – the couple is trying to inspire the next generation. “We are excited that it is an indefinite – forever – award and that the impact of those two women is just going to go on and on and on with students they never met,” he said.

“[The fellowship will provide students with] money to make it through the summer and really follow that dream [of public service], if that is what they want to do. It is hard to make that choice. It is a choice we didn’t make and one we are really in awe of for those who do.”