Equal Access to Justice Commission Staff

Meet the Equal Access to Justice Commission team.

Jennifer M. Lechner

Jennifer Lechner

Executive Director, North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
Email: lechner@ncaccesstojustice.org

Jennifer M. Lechner is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, a position she has held since 2008.  Under her direction, the Commission assesses unmet legal needs, engages in statewide strategic planning, coordinates efforts between the legal aid organizations and other legal and non-legal organizations, manages resource development efforts, and works generally to expand civil access to justice.

Before moving to North Carolina, she founded and operated a Maine-based company focused on legal association management.  She served as the first Executive Coordinator of the Justice Action Group, Maine’s access to justice entity, and as the first coordinator of a unified statewide fundraising campaign for all Maine legal aid providers.

Jennifer began her career as the legislative counsel to the Maine State Bar Association where she lobbied state and federal governments on behalf of Maine’s largest professional trade association.

Jennifer has served as a consultant to access to justice entities, legal aid organizations, bar associations, and political candidates. She is a member of the American Bar Association where she has served on the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference Planning Committee (2013-2016) and the ABA Division for Legal Services, Fundraising Manual Committee (2014-2016).  She is also a member of North Carolina Bar Association with service on the Pro Bono Activities Committee (2008-present), the Minorities in the Profession Committee (2017-present), 4All Educate Task Force Co-Chair (2010, 2011), Lawyer on the Line Committee Member (2010-2015), and Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Summit Planning Committee (2012-2013). 

Jennifer is an honors graduate of Truman State University and Drake University School of Law and is licensed to practice law in Maine. She is an author of articles on access to justice and a frequent speaker at state and national conferences.

She and her husband Steve live in Raleigh with their two children, Grace and Abera, and their dog, Bill.

Katherine Asaro

Katherine Asaro

Staff Attorney, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
Email: katherine@ncprobono.org

Katherine Asaro serves as the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Staff Attorney. Currently, Katherine is in charge of Disaster Relief and Preparedness. In this role, Katherine coordinates pro bono activities in response to Hurricane Florence including organizing the volunteer legal presence at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers to answer legal questions, and organizing Know Your Rights presentations, pro bono attorney trainings, and brief advice and counsel clinics.

Prior to joining the Center, Katherine spent four years working in the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro where she clerked for Chief Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. and Senior Judge N. Carlton Tilley. In addition, Katherine chaired the Middle District’s Unity Enrichment Committee (UEC). Before clerking, Katherine spent two years as a Staff Attorney at the North Carolina School Boards Association in Raleigh.

Katherine was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was raised in Bowling Green, Ohio and found North Carolina when she attended Duke University. While at Duke, Katherine earned her teaching certification and a bachelor’s degree in History and watched her beloved Blue Devils win a NCAA Championship her freshman year. After college, Katherine learned her Master’s in Education at Harvard University. Katherine and her husband moved to Chapel Hill after grad school and have lived there ever since. She attended law school at UNC. Katherine is a pop culture junkie, movie and TV buff, and happily spends most of her time with her husband and two children in Chapel Hill.

Sylvia K. Novinsky

Sylvia K. Novinsky

Director, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
Email: sylvia@ncprobono.org

Sylvia K. Novinsky is the Pro Bono Resource Center’s inaugural director. Chief Justice Mark Martin launched the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, the newest program of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, in 2016.

The Pro Bono Resource Center is tasked with increasing pro bono participation statewide. It will also provide a way for North Carolina lawyers to report on their pro bono service to clients in need, and will encourage and support this work through recruitment, training and communication. The Center is one of only a handful of statewide pro bono resource centers in the country.

In this role, Sylvia has already garnered state and national recognition for her work. In June 2018, Sylvia received the NC Bar Association Citizen Lawyer Award, recognizing lawyers who provide exemplary public service to their communities. At the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference in May 2018, Sylvia received the William Reece Smith Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award, honoring an individual who has made outstanding commitments to and positive impacts on the institutions or systems of providing pro bono legal services.

Sylvia comes to this role after nearly twenty years of service to the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she most recently held the role of Assistant Dean for Public Service Programs. During her tenure at Carolina Law, Sylvia founded and advised the UNC Law Pro Bono Program, a national model for inspiring students and alumni to participate in pro bono service. She has also served as the institution’s Associate Director for Public Interest Law, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs. Sylvia also spends time inside the classroom as an adjunct professor, teaching “Spanish for American Lawyers” and “Leadership for Lawyers.”

In addition to her career in higher education, Sylvia has experience working for legal aid providers. After law school, Sylvia litigated federal employment-related issues and administrative unemployment, wage and hour claims, and consumer cases, for Peninsula Legal Aid in Virginia. She then served as Legal Director for the Center for Immigrants’ Rights in New York, New York, where she supervised a statewide hotline for immigrants and advocates and represented domestic workers on employment matters.

Sylvia grew up in Queens, NY, and is from Argentina. She is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations and The American University’s Washington College of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Maryland, the District of Columbia and New Jersey. She is a member of the N.C. Bar Association serving on the Pro Bono Committee and the Minorities in the Profession Committee. She volunteers with the Fairfield Summer Swim Team and is a member of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham. She lives in Durham, with her husband, who teaches at Durham Public Schools, and her daughter.

Jennifer Simmons

Jennifer Simmons

Senior Project Manager, North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
Email: simmons@ncaccesstojustice.org

Jennifer Simmons is the Senior Project Manager of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. Working with Commission members and other stakeholders in the Access to Justice community, she strives to expand access to civil legal assistance for North Carolinians of low and modest means. As Senior Project Manager, Jennifer develops and implements special projects to broaden the impact of North Carolina’s legal aid programs and the work of the Commission and Pro Bono Resource Center.

Jennifer joins the Commission staff after more than a decade working for Legal Aid of North Carolina, where she focused on increasing clients’ access to public benefits as a Staff Attorney and as a Supervisor in LANC’s Raleigh office. Most recently, she was the Project Director for LANC’s Navigator project, a program which helps North Carolinians understand and access health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. Jennifer also provided strategic leadership and day-to-day support to twelve other nonprofits as Director of the NC Navigator Consortium, the second-largest Navigator grant in the United States.

Prior to working at Legal Aid, Jennifer served as Judicial Clerk to Justice Sarah Parker on the North Carolina Supreme Court. She performed disability determinations for the Social Security Administration before going to law school.

Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Jennifer received her B.A. cum laude from Davidson College with honors in Cultural Anthropology. She studied law at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was awarded the Order of the Coif and inducted into the James and Carolyn B. Davis Society. She is licensed to practice law in North Carolina.

Jennifer and her husband Matthew live in a historic home near downtown Raleigh with their two children, Bebe and Archie.

Jared S. Smith

Jared S. Smith

Programming and Engagement Associate, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission
Email: jared@ncaccesstojustice.org

Jared Smith is the Programming and Engagement Associate of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. His work mainly centers around design and data management to describe the many unmet legal needs facing North Carolinians in poverty. He also administers statewide voluntary pro bono reporting, capturing information about the valuable services being provided by North Carolina lawyers.

Prior to his time as an attorney, Jared was the Fellow for Civic Engagement at Davidson College, advising student community volunteers in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties and managing campus and community civic engagement focused marketing, grants, fundraising, and events.

Originally from Durham, Jared returned to the triangle to attend the UNC School of Law, where he received his J.D. with Honors, an interdisciplinary Nonprofit Leadership Certificate, and was inducted into the James E. and Carolyn B. Davis Society. He now lives in Raleigh, and on the weekends can often be seen visiting the NC Farmers Market or singing in the White Memorial Presbyterian Sanctuary Choir.

Jared is a licensed attorney in North Carolina and an active volunteer in the legal profession, serving as a member of the NCBA Pro Bono Committee; Pro Bono Liaison, Pro Bono Committee Member, and Disaster Legal Services Committee Member for the NCBA YLD; and Direct Service Committee co-chair of the UNC Law Pro Bono Alumni Board, as well as presenting national workshops on Leadership Development. He also works as an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Carolina Law teaching Leadership for Lawyers and as the Communications Coordinator for the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals.

B. Leigh Wicclair

Leigh Wicclair

Pro Bono Program Manager, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
Email: leigh@ncprobono.org

Leigh Wicclair serves as the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Pro Bono Program Manager. In this position, Leigh increases access to legal services and pro bono opportunities across the state by organizing projects for private attorney volunteers. She also serves in a volunteer capacity to support these issues through the Wake County Bar Association YLD Pro Bono Committee and the NC Advocates for Justice Criminal Defense section.

Prior to joining the Center, Leigh spent seven years living in Philadelphia, PA where her work focused on the intersection of social justice and criminal justice. Leigh began her career as a public defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She then worked as an Equal Justice Works/ AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, a nonprofit focused on expungement and increasing employment opportunities for individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. Following her fellowship, Leigh worked as a Judicial Law Clerk for the PA First Judicial District Court of Common Pleas.

Leigh was born in Asheville, NC, raised in Lewisville, NC and is a proud double Tar Heel. She enjoys spending time with her husband, her daughter, and her two dogs. She also likes to run and play soccer.

Emily O. Monnett

Emily Monnett

Social Media Manager, NC Equal Access to Justice Commission
Email: emily@ncaccesstojustice.org

Emily Monnett is the Social Media Manager for the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission and the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center. She interned at the Commission after her first year of law school at UNC and has since stayed on as the Social Media Manager. Emily is currently working towards her Juris Doctorate at the UNC School of Law. At UNC, she serves as the Domestic Violence Program Coordinator for Law Students Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and as a staff member on the First Amendment Law Review. During her first year at UNC Law, Emily completed the 20 for 20 Initiative at UNC, where law students were asked to provide 20 hours of pro bono service in honor of 20 years of the UNC Pro Bono Program.
Emily is a proud double Tarheel. During her time as an undergraduate, she served as the president of her fraternity, St. Anthony Hall, and worked for Student Wellness as a Peer Educator for Bystander Intervention. As a peer educator, Emily led four-hour trainings on identifying warning signs of domestic violence and sexual assault and creating strategies to intervene.
Emily is originally from Charlotte, NC. Outside of school and work, she enjoys playing with her two dogs, rock climbing, and cheering on the Panthers.