Equal Access to Justice Commission Staff

Meet the Equal Access to Justice Commission team.

Jennifer M. Lechner

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

Jennifer 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 many additional access to justice entities, legal aid organizations, bar associations and political candidates. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association including the Pro Bono Activities Committee since 2008 and the Minorities in the Profession Committee. She has also served on the following committees: 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). She is a frequent speaker at state and national conferences.

Jennifer is a graduate of Truman State University and Drake University School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Maine and is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association where she serves on the Pro Bono Activities Committee. She is a volunteer with the Safe Child Immigrant Project, Triangle Rowing Club and Colonial Sports Ministry.

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

Sylvia K. Novinsky

Sylvia K. NovinskyDirector, 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.

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 Activities 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 SimmonsSenior 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. SmithProgramming and Engagement Associate
Email: jared@ncequalaccesstojustice.org

Jared Smith is the Programming and Engagement Associate of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission. He joined the Commission while a final-year student at the UNC School of Law, where he has since graduated with a Juris Doctor with Honors and a Certificate in Non Profit Leadership. At UNC, Jared was a three-year member of the Pro Bono Board, co-founder of the Leadership Development Program, and Research Assistant for the Office of Public Service Programs and for the Office of Advancement.

Before attending Carolina Law, Jared worked as the Fellow for Civic Engagement at Davidson College, advising students doing community service work in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties and managing campus and community civic engagement focused marketing, fundraising, and events.

Jared is a member of the NCBA Pro Bono Activities Committee, the NCBA Free Legal Answers Task Force, and the UNC School of Law Pro Bono Alumni Board. He also is an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Carolina Law and is the Consultant for the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals.

B. Leigh Wicclair

Leigh WicclairPro 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.

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.