Why did I become a lawyer?

Most of us begin to fashion a response  to the question when we’re asked “Why do YOU want to go to law school?” And if you’re surrounded by friends who are not in the legal profession, you may hear the follow-up “You’re such a nice person. Why do you want to change?”

I replied “I want to help people.” And you know what? Many attorneys in the public interest sector answered similarly.

You may not generally think of attorneys as helpful, but take a few moments to ponder “when do I or would I use an attorney?”

  • When a family member dies. Hopefully they’ve drafted a will, but either way, we often turn to an attorney to help us through the probate process.
  • When we go through a divorce. Sure there are divorce forms and packets available online (and in South Carolina, there are court-approved forms online), but when we think about it, isn’t it prudent to let someone who is not emotionally involved in our marriage take a look and advise us about the long-term effects of the dissolution?
  • When we buy or sell a house. This may not seem like an emotional time, but for many it is. This is one of the largest purchases (ok, probably the largest) we will ever make. We commit to this home for the next 30 years or so. Sounds like a good time to have an attorney research the title and make sure we’re paying for what is rightfully ours.
  • When we are accused of a crime. I know I want someone well-versed in criminal law to fight for my freedom.

In other words, we use the knowledge and services of attorneys when we have big events in our lives – either when something bad has happened or may happen. To help us.

And I became an attorney to do just that – help people.

-RFW

Guest Blog: Richland County CASA

Remember a few weeks back, January 13th to be precise, I posted about Richland County CASA“This is how RCCASA does it!”? Well, I’m excited to host their guest post:

Since our training presentation for the South Carolina Bar Foundation in 2008, RCCASA has continued its aggressive efforts in male recruitment. This presentation was the first of many.

RCCASA was nationally recognized for its success in the implementation of a “best practice” recruitment model and trained CASA programs across the United States that included Washington, Texas, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Florida and this year RCCASA will be presenting at the National CASA conference in 2010.

We held our own National Conference in Columbia, SC and individuals from Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Texas visited our sunny state to learn how to recruit male volunteers Although our program has celebrated successes, we find that it is an on-going effort and we continue to be faced with challenges.

As we serve more children, more male volunteers are needed.

Our program felt the impact of the economic crisis. Funding was an issue but more importantly our volunteers were greatly impacted. Many volunteers were faced with relocation and others were faced with decreasing the amount of time they could spend volunteering. Our most committed, dedicated volunteers were taking on second jobs, reentering the workforce, and volunteers who were once retired were now employed.

Beginning July 1, 2010, RCCASA will need to be able to serve 100% of the children.

We are rising to the challenge and will be increasing our recruitment efforts. We are proud of the job our volunteers have done and know that our ability to serve 100% of the children will mean these children will have a strong advocate.

So in a nutshell what does this really mean……It means that more than ever we NEED YOUR assistance in making this happen.  You may not be able to volunteer but you may have a spouse, co-worker, brother, friend, or colleague. Out biggest recruitment tool has been through word of mouth and when you tell someone about CASA, you are making a difference in the lives of the abused and neglected children in our community.

Do we need more Family Court Judges in SC?

This is the question that recently arose in New York.  According to this post, the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee recommended immediately adding 21 family court judges to the bench. The Committee’s full report is available here.

Interestingly, the reason for the increase is an increase in need due to layoffs, consumer credit, housing problems, crime, and constrained social services as well as an increase in self-represented litigants (SRLs). It is fairly well-established that SRLs typically take more time in the courtroom than those represented by counsel. And reasons vary – many SRLs are not familiar with rules of court; they want to tell their whole story in court – not simply the “relevant” parts; and they may become more emotional because they’re not only living the part of the litigant, but also increasing their stress by acting on their own.

Add to that an increased need and you have clogged courts, aka decreased access to justice.

New York recognizes the need for more Family Court judges as does the representative from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

What about South Carolina? Do we need more Family Court Judges? Take a look at two slides from the Chief Justice’s 2009 State of the Judiciary, slide 12 and slide 13.

Now imagine an increase in the number of filings, say, by 10%.

In Family Court, that would be approximately 7,500 more cases in the year. With approximately 260 workdays per year with 8 hour workdays, that would average 3.6 cases per hour – without time for administrative tasks or completing paperwork.

Now add in extra time for cases in which interpreters are needed. Either American Sign Language (ASL) or Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

What do you think? Do we need more Family Court Judges?

-RFW

Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Richland County Bar Helps!

Thanks to Guest Blogger Elizabeth Cook! And my apologies for not uploading earlier.

The Richland County Bar Association is hosting a fundraiser on October 22, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to raise money for Sistercare, a local organization that provides services for battered women and their children—and we need your help!  Please join us for a shrimp boil and silent auction to benefit Sistercare on Thursday, October 22, 2009, at 6:00 at the University House.  We’re going to have a great time enjoying a delicious shrimp boil and fried chicken with fixin’s from Seawell’s, the traditional Bluegrass music of The Carolina Rebels, door prizes, and bidding on an array of auction items.

Please take the time to view this brief video to learn about victim services in South Carolina, Sistercare and how your support can help them provide much-needed legal services to battered women in the midlands.

Sistercare has lost a significant portion of its grant funding, like so many other service organizations during the recent economic downturn.  This loss of funding is directly impacting Sistercare’s ability to provide legal services and support to the women it serves.  Your tax-deductible contribution will be used to supplement Sistercare’s budget for legal work, allowing Sistercare’s attorneys and court advocates to better represent the interests of its clients.  Sistercare is dependent on donations from individuals and groups to survive right now—please consider donating to this worthy cause.

For more information about Sistercare, visit www.sistercare.com .  For more information about the shrimp boil and to make a reservation or donation, contact the Richland County Bar at 771-9801 or mail your check to Richland County Bar, PO Box 7632, Columbia, South Carolina 29202.  Thank you in advance for supporting the indispensable services provided by Sistercare.  We look forward to seeing you on October 22nd; your donation will truly make a difference!

 

PS – Spoke with Elizabeth Cook. They raised $3,000 for Sistercare with this fundraiser.

Remember my name

CIMG5007

October is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH!

If you haven’t already seen this site, please take a few minutes to check out the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) website.

Their Remember My Name project has a scrolling list of names of people – men, women and children – who have lost their lives to domestic violence.

Sadly, names continue to be added daily.

-rfw

Elkins Family Law Task Force Recommendations Open for Comment

On October 2, 2009, the Elkins Family Law Task Force released its draft recommendations for ways to improve access to justice in the California Family Court system.

The public comment period is October 1, 2009, through December 4, 2009.

The draft recommendations and an online comment form are available at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/tflists/elkins.htm.

In addition, the task force will hold two public hearings to receive in-person comments on the draft recommendations. The public hearings will be held on Thursday, October 22 in San Francisco, and on Tuesday, October 27 in Los Angeles. For information and to sign up to participate in the public hearings, go to www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/tflists/elkins.htm.

To learn more about the Task Force, view the FACT SHEET.

It’s evident from the List of Topics (below) that the Task Force worked hard to review the entire system:

1. Right to Present Live Testimony at Hearings
2. Expanding Legal Representation and Providing a Continuum of Legal Services
3. Caseflow Management
4. Providing Clear Guidance Through Rules of Court
5. Children’s Voices
6. Domestic Violence
7. Enhancing Safety
8. Contested Child Custody
9. Minor’s Counsel
10. Scheduling of Trials and Long-Cause Hearings
11. Litigant Education
12. Expanding Services to Assist Litigants in Resolving Their Cases
13. Streamlining Family Law Forms and Procedures
14. Enhancing Mechanisms to Handle Perjury
15. Standardize Default and Uncontested Process Statewide
16. Interpreters
17. Public Information and Outreach
18. Judicial Branch Education
19. Family Law Research Agenda
20. Court Facilities
21. Leadership, Accountability, and Resources

The SC Access to Justice Commission will continue to follow the project and update you as it develops.

-RFW

South Carolina’s #1 Crime: Domestic Violence

Purple Ribbon Dom Viol

This morning while reading an article about Domestic Violence in The State newspaper, I became a little choked up. Why this article this morning? I don’t know for certain.

It could be because I’ve been focusing on Domestic Violence this month a little more than usual. Sure I’ve noted Domestic Violence Awareness Month each year, but this year, I’ve received information about DV while also searching for statistics as well as stories.

I don’t have to go too far to find someone I know. Even in high school one of my best friends confided in me that her boyfriend liked to hurt her. I advised her then to stop seeing him. It took a few more times of him “hurting” her before she finally did.

Then in my late twenties, one of my dear friends moved out of town to be with her “dreamy” boyfriend. Through the grapevine I heard that she was being abused. I called her up at work and asked if this was true. She didn’t want to talk about it. That was ok, I didn’t give up. Eventually I went to visit her, and meet him. At first glance, he seemed dashing and quite charming. I could see the attraction. Later though when we “girls” stayed up late chatting into the wee hours, I learned the truth. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to move her back home – while he was away.

And then there’s the pro bono work I did in law school. A friend and I volunteered with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program to assist the grant-sponsored Sistercare legal advocacy program. Our role was limited – we, advocate/law students, couldn’t represent the victims in court, but we could meet with them, complete the questionnaire with them, hand them tissues, hold their hands and hug them. They told us that they appreciated our help.

And one time, the attorney supervisor had another engagement and wasn’t able to appear with one of the victims. The victim, a mild-mannered woman who had been married 30+ years to the man, wasn’t able to afford an attorney. And she had nobody else to go with her into the courtroom. The volunteers were not allowed to represent the victims but were allowed to accompany them into the courtroom.

So I went. I was a little nervous. A little scared. After all, the husband was there. And so was his attorney. And then I had my “aha” moment (as Oprah calls them) - if I was nervous, how did the victim feel?

When the judge asked everyone to identify ourselves, I noted that I was the advocate and unable to represent the woman next to me. The judge allowed me to stay.

The hearing took about 15 minutes. It was evident that the woman didn’t know how to defend her claim. And I was just there to offer her a friendly hand.

After the hearing we went into the hall, where it was TENSE. The woman and I spoke on one side of the hall. The husband and his attorney spoke on the other side. I remember her telling me “I have to go back. He has all the money. I haven’t worked in 30+ years. He said it will be ok.”

I watched as she left me and walked over to her much taller, larger husband. They embraced. I felt alone and demoralized. I don’t know what she felt.

Every now and then I think about her. Is she ok? I’ll probably never know.

-RFW

October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Ribbon-Dom ViolIn case you haven’t heard, October is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH.

Show your support of victims of Domestic Violence but wearing a purple ribbon.

Additionally, if you are or know someone who is a victim of domestic violence and needs assistance, even beginning to figure out where to start, here are 2 national resources:

Additional resources in South Carolina:

-RFW

PAI: A Great Way to Keep the Lights On

PAI – Private Attorney Involvement

If you are unfamiliar with PAI aka Private Attorney Involvement, a program that incorporates private attorneys into the legal services system of representation on a local basis, then please keep reading.

The following announcement appeared earlier today in the SC Bar’s E-Blast:

Attorneys needed for paid cases
South Carolina Legal Services is required by federal funding to hire private attorneys to take on cases. The rate is $65 per hour. Most of the cases are physical cruelty, divorce and bankruptcy. This is a great opportunity for young attorneys from Richland, Lexington, Sumter, Lee and Kershaw counties to get experience. Contact Brett L. Lamb at (803) 744-4167 or brettlamb@sclegal.org for more information.

This is a wonderful opportunity for new attorneys to gain experience and pay the bills.  If you are a young attorney striking out on your own, or a more experienced attorney looking for an opportunity to slow down your practice while remaining involved, please consider PAI. AND it has the added benefit of assisting people who otherwise would not be able to hire legal representation.

Thanks SC Bar for bringing this important program to light!

-RFW

Guess

What do Harvest Hope and SC foreclosures have in common?

If you guessed that South Carolina has seen a marked increase in foreclosures and requests for food have markedly increased, you win!

According to the Columbia Regional Business Report (CRBR):

South Carolina’s foreclosure rate from July to August 2009 was up 1.94%, reported national real estate tracking company RealtyTrac.com. That number is more than 78% higher than it was one year ago.

According to Harvest Hope:

In the first quarter of 2009, Harvest Hope experienced a 142%  increase in the number of families needing assistance.

Earlier today I attended a fundraiser luncheon for Harvest Hope. It made me focus on how the problems faced by so many living in poverty are faces of our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones.

The “featured” speaker at the luncheon was someone who had been working – two jobs. Two good, solid jobs. Then she got ill. Which started the medical bills and absence from work. Which caused her to lose her jobs. Both jobs. The bills kept coming. When it came to paying bills, she used her money for medical bills and medication. Then she lost her home. She stopped eating so much. That made her sicker. Then she found Harvest Hope.

She was able to eat.

The doctors are still trying to figure out what is “wrong” with her. In the meantime, she can eat. Without Harvest Hope and the necessary nutrition it provides, she would be even more sick.

While these societal problems may not be legal, I guarantee that the Legal Aid Telephone Intake Service (LATIS) has been referring people to Harvest Hope.

And once people have nutrition and can think about something other than an empty belly, then they may call LATIS for assistance with a problem with their Landlord. Or maybe for help with their Medicaid benefits. Or help with a way to escape their abusive spouse.

-RFW