Let’s talk about Pro Bono

I have written about Pro Bono legal representation on different occasions, especially during or near the ABA’s National Celebrate Pro Bono Week. Here in South Carolina, I’ve seen more discussion about it, and even a little more participation.

But, I still don’t see as much participation as I would expect. So I have a question for attorneys, paralegals, and law students:

If you are not regularly engaged in pro bono representation, why not?

Please add your comments below. No expletives please. And, I’d like your honest answers.

  • Have you been asked?
  • Do you know where to find opportunities?
  • Are you nervous to do so on your own?
  • Do you think you don’t have enough time to add another case?

Thanks!

~rfw

Happy New Year! Welcome 2014

It’s been a really good year for South Carolina Access to Justice! Below is our newsletter that highlights a few items we’ve been working on.

SCATJ Newsletter End of Year 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!

~rfw

Want to Interpret in the South Carolina Courts?

Join us on Saturday, February 11, 2012!

Cost: $35 – includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and materials! Pay by check or Discover, Visa or MasterCard.

Program begins promptly at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m.

Space is limited and preference is given to South Carolina residents.

Registration MUST be post-marked no later than Friday, February 3, 2012. No refunds for cancellations received after Friday, January 27, 2012.

For more information, please email ccoker@scbar.org or call Robin Wheeler at (803) 576-3808.

At our recent SC Access to Justice Commission meeting, we had a guest speaker who presented on Language Access and the growing need for language access in the civil court system.

And, while many of us understand the laws that govern language access, especially in the legal system, the fact still remains that in order to provide qualified interpreters, these qualified interpreters must be available and accessible.

Most everyone I’ve spoken with has noted that we need more qualified interpreters. We simply do not have the numbers of qualified interpreters.

During our preliminary conversations, we learned that while there is a general interest to interpret, many in the interpretation community were unfamiliar with legal terminology and courtroom decorum. And, interpreters were hesitant to pay to take the South Carolina Court Interpreter exam without at least an introduction to the legal system in South Carolina.

As a result, Law School for Interpreters was created.

I’m pleased to introduce the Law School for Interpreters which will be held on Saturday, February 11, 2012. We have a great line-up of speakers including attorneys and at least one judge. The sponsors for the event have all been working together with the Commission as we try to increase the number of qualified courtroom and legal interpreters.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in this course, please complete and return the registration form - Registration for Law School for Interpreters Feb 11 2012.

I look forward to seeing you there!

~RFW

Disabilities Awareness Public Forum, Wed., Oct. 26, 2011

Tomorrow as part of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, several attorneys will be speaking at a Disabilities Awareness Public Forum in Greenville, South Carolina.

The event is FREE and open to the public. We do have ASL Interpreters available for the event, but if you need additional accomodations, please contact Stephanie Gutzman at 864-235-0273 or by email at gutzman@pandasc.org.

Hope to see you there!

~RFW

Celebrate Pro Bono: Ashley Cole

As part of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, we are highlighting pro bono legal service in South Carolina.

Meet ASHLEY COLE, 3L at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Ashley Cole

Ashley became involved in pro bono when she saw flyers posted during her first semester of law school about the Guardian ad Litem program. Instead of signing up immediately she waited until her second semester and began talking with Pam Robinson (USC School of Law Pro Bono Director) about that particular program.  Ashley recalls “I was so excited because she remembered me even after the first time I spoke with her.  She signed me up for Pro Bono announcements.  I participated in the Guardian ad Litem training course, and it was “all she wrote” after that.”

She’s been participating in the law school’s pro bono program for 2 years now; serving on the board since her 2nd year of law school.

While Ashley continues to serve as GAL, she also stays involved in a lot of projects. 

Right now, we’re gearing up for our semester food drive for Harvest Hope.  It’s my job to get my classmates involved because we have a competition between the three law classes.  I want the 3Ls to win this year!  We’re kicking-off the food drive with a “It’s Not a Crock Pot” soup lunch to raise awareness for hunger.  I’ll be entering a soup in the contest on behalf of an organization I’m involved with.

Also, we’ve been hosting a “Good Deed Friday” project about once a month where students who are involved in Pro Bono get together with students from other law organizations to perform community service in and around Columbia. 

This semester, we kicked-off a new program called “Carolina Clerks” that allows attorneys with a pro bono case to obtain assistance from a USC Law student.  That program is wonderful because it provides help to the attorney while simultaneously providing experience to a law student who is eager to learn.

When asked about how she first became involved in these multiples projects, she noted “We host the food drive every semester, so that’s an easy Pro Bono opportunity for everyone.  Mostly, I learn about projects through my activities with the Board Members and Pam.  In fact, every time I walk into Pam’s office, she’s always telling me about the new ideas she has, and it’s wonderful that she’s so creative.”

Ashley’s passion for pro bono doesn’t stop there.

One semester, I participated in a “Pro Bono and Jelly” hunger awareness bake sale during the food drive.  We encouraged students and faculty to bring their lunches and donate the money they would normally spend eating out to Harvest Hope.  I have also visited retirement centers with other volunteers to sit down and talk with senior citizens about their legal needs.  We fill out surveys to identify how the legal community can best serve this group of people.   Additionally, this summer I worked with South Carolina Legal Aid as a public interest law clerk, so I stayed on this semester as a volunteer.   Our Pro Bono program has close ties with that office because they serve the public.

 I performed a lot of community service in high school and during my undergraduate career, so it seemed silly not to continue doing good things for others when I started law school.  Admittedly, it’s a lot more difficult during your first semester to get involved, but once I settled in I wanted to find out what I could do.  Pro Bono opportunities have provided me with a lot of hands-on legal experience.  I’m so thankful for the program, and I really enjoy working with students and people in our community.  I really believe that one of my responsibilities in this profession requires me to give back some of my time to people who really need it.  A lot of people don’t understand our judicial system, so law students and practicing attorneys should aspire to reach out to them and make the experience as helpful as possible.

When asked about whether she experienced any surprises with her pro bono work, Ashley reflects “I wouldn’t say I have had too many surprises.  I think becoming a GAL was a little overwhelming at first, though.  My first case was difficult for me because it was hard to believe that children, right here in Columbia, are abused and neglected every day.  We see these things on TV, so it was almost surreal to experience it first hand.  However, it was rewarding to stand in front of a judge in Family Court and have my final opinion heard and implemented.”

I asked Ashley about what she had learned from her pro bono service:

From my pro bono experiences, I have learned quite a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and what kind of law I think I might pursue.  For example, I learned that family law is more difficult because of the emotional element that’s always present when you speak to a client or work with family members.  Pro bono work has taught me patience and understanding.  When you realize that you have to explain legalese to someone who may or may not have graduated from high school, your perspective changes and you realize how valuable your services are to the clients you serve.  I have also learned how fortunate I am, and I’m thankful for the experiences I have had.

And pro bono service is not a new concept for Ashley. She recalls that “I have always believed that it is important for each person to serve the communities in which we live.  It’s so valuable to give back what we take.  Pro bono service really changed my view of the law because now I understand what it is like to see it from a regular person’s perspective.  By “regular person,” I mean someone who has not studied the law, someone who may not be aware of what his or her rights are in our country, and someone who can only tell me a story, not a particular legal issue.  That’s why I think pro bono service is so important because it’s one of a lawyer’s professional duties to give back to society.”

I asked Ashley if she had any thoughts about pro bono service that she wanted to share with her fellow law students. Her response was thoughtful and frank:

I think that pro bono speaks for itself.  Truly, a person only needs to get involved in one pro bono program to experience the joy and pleasure of doing good things for other people.  Everyone has a little time to sacrifice, and it only takes one project or one client to keep a law student engaged and active in pro bono work for life.

She remains an active pro bono volunteer at SC Legal Services volunteering three hours a week as a law clerk. She has high esteem for the SC Legal Services attorneys noting that they are “fabulous, and they work hard for their clients.  I have learned a great deal from them and could not be more thankful for the experience I have had there.  They have taught me so many things that classroom lectures don’t quite touch on in law school.”

Is Ashley’s pro bono going to continue into her law practice?

Most definitely.  I think I would be doing a disservice to myself and my community by not engaging in pro bono work.  

That is music to my ears. We are lucky to have have such dedicated young attorneys and law students who cannot imagine their profession without giving back.

Stay tuned as we highlight them throughout this week!

~RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Celebrate Pro Bono 2011

I’m very proud to don this logo on the SC Access to Justice blog. For the past three years, the American Bar Association has hosted this powerful, national event highlighting the importance of pro bono legal services around the United States.

In South Carolina, we’re proud to highlight some of the work in our own backyard. Throughout the remainder of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, you’ll be able to learn how South Carolina law students and practicing attorneys interpret pro bono legal services and put it into action.

Many thanks to the American Bar, probono.net and the thousands of attorneys and law students who are celebrating pro bono this week!

~ RFW

Access to Justice: Interpreters for the Deaf

The SC Access to Justice Commission is pleased to collaborate with the SC School for the Deaf and Blind (SCSDB), SC Court Administration, the SC Association of the Deaf (SCAD), the SC Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (SCRID), SC Legal Services (SCLS), the SC Bar Public Services Division, and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A) to ensure that all Deaf South Carolinians have equal access to the civil court system.

Part of that collaboration was to increase the number of qualified American Sign Language Interpreters in the courts. Well, as you may recall, last summer, the SCSDB partnered with Richland County to help 25 sign language interpreters work toward nationally recognized legal certification. And earlier this month, that’s exactly what occurred.

From January 6, 2011 through January 9, 2011, 25 sign language interpreters gathered in Richland County for “Foundations of Court Interpreting” by Carla Mathers, who is licensed to practice law in Maryland and D.C. and holds a Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC) and a Specialist Certificate:  Legal (SC:L) and has written a book about legal interpreting.

And the collaborators remain committed to providing quality sign language interpretation in the courts.

And many thanks to The State for its coverage of this topic!

-RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Margaret S. “Molly” Day

Recently I had a moment to sit down with a law school classmate, Margaret S. Day aka Molly and discuss pro bono and public interest law with her.


  • I understand that you were active with pro bono in law school.  Please tell me about your experiences there.

I was very fortunate to become involved with Women in Law and the Pro Bono Board in law school, and those two entities opened up a world of volunteering for me.  I participated in Sistercare‘s Battered Incarcerated Women‘s project, which allowed me to assist women in correctional facilities with their legal proceeding against their former abusers.  Going to the correctional facilities and meeting these women from all walks of life who had harmed their abusers and then been punished for that was a real eye opening experience.  I learned a lot about appellate proceedings and a lot about life from that experience.

I also volunteered with Sistercare’s legal advocacy project at the courthouse.  I sat in Sistercare’s office a few hours a week and helped battered women fill out temporary restraining orders and other documents to protect them against their abusers.  I also went to court as moral support for some of these women who were facing their abusers.  Again, I learned a lot about the legal process and life with this project.


In law school, I was privileged to serve as President of the Women in Law Association.  I took part in the organization of many fundraisers, such as the Race Judicata, a race to raise money for a local charity, and a large garage sale in the lobby of the law school, among others.  I learned so much about fundraising from the ground up with these endeavors, and I use this experience today on every nonprofit board I serve.


  • What first drew you to pro bono work?

I was drawn to become a lawyer and especially to pro bono work when I was in undergrad.  To work my way through undergrad, I worked in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, what was, and may still be, the poorest county in the United States.  To get to work, I would have to drive by ramshackle shacks built on mud and built of plywood, with no plumbing, and naked children.  Prior to that job, I had not been exposed to poverty at that level.  These same residents would come to the casino and spend their welfare checks at the slot machines.  Compared to these people, I was wealthy with my casino salary and tips. I so wanted to help, but had no idea where to start.  It was when the casinos were fighting unionization that I learned I might be able to persduade with argument.  I was asked by the cocktail waitresses to be a spokeperson for their interests.  The ensuing discussions opened my eyes to the law as a career possibility and way to help people.


  • Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

Currently I spend most of my pro bono work helping LowCountry Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to those who could not otherwise afford it.  The majority of the cases we see are family law related.  This cause is so important and some people don’t understand it.  Can you imagine being married to an abuser of you or your children and not being able to get a divorce?    My work with LCLA has certainly influenced my pro bono work.   I am more willing to take family law cases even if it is an area that I have never practiced in before. The need is so great, and I am willing to ask other lawyers with experience to assist me and bring me up to speed, just so a person will have a lawyer.  Keeping a nonprofit going in this economy is a full time job, especially a nonprofit that is little understood by those outside of the legal field.  I serve on the Board for LCLA, and as its Community Outreach Coordinator, two roles that could easily fill a full time schedule.  I also assist in setting up wills clinics for groups in the community.  We recently did a wills clinic for the Bluffton Fire Department, and we hope to do another one soon for another service or community profession.


I am also a PAI (private attorney involvement) for South Carolina Legal Services.  I take cases at a reduced rate for people that could not otherwise afford an attorney.  Right now I am representing a man that is trying to adopt his nephew.  I am learning a lot about adoption!  Luckily I have a friend from law school that does adoptions all the time, and she has provided immeasureable advice.


  • How do you find out about this work?

I usually find out about pro bono projects through friends.  Robin Wheeler (you!) introduced me to the SC Legal Services people at a Bar Convention.  My friend Mary Sharp, a lawyer in private practice, introduced me to Lowcountry Legal Aid and asked me to be on the Board while she was its president.  My friend Pam Robinson of USC Law school has opened my eyes to many pro bono opportunities. Additionally, I have nonlawyer friends that ask me to help at events.


I wish that I had the time to do more pro bono work for LCLA.  I would like to start taking cases for them in estate planning and advance directives.  I never anticipated that there might be a need for these areas for people that need legal services, but I have found that all people need to feel secure about the guardian of their children should they pass, or the person making their healthcare or end of life decisions.  I am hoping that I will soon be able to devote a set time every week to assisting LCLA with this area.


  • What other projects have you done?

I would like to talk about my appointed cases.  I have been appointed to represent some men in my past three cases that were accused of very nefarious activities.  I was appointed to represent a man that spoke no English and was accused of shaking his baby, and his baby was taken away from him.  He was a decent man and a good father, but because he did not speak any English and was lower income, his baby had not been diagnosed with a rare brain problem she had since birth.  A small fall on to the floor produced symptoms of shaken baby.  It was very rewarding to prove that he was a good father and get his baby back into the home.  This case could have fallen through the cracks and the baby could have entered the system.  Luckily, that did not happen.
Another appointed case I had was a father accused of sexually molesting his child.  He had not molested her and in fact had not been allowed to see her for two years. He had a disability and was not the most educated person, so he had been pushed through the DSS system without understanding the ramifications. Indeed, he had been paying child support on a child that he averred was not his for two years.  After almost a year of hearings and arguments, he was allowed to stop paying child support for the child that was not his, and have visitation for the child that was.
In cases like these, the appointed attorney is often the only fail safe the client has to see that justice is done.  In these difficult economic times, the judicial system and the state agencies are so overburdened and understaffed that they cannot possibly investigate all of the facts and make sure all parties are represented to the utmost.  The appointed attorney must give those cilents 100%.


  • What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned so much about humanity, good and bad, and been surprised by who was good and who was bad.  And i have learned so much about the law that I would not otherwise have learned.  I have met the most interesting people while doing pro bono work; people I would not have met otherwise, if i had not ventured out to do a pro bono project.  My pro bono clients have been so grateful for my representation, and it has always been a rewarding experience to represent them.  I have gained a new respect for the American justice system.  Many times the pro bono lawyer is the one last stopgap for the client in an overburdened legal system or state agency system.  In many of these cases the person has not been heard in his or her steps through the system and the pro bono lawyer is the first person to listen to the person and validate them.


  • Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

My view of the law has been changed by my pro bono service.  My first job out of law school was working for a government agency, and my next job was working for a big firm.  In both jobs, I was able to get a routine down to do the most work efficiently to make the most money and produce the best results for my clients.  But in both jobs, my clients were big entities and it was easy to lose sight of the real purpose of the legal system.  With my pro bono work, I have represented individuals who must rely on the justice system to decide the biggest things in their life.  I have gained a renewed respect for due process and our judiciary in this process.


  • What do want to tell lawyers or law students about pro bono?

Just do it!  Not only will you learn some legal skills, get your name out there, and meet new people, but you will make the world a better place for some lucky client.

Focus on Pro Bono: John Tenney

John Tenney

John Tenney is currently in his third (last) year of law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  This semester, his classes are Health Law and Policy, Advanced Legal Writing, Interviewing Counseling and Negotiation (ICN), Trial Advocacy, and Fiduciary Administration. John currently serves as Treasurer of USC Law’s chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, and as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

Favorite class?

I’d say it’s a toss-up between Trial Advocacy and ICN, because I have been eager to get an opportunity to take more skills-based courses that allow me to get a firsthand feel for how “real lawyering”, if you’ll allow the term, actually works.  I believe both courses teach important practical skills with which anyone planning to have a career in the legal field ought to be familiar, regardless of whether one plans to be a trial attorney or never set foot in a courtroom.

Current pro bono work?

Currently I am a volunteer clerk at the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.  It is a fantastic opportunity, and I am excited to have the chance to see firsthand how the Court functions, and to do my best to help the Court carry out its duties.  Everyone there is very friendly and approachable, but also hard working and dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

In addition to this, I am serving as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

I think it was the opportunity to immediately make a positive contribution. Through Pam Robinson and the Pro Bono Program, right away I was able to become a part of programs that directly helped people.  I was eager to dive right in as soon as I could, and pro bono work is the perfect way to quickly have a positive, lasting impact.

How did you first learn about these projects?

I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Pro Bono Program’s various programs, but the first one in which I participated was Project AYUDA, which helps spread awareness to the Spanish-speaking community about legal rights and resources.

I learned about the ALC volunteer clerk opportunity from talking with Pam Robinson, who is a wonderful and endless resource for just about anything, be it pro bono-related or not (and there are always snacks in her office if you need a quick boost!).  If there is a pro bono opportunity out there, Pam knows about it, and knows how you can become involved with it.

Have you done any other pro bono projects while in law school?

I have also done work translating documents into Spanish for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which I have done at various times during my law school time.

Pam was instrumental in helping me obtain a summer clerkship after my first year at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. Like many public interest organizations, P&A is full of bright, focused people dedicating themselves to protecting and advancing disability rights, making sure that all people, not just some people, are able to enjoy the benefits and protections under the law.  They work directly with their clients to protect and advocate for their rights, and I was able to work with several of the attorneys on their cases.  It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend anyone interest in pro bono work to inquire about volunteering or clerking there.

This past summer I clerked at South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS).  This organization assists low-income South Carolina residents in a wide variety of civil matters, including domestic violence.  I really enjoyed this clerkship because it was a great mixture of getting legal experience, working with capable and dedicated attorneys, and meeting directly with clients.  In addition to the aforementioned usual clerk duties, I also was able to participate in clinics held in the community, with attending hearings, and even acted as interpreter between an attorney and a client who only spoke some English. Their office is a great place to be, and just like P&A, I would definitely recommend looking ito volunteer opportunities there.

As cliché as it may sound, the best part really is seeing how appreciate the clients are.  These are people that need legal help just like the any other person would, and SCLS (and P&A as well) provides free legal help to them.  When a client says “thank you”, there’s real meaning behind it, and as I mentioned before, that’s key when it comes to looking yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.  That person needed help with a consumer issue, may not have known where to turn for legal advice, and now that person is getting the assistance they need to take care of the issue.

Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

It certainly has, and more importantly, it’s made me eager to make people more aware of the breadth of what pro bono work encompasses.  I think some people have a perception that pro bono work is confined to a narrow slice of law, or that it’s a minor part of the legal community, which is not even remotely accurate.  There are lots of people involved in the pro bono area, and not necessarily because they work for a public interest organization- plenty of lawyers working in private practice take volunteer cases, to help the legal community and the community at large.  Pro bono service goes on everywhere, and there’s always room for more help.

Do you plan to go into private practice?

As of right now I am not certain if I will go into private practice, and if I do, whether it would be immediately or farther down the line.  However, should I go into private practice, I would be eager to maintain a part of my practice dedicated to pro bono work.

What do you want to tell other law students about your pro bono work experience?

I would tell other law students to jump into pro bono work.  I think one of the most important parts of a career is how you feel about yourself at the end of the day- did you make a difference?  What kind of a difference?  By working with pro bono organizations, you get the satisfaction of knowing you have helped people who need and deserve it, as well as the added bonus of being able to say with certainty that you’ve made a positive difference, be it in your state, your city, or your community.

Additionally, I know that many students are understandably concerned about gaining experience in the legal field, and clerking at pro bono organizations provides an excellent opportunity to do this!  In my two clerkships, I did everything you would expect to do as a clerk at any firm- I did research, wrote memos of varying length and complexity, sat in on client meetings, and other miscellaneous duties that would be assigned to a clerk anywhere.  Combine that with the ability to help those who might not otherwise get help, and you’ve got a perfect opportunity.

-RFW

Celebrate the ADA’s 20th

Today is the last day to register for an exciting event in Charleston on Thursday, September 23rd.

For attorneys, this is a great opportunity to attend a Continuing Legal Education Event to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its impact over the past 20 years.

The Agenda:

The ADA: Olmstead and Beyond – Elizabeth Priaulx, National Disability Rights Network

The ADA and State Budget Cuts: North Carolina’s Experience – John Rittelmeyer, Disability Rights North Carolina

The ADA and Medicaid Issues: Georgia’s Experience – Joshua Norris, Georgia Advocacy Office, Inc.

The ADA and State Delivery of Services – Panel Discussion

The ADA and the Fair Housing Act: Aging in the Community – Susan Ann Silverstein, AARP Foundation Litigation

The ADA as Civil Rights Litigation: Class Actions and Attorneys’ Fees Issues – Armand Derfner, Derfner Altman & Wilborn

How Do We Maintain the Momentum? – Panel Discussion

Details:

  • $50 non-profit attorneys
  • $100 government and private bar
  • Lunch is included in registration fee

For the public, this event offers a special evening of celebration and a chance to meet some passionate disability advocates with a presentation by Samuel Bagenstos. And the reception is free. Registration is required however.

Both these events offer a wonderful opportunity to celebrate 20 years of the ADA! Please join us in the celebration!

For more information, please visit http://www.pandasc.org/.

Hope to see you there!

-RFW