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