Focus on Pro Bono: James Gaul

James Gaul is currently a 1L in his first semester at the University of South Carolina  School of Law. As all 1Ls do, he is taking Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Property along with legal writing and research. So far, his favorite class is Torts.  While he notes that “it was tough at first now that we are getting past policy and into some cases, it’s the most interesting class in my opinion.”  Running a close second is “Property which seems to be the most straight-forward to me.” James is a member of the Student Bar Association as well as the ABA’s Law Student Division with plans to get more involved with the International Law Society and the Public Interest Law Society.

His current Pro Bono work?

Working as an arbitrator with the Lexington County Juvenile Arbitration Program.

What does that entail?

“Basically, when a juvenile is a nonviolent first time offender, the Lexington County Solicitor prefers to send them through arbitration rather than through the court system.  The juvenile is given the option of going through arbitration instead of going before a judge, leaving them without a court record.  The goal of arbitration is to satisfy the victim of the crime and/or the community while creating sanctions for the juvenile that will help them learn from their actions and develop useful skills to keep them out of the juvenile justice system.  The program has an amazing success rate, something like 95%.  Going through arbitration not only keeps the juvenile out of the justice system for that particular incident, but it also works to help keep them out for good.”

Any noteworthy surprises?

“I was surprised at the amount of training that goes into the Arbitration Program.  We had four weeks of three hours classes that culminated in an exam!   The training was definitely worth it though; I mean we have the lives of young people in our hands, so we had better know what we are doing.”

Takeaway from this experience?

“I have learned so much its hard to choose just what to tell you about.  I guess the most important thing that I have learned is how easy and gratifying it is to help change someone’s life.  After the initial training, an arbitration case will take up three to five hours of your life.  In these three to five hours you are literally changing someone’s life for the better.  Who knew it could be so easy? I was excited going in, and my experience so far has done nothing but increase my excitement.”

Why this program?

“I learned about this project while researching possible law schools.  The reputation of the pro bono program at USC was one of the major draws for me.  The website is http://law.sc.edu/pro_bono/.  When Pam Robinson (the Pro Bono Director) sent out a general email to incoming 1Ls about possible pro bono projects I jumped on it.”

Why the emphasis on Pro Bono?

“I worked my way through undergrad, and was never really able to volunteer.  Now that I am in law school, and forbidden to work I finally have a chance to give back.  Honestly, I also like the practical experience that volunteering will give me, but mostly it’s about a chance to give back to my community.”

Future Pro Bono plans?

“As I mentioned, this is my first semester in law school. I do plan on doing Guardian Ad Litem training in January.  I’m looking forward to it.”

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

“I would like to point out that no matter how busy you are, you can always make time to volunteer.  Not every pro bono opportunity requires lots of intensive training and a big time commitment.  I know at USC you can be a tutor at a local elementary school with a commitment of just one hour a week.  I know how it feels to be overwhelmed with class and everything else that is involved in being a law student, but trust me, volunteering is worth it.  It’s a stress reducer, and it makes you feel like you have accomplished something.”

Parting words?

“Neither the Juvenile Arbitration Program nor the Guardian Ad Litem program requires you to be a lawyer or a law student. Any member of the public can volunteer for either of these programs.”

-RFW

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