Lara Caudy served as the SC Access to Justice Commission’s SC Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellow in the autumn of 2010. Here is Lara’s perspective about the experience:
I have been awarded the opportunity to work with the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission through the South Carolina Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows Project. The Project, a joint effort between the USC School of Law and the SC Bar Foundation, began on September 13, 2010 with the goal of enhancing our state legal services organizations. During orientation for the program, Toyya Brawley Grey, President of the SC Bar Foundation Board, welcomed the inaugural group of law students, myself included. In her remarks, Ms. Grey told those in attendance, including the fellows and the supervising attorneys, “You have all heard the phrase of something being compared to a ‘win-win’ situation. Well, the Foundation considers this opportunity a ‘win-win-win’ scenario. Fellows—you will benefit from the knowledge of the lawyers that you will encounter. Host entities—you will benefit from these students’ hard work and dedication. And, most importantly, the low income community will be better off as there are more helping hands—more minds around the table—as you work together to advance justice in our state.” Having worked at the South Carolina ATJ Commission for nine weeks now, I can attest to the accuracy of Ms. Grey’s words and I do not think I am mistaken in saying that all three groups—the fellows, the host organizations, and the local low income community—truly have benefited from this project.
One of the largest challenges the South Carolina ATJ Commission faces is improving and expanding legal resources for people of low income and spreading awareness of the legal resources that are currently available. Self-represented litigants in the State face challenges in the legal system everyday due to lack of financial means, lack of resources, and lack of knowledge about various aspects of the legal system, including proper forms and correct court procedures. My work at the Commission aimed at lessening these challenges.
I spent a significant amount of my time at the Commission working on developing and organizing a Self-Help Guide for pro se litigants to help spread awareness of the resources available to low income people in the State who do not have the financial means to seek help from an attorney. This was a gratifying experience as I knew my work had the potential to help hundreds of members of my local community solve the legal problems they face. In addition to the Self-Help Guide, I assisted in the early stages of a study to determine how legal representation affects the outcome of civil cases in the State. The ultimate goal of the study was to inform the South Carolina Legislature of the legal needs of low income people in the State and obtain more financial resources for statewide legal aid. While, unfortunately, this project was put on hold, my work on it enhanced my awareness of the necessity of pro bono work and the importance of providing resources to those who cannot afford an attorney. My most recent project involved generating a list of potential activities, programs, and events that the Commission can focus on undertaking in the near future. This task helped me gain a better idea of some of the methods legal services organizations, such as the Commission, can work on to improve legal resources and spread awareness of such resources.
Overall, this has been a great educational experience. It has provided me with the opportunity to give back to our community while learning about the legal profession and the legal challenges faced by low income people in South Carolina. My fellowship experience has broadened my awareness of the profound unmet legal needs of the members of our community, state, and country and has instilled in me an even stronger desire to contribute to the State’s legal community in everyway that I can. I urge all my fellow law students in the State to engage in pro bono work to help lessen the vast legal needs of our community. This truly as been, in the words of Ms. Grey, “a win-win-win situation.”