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

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Pro Bono Q&A with Brett Barker

Brett Barker graduated from the inaugural class at Charleston School of Law in 2007. And he is back there again; as Assistant Dean of Students for Evening Administration. Recently he took a few minutes to speak with me about public service and pro bono legal service.

I understand that one of the goals of Charleston School of Law is “to teach the practice of law as a profession, having as its chief aim providing public service.” Do you think that this goal, along with the school’s emphasis on pro bono legal service influenced you?

The Charleston School of Law’s emphasis on pro bono work had an enormous influence on me.  I started working with Marvin Feingold at Pro Bono Legal Services (PBLS) during my second year of law school. Pro Bono Legal Services awarded me the Nelson Mullins Crisis Ministries Fellowship during the summer prior to my third year of law school. These experiences helped solidify my commitment to pro bono and more importantly, how I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

It is difficult to attend the Charleston School of Law and not be drawn to pro bono work.  The school instills in each student the duty attorneys have to serve pro bono clients.  There are lectures, presentations and the 30 hours of pro bono requirement that expose you to the many rewarding opportunities available.

Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

I understand you’re active working with Crisis Ministries and Pro Bono Legal Services. How did you first learn about these projects? In law school I began working with the Crisis Ministries Homeless Justice Project on the recommendation of Dean Saunders, Associate Dean of Students, at The Charleston School of Law.  She was instrumental in starting the Crisis Ministries Legal Clinic, along with Jeff Yungman, a classmate.  Jeff now serves as Director of the program.  Through this relationship I also became involved in PBLS.  I continued to volunteer with PBLS and Crisis Ministries. Both organizations have a support network of attorneys and paralegals that assist if needed.  Most of the work I do for these organizations is in the family law and criminal practice areas.

Have you been actively involved with other pro bono projects?

I am active in my community.  I serve on the Boards of the Folly Beach Exchange Club, Carolina Commuters, and the Boys and Girls Club Shaw Unit.  I am the Treasurer for the James L. Petigru American Inn of Court.  In the past I have served on the Executive Board of the Mediation and Meeting Center of Charleston and as the Vice Chair of The Birthday Foundation Board.

What was most rewarding to you?

I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

Have you had any surprises over the years related to your pro bono service?

My pro bono clients have always been extraordinarily appreciative.  The pro bono work that attorneys perform is truly life changing or can be life changing.

What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned more than I can tell.  I have learned so much from the non profits where I served.  Following a clerkship, I hung out my shingle.  I found that when I first started practicing no matter how busy attorneys were, they were always willing to serve as a mentor for me, especially when they found out that I was doing pro bono work.  I was then able to take those practical skills and use them when I had clients with similar problems.

What do you want to tell other law students and/or attorneys about pro bono work?

It is very rewarding both professionally and personally.

Last words about pro bono?

Do it!


Guest Blogger: Jeff Yungman

The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty recently met in Charleston to discuss issues surrounding homelessness and veterans. The following is a brief description about the meeting written by one of the panelists, Jeff Yungman of Charleston.

Stepping Up Justice for Veterans as They Stand Down:  Innovative Approaches Courts and Lawyers are Advancing to Help Veterans

The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty presented a program at the Charleston School of LawPaul Freese moderated the program that included presentations by Paul, Jeff Yungman, Antonia Fasanelli, Sara Sommarstrom, and Steve Binder.  As the title indicates, the program focused on legal issues confronting veterans.

Jeff opened the program by explaining why veterans legal issues was the topic chosen to present and current initiatives in Charleston to develop a Veterans Treatment Court and a Veterans Child Support Clinic.  Antonia described pro bono opportunities for working with veterans and the ABA’s role in expanding legal services for veterans.  Sara provided information about the veterans’ child support clinic in Minnesota that uses law students and pro bono attorneys to provide legal services.  Steve then spoke about the homeless courts, their purpose, and how they operate.  Paul ended the program by describing veterans’ treatment courts, the reasons behind the establishment of such courts, and how they function.

The program was attended primarily by law students, but attorneys from SC Legal Services, the Solicitor’s office, and the Charleston bar also attended as well as at least one Charleston Municipal Court judge.  The reaction to the program at the time, and in subsequent comments since then, have been very positive.

Focus on Pro Bono: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards is currently a 2L at the Charleston School of Law.  He is taking Evidence, Criminal Law, Constitutional “Con” Law, Professional Responsibility, and Equity. He is currently serving as the secretary of the Criminal Law Society and is a member of the ABA committee.

His Favorite Class?

Con Law is my favorite.

His current pro bono work?

Right now I am working with Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services on heirs’ property, wills, and mortgage foreclosures.  I am also helping a public defender, Marybeth Mullaney, do research in preparation for an armed robbery reform bill being introduced to the state legislature in January.

What first drew him to pro bono work?

I’ve always enjoyed helping people.  That’s the main reason I came to law school.

How did you first learn about these projects?

I learned about Pro Bono Legal Services through our school’s career services department.  The armed robbery bill I learned about when Marybeth came to speak to the Criminal Law Society.  I contacted her afterwards and told her I wanted to help in any way that I could.

What was his most rewarding pro bono experience?

The most rewarding thing for me was a wills clinic I organized in October.  Sometime before that I helped conduct surveys with senior citizens on behalf of the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging.  None of the senior citizens had wills, and they each cited the same reason — they couldn’t afford it.  So that prompted me to organize a wills clinic at the same senior center.  Pro Bono Legal Services sponsored it and it was really successful.  Securing property in South Carolina is an important issue; every piece of property secured is one step closer towards a more prosperous South Carolina.

Any surprises?

The utmost appreciation and cooperation from everyone involved.

What have you learned while doing this project?

The most helpful thing I’ve learned is how cooperative people are.

Future legal plans?

I would like to eventually open my own civil firm in Florence, SC.  In the meantime I may work in the public sector to save money before I venture into starting my own practice.

Future pro bono plans?

I will certainly volunteer my time as much as I can within my community.

Advice for other law students?

Pro bono work is an excellent way to meet great attorneys and expand your understanding of the law.  With pro bono you have the opportunity to get practice experience in almost any area of interest.  When you’re willing to work for free, the world is your oyster.  <smile>

-RFW

ABA 2010 Commission on Homelessness and Poverty Coming to Charleston

ABA 2010 Commission on Homelessness & Poverty Lawyers Working to End Homelessness are meeting in Charleston at the end of this month.

And, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, October 29th, they’ll be presenting on emerging best practices for Veterans at the Charleston School of Law.

For more information, check out the flyer – Homeless Veterans Justice Initiative Program FALL BUSINESS MTG Charleston SC.

No RSVP is needed and there is no cut-off date.  If anyone has any questions they can contact Jeff Yungman at 843-723-9477 ext. 114 or by email.

For additional information about how Crisis Ministries is helping out our veterans, check this out – VA gives Crisis Ministries $1.2 M to help homeless veterans.

-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

Why I do Pro Bono . . .

Why do I do pro bono? This is a question I’m frequently asked.

Here are some of my responses:

1. I like to do it. It makes me feel good. When I help someone with a legal issue/problem, I feel GREAT!

2. Often, it exposes me to new people. If there’s a pro bono project, chances are I’ll meet at least one new person.

3. It’s part of my responsibility as an attorney. See Rule 6.1.

4. I learn something new EACH TIME! Whether I learn a new area of the law, a tidbit about a particular part of the state, a new technology, a new organization that’s helping people, etc.

5. Often, I get to teach something to someone. Yup, that’s right. I get to be a teacher. And, that’s pretty cool. I always liked playing school as a child – especially when I got to play the teacher. So here’s my opportunity to re-enact one of my favorite childhood pastimes.

6. I can hone up on my “lawyering” skills. That’s right, it’s called a “law practice” for a reason, right? And I need to practice, right?

Why do you do pro bono?

-RFW