Allison Humen currently serves as the SBA Liaison to the USC School of Law Pro Bono Board. When asked what drew her to pro bono service, she recalled:
Since I was younger, I have participated in various service projects and organizations. The Pro Bono program offered the opportunity to continue serving not only the community at-large, but also the legal field which we are all now a part of. Not only do you get to serve, but you are able to do this alongside your classmates.
She describes her first major experience with the Pro Bono Program, the Harvest Hope Food Drive in the fall of of 1st year:
All of the students and professors do a wonderful job of encouraging students to work together to make such a large donation to Harvest Hope each year. Being a part of this unified effort in giving back to the community proved how much good the school can do. Since then, I was invited to join the Pro Bono Board, from which I have not only been able to participate in various projects, but also help organize these projects for the student body.
She’s been involved in several pro bono projects over the past few years:
I completed the Guardian ad Litem training in my first year, and since then having been serving as an advocate for the best interests of the children in my cases. From speaking to older classmates and hearing about their experience with this program, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to help families and children, while being able to participate in the legal process. Although it is difficult at times by playing an important role in these children’s’ lives and their future, it has been an invaluable experience. I would recommend this program to every law student. Not only does this experience remind you of the personal aspect of the law which we are studying, it also gives you practical experience.
I am currently a Carolina Clerk. This is a program created by Pam Robinson and Dean Wilcox, which matches volunteer law students with lawyers who have agreed to pro bono client representation. The Pro Bono Program has widely publicized this new program throughout the school as well as on the school’s website, so I was eager to help kick-off the program and volunteered early. The current case I am working on is a DSS case, so it has been interesting to work on family law issues from the standpoint of the parent, rather than the children which are the sole focus of the Guardian ad Litem role.
As a member of a few student organizations I wanted to create a way for different organizations to team up and serve together. With the help of Pam, the Student Bar Association and the Pro Bono Board initiated Good Deed Friday. This program gives all of the student organizations, journals, Moot Court Bar, and Mock Trial Bar the opportunity to join together and volunteer a (Fri)day of service at a local charitable organization. Our first Friday was September 30th, which members of the Student Bar Association, Pro Bono Board, and the Real Property Trust and Estate Law Journal volunteered a few hours at the Harvest Hope Food Bank. Not only are we helping the community, but we are also strengthening the law school community by enabling student leaders to bond over these “good deeds.”
Any lessons learned from pro bono?
Pro bono work has expanded my view of how many people are in need and are in need in so many different ways. When you are surrounded by so many fortunate members of the law school community for the vast majority of your time, it is easy to forget how many people go without. Participating in pro bono has heightened my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with, as well as my compassion for those who have less and my responsibility to help any small way I can.
What’s your advice to other law students?
Get involved early! Even if you are afraid you won’t have the time. Everyone in law school is busy, but Pam does a wonderful job of providing a wide-range of opportunities within the Pro Bono Program. So if you only have one afternoon a month to offer, we will find a place for you to volunteer then! If you aren’t able to complete the two-week Guardian ad Litem training, there are many ways to volunteer that do not require any additional training!
Will you continue pro bono service after law school?
My passion for service did not begin in law school, and I am certain that it will not end after graduation. It is important for every one of us to do pro bono work, and I believe this need is only strengthened once you become a licensed attorney. At that point, you will have more tools in your belt and therefore be able to serve the community in ways that the majority of the population cannot.
Thanks for your service Allison! I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!
Everyday I’m reminded why I like the law. There are so many reasons, but one of the most important is how much I like and respect my colleagues.
We endure lawyer jokes. We are cursed along with “used-car salesmen” (and are they really so bad? My cars were exactly what I wanted).
And sure, there are some who bring out the worst.
BUT there are even more who are really cool people. They engage in their communities and take an active leadership role. Below is such a list. All these attorneys took time out to coach, judge or coordinate local High School student mock trial competitions. And that IS really cool. THANKS!
Take a look, you may know one or more. (click to enlarge)
A Chief Justice from another state told me that 70% of the divorces in her state are now done by people attempting to represent themselves. We have an increasing number of our citizens who cannot afford to hire an attorney even if one is available in their area. Yet these citizens need and deserve access to our courts. We have worked with the Access to Justice Program of the State Bar to encourage attorneys to provide free legal services to those who need them. Currently there are 275 attorneys who have agreed to do so, an increase of 100 attorneys from last year. This number, while impressive, falls significantly short of the existing need.
Our Unified Judicial System has created many legal forms for those individuals who for various reasons, economic and otherwise, will be representing themselves in a judicial proceeding. At this point the forms deal with domestic relations issues such as divorce, name changes, and child support. Many of these forms are available free on the Internet at the UJS website, http://ujs.sd.gov/, or for a small fee at any Clerk of Court’s office. We hope to expand their scope and availability in the future.
I was drawn to pro bono work, because I feel like everyone should give back in some way. I am a lawyer, and this is my way of helping.
What is your current pro bono service?
My current pro bono work includes serving as a guardian when called on in DSS cases. I have represented SSI claimants in the past though I have not done that in quite some time. I was first introduced to the pro bono program as a young lawyer. I volunteered for the Access to Justice Committee of the S.C. Bar many years ago and the pro bono program was involved with that committee. I get calls from the SC Bar and CASA to serve as a guardian.
I understand you have a long history of pro bono. What other projects did you work on?
I used to work on the Pro Bono Auction and actually headed that up for several years. I volunteered for free legal clinics as a young lawyer, but mostly I have served as a guardian or have represented SSI claimants.
Do you find pro bono service rewarding?
My most rewarding cases have been the ones where I served as a child’s guardian. It is an incredible feeling to give them a voice.
Have you found any surprises through your pro bono service?
I have learned that people are truly thankful for the assistance that you give them. You are usually their last hope.
Any words of wisdom for law students or other attorneys re: pro bono?
I would like to tell students and lawyers alike that doing pro bono work always brings me as much joy as the person I helped. It reminds me what a difference our profession can make.
Right now, I am involved in the CHOICES Program. I first learned about this program after receiving a flier in my mailbox at school. I have not done any other pro bono projects while in law school however I have been greatly satisfied with my decision to do CHOICES.
What lesson have you taken from your pro bono service?
I think the most valuable lesson I have learned is “not to judge a book by its cover.” While this sounds cliché, I think it is the perfect way to describe my participation with CHOICES. Initially, I was a little hesitant about how the juveniles would react to the program. My encounters with the juveniles put my fears to rest. They were a bright group of young men with creative ideas and goals for the future. Not only were they receptive to the program, but they were also a joy to be around and they taught me many things that I did not know.
Has your pro bono service changed your idea of law or pro bono?
Not really. I had always been service oriented and have enjoyed helping others. The one thing that I can say is that I will be more willing to take a chance and volunteer in areas outside of my comfort zone.
Do you see yourself in private practice or public interest?
At this point, I do not plan to go into private practice; I would prefer to work in a public interest setting. If I do end up in private practice, I will definitely volunteer as a pro bono attorney. Through my experiences, I have tried to encourage other law students to participate in pro bono programs. We are all extremely busy but I still think it is important to share my stories and hopefully, others can find time in their schedule to help someone else. It really does offer a nice break from lives as law students and personally, it reminds me of why I decided to attend law school.
“Every few weeks I receive a case from the solicitor’s office and spend time preparing for it before I meet with the juvenile, their parents, and the victim (if there is one). Then I work with all of the involved parties to come up with age-appropriate sanctions for the juvenile to complete. If the juvenile completes all of the sanctions within 90 days, the juvenile finishes the program and their case is closed. The program is designed to keep first time offenders out of the family court system, and give them another chance to restore the harm they’ve done through committing their crime to the community. The great thing about the program is that many of the sanctions given to the juvenile are designed to facilitate their involvement in the community and get them involved in projects that they might actually be interested in.”
How did you become involved in this specific project?
“I became a certified arbitrator during my senior year at the College of Charleston, when one of my professors suggested it as an internship program. It was a program I felt passionate about, and I wanted to continue in the arbitration program when I came to law school. I was transferred from the 9th circuit up to the 11th circuit, when I came to Columbia for law school.”
What have you learned from participating in this pro bono program?
“I think what surprises me most about the program that I am involved in is how much I actually get out of it every time I arbitrate a case. Not only do I learn more about an area of law, but I also always come away with the feeling that I’ve helped someone by just donating an hour of my time to the arbitration hearing.”
Do you see yourself staying involved in this or other pro bono programs?
“I’ve really enjoyed my experience as a juvenile arbitrator, which is why I want to continue to take arbitration cases and stay involved in the program, even when I am in private practice. It is probably a program I will always stay involved in, just because I really believe in what it does in giving first time offenders another chance to change their behavior.”
Advice to other law students:
“I would suggest that everyone in law school at some point participate in at least one pro bono activity. I think it’s important for students to understand that their role as a lawyer can be so much more, in that they can really give back to the community with the knowledge that they have learned about their profession.”
“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.”
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.”