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

Focus on Pro Bono: Douglas J. Rosinski

I haven’t met Douglas J. Rosinski in person, but I’m already impressed.

Really, just Google him. When I was looking for Pro Bono providers to interview, I contacted several people around the state; one of whom was Pamela D. Robinson, the USC School of Law Pro Bono Director. I figured if anyone knew who to contact, it was Pam. Sure enough, she referred me to Doug among others.

So, I popped him an email asking whether he’d be interested (or at least amenable) to an interview to post on the blog in honor of Celebrate Pro Bono Week. He promptly responded with his schedule and we had a tele-interview. Doug is very busy and while our interview was “interrupted” by his firm responsibilities, we somehow managed to complete the following:

Q:        Please tell me a little about how you became involved in Pro Bono service?

A:        When I attended law school (1994-1997), I was an older student and part of my reason for going to law school was to shift into a career where I could give back in some way, such as Pro Bono work. Before law school, I served as a Navy submarine nuclear engineer and commercial nuclear consultant, worked on robotics development for NASA, and as a consultant for the Department of Energy.  I thought that my life experience in problems solving would provide a basis for helping those seeking assistance with their problems; helping them make decisions. Most of law is making decisions and they’re easier to resolve with a little life experience.

Q:        What pro bono experience have you been providing?

A:        Well, after law school, I practiced as a solo for a short time in Georgia. Then I moved to D.C. where I worked in nuclear licensing. I still had a desire for community service, but somehow the usual pro bono clients didn’t seem to satisfy my interest. Then I came across a pro bono project providing service to veterans – the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium. They provide free attorneys to veterans and their qualifying family members who have an appeal pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court).

So I took a case; which ended up being a precedent-setting case. Before this case, if a veteran died before his appeal for VA benefits was resolved, the VA kept the money. It turns out the placement of a single comma in the VA regulation was different than in the controlling statute: it made all the difference in the case and for thousands of other survivors of veterans who died waiting on appeal.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t uncommon for veterans to die while waiting for the decision. And, $50,000 or $250,000 doesn’t mean as much to a dying 65-year-old veteran: it would have meant a whole lot when the veteran was 45 years old. There are a million VA claims backlogged some for years and even decades.  There are only a few hundred lawyers to help. This type of work has a direct impact on homelessness, poverty, and health care for veterans and their families. Most of these veterans are surviving on the low-end of the financial spectrum. It’s bizarre. It’s unfair. It generates a lot passion. I figure I can fight this fight with my legal tools and professional experience.

Oh, and these aren’t quick or easy cases. It’s a 3-tier system: Administrative decision first – typically pro se; Board of Veterans Appeals, which can be very lengthy and also pro se or a non-lawyer representative; and finally appealed to the Court of Veteran Appeals, which is a relatively new court.  The Court, however, has formal rules and deadlines unknown in the informal VA system. This third tier can be especially hard for veterans trying to work through the system on their own if only because Federal Circuit and Veterans Court precedent applies, not VA rules.  This 3rd tier is where the Pro Bono Consortium enters and matches eligible appellants with pro bono lawyers.

Besides knowing that you are helping very deserving clients another great reason to do this type of work is quick appellate level experience. You can take one of these cases, and in just a few months, you’re briefing and perhaps arguing it in front of a panel of federal judges, perhaps even in front of the United States Supreme Court! These cases have national reach and national implications.

AND YOU CANNOT BEAT THESE CLIENTS! They are deserving and appreciate the work you do for them, even when the outcome is not as hoped.

Nationally there are approximately 1,000 attorneys who do this type of work. And only about 100 or so of them who are regularly taking these cases. Right now there are roughly 25,000,000 veterans and over 1 million claims filed each year.

I look for cases when the veteran simply cannot afford an attorney yet has a meritorious claim and a legal issue that could effect many other cases. Believe me, there are a lot of veterans proceeding on their own. And it’s complicated. For me, I prefer the more complicated cases. They’re more challenging.

My first client? He was a World War II veteran. The VA error had occurred 47 years earlier. He had received 2 bullet wounds in WWII, but the VA was only compensating him for one. He fought for his rightful benefits. In 2002, he finally received a letter approving his benefits.  Shortly after he received the notice, he had a fatal heart attack.  His wife survived, but the VA refused to pay her the benefits because the veteran had died after the decision to pay, but before the check was actually issued.  We got that practice ruled illegal and the widow got her money.  After that case, it was estimated that approximately $3 million per year went to widows in the same situation.

Another client? He was a volunteer in 1943, one of Merrill’s Marauders aka The 5307 Composite Unit (Provisional). He suffered a back injury moving a cannon. It took until 2002 to get the decision to award him his benefits. He received a phone call about the decision to award him benefits, then a few hours later, he died. And we continued to fight it. His wife, the widow? Living in a dirt-floor shack in Tennessee. She got her money too.

These are not atypical examples. Military service can have such a huge adverse impact on these veterans’ lives.  Attorneys can have a similar, but positive, impact when the VA fails to treat these people’s claims correctly.

I really had no idea that this pro bono service would lead me to such amazing and professionally rewarding experiences.

-RFW

Reporting Your Pro Bono Hours

Seeking Comments from South Carolina Attorneys!

The South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Committee and the South Carolina Supreme Court Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission are seeking input on proposed changes to Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (SCACR 407).

This rule concerns the provision of pro bono service to individuals of limited means or public service/charitable organizations. The proposed changes include the creation of a reporting mechanism for pro bono hours and a requirement that those hours be reported to the Bar.

Pro bono participation remains voluntary.

Click here to view the proposed changes to the rule. Should Rule 6.1 be amended in the future, the Bar would provide additional information to facilitate the reporting.

Please send comments on the proposed changes to Cindy Coker, Public Services Director or Stuart Andrews, Vice- Chair of the SCATJ Commission.

Comments should be received no later than Friday, November 5.

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-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

Fall 2010: Law School for Non-Lawyers

Law School for Non-Lawyers

It’s BACK TO SCHOOL time and not just for kids!
You can go back to school too, via the SC Bar’s Law School for Non-Lawyers course.
The program is a 7-week Law School for Non-Lawyers course covering a variety of general legal subjects. The registration fee is $45 which includes course materials.

Covered topics include:

  • Overview of State Courts
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Family Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Child Protection Hearings
  • Wills, Estates and Probate Law
  • Health Care and Elder Law
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Consumer Law and Debt Collection
  • Real Estate and Landlord/Tenant Law
  • Employment Law
  • South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts

The following courses are currently scheduled:

Trident Technical College

Offered every Tuesdays from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

September 14, 2010 through October 26, 2010

7000 Rivers Avenue, N. Charleston

Building 910, Room 123

To register, call 843-574-6152 or visit www.tridenttech.edu

HURRY, Registration ends September 7th

Horry/Georgetown Technical College

Every Monday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Beginning September 20, 2010 through November 1, 2010

743 Hemlock Dr., Myrtle Beach

Building 200, Room 136

To register, call 843-477-2020 or 843-349-5363 or visit www.hgtc.edu

HURRY, Registration ends September 14th

For any other questions or concerns you have, please contact Debbie Morris at dmorris@scbar.org or 800-395-3425, ext. 158.

The Law School for Non-Lawyers is made possible through an IOLTA grant from the SC Bar Foundation.

Attorney Volunteers Needed!


On November 20, 2009, the Supreme Court of South Carolina amended Rule 608 so that attorneys will no longer be appointed as Guardians ad Litem (GALs) in Family Court. This amendment went into effect on July 1, 2010. While there are GAL programs in effect to cover DSS Child Protective cases, there are currently no such programs for Adult Protective cases.

In late spring, an ad hoc group formed to develop a plan to address the GAL system for Emergency Adult Protective Service cases. As a stop-gap measure, the group has implemented a six-month interim program in which volunteer attorneys will serve as GALs in APS cases until December 31, 2010.

Historically, there have been approximately 500 Emergency Adult Protective Service cases per year. Most counties have an average of 8-9 cases per year:[1] eight counties reported zero cases in 2009-2010[2] with Charleston and Richland Counties having 41 and 40 cases, respectively. Only three counties had more than 20, but less than 30 APS cases, Berkeley (21), Kershaw (27), and Newberry (21). Five counties reported only 1 case during the report year.[3]

The Emergency Adult Protective Services cases typically last approximately six months, as opposed to the Child Protective Service cases, which may last years. In preparation for these cases, the ad hoc group developed a PowerPoint and statutory guide for reference. These materials are available online at http://lawhelp.org/sc/searchresults.cfm/language/1?q=adult+protective+services+guardian+ad+litem.

Attorneys interested in volunteering to serve as volunteer GALs in APS cases should contact Cindy Coker at (803) 799-6653, ext. 142 or ccoker@scbar.org.

Volunteers will receive pro bono malpractice coverage as well as pro bono credit for appointments.


[1] This average is based on 45 counties, excluding Spartanburg, which had 132 APS cases in 2009-2010.

[2] Abbeville, Barnwell, Florence, Georgetown, Jasper, Lee, Lancaster, and McCormick.

[3] Allendale, Bamberg, Cherokee, Dorchester, and Saluda.