Celebrate Pro Bono: Ashley Cole

As part of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, we are highlighting pro bono legal service in South Carolina.

Meet ASHLEY COLE, 3L at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Ashley Cole

Ashley became involved in pro bono when she saw flyers posted during her first semester of law school about the Guardian ad Litem program. Instead of signing up immediately she waited until her second semester and began talking with Pam Robinson (USC School of Law Pro Bono Director) about that particular program.  Ashley recalls “I was so excited because she remembered me even after the first time I spoke with her.  She signed me up for Pro Bono announcements.  I participated in the Guardian ad Litem training course, and it was “all she wrote” after that.”

She’s been participating in the law school’s pro bono program for 2 years now; serving on the board since her 2nd year of law school.

While Ashley continues to serve as GAL, she also stays involved in a lot of projects. 

Right now, we’re gearing up for our semester food drive for Harvest Hope.  It’s my job to get my classmates involved because we have a competition between the three law classes.  I want the 3Ls to win this year!  We’re kicking-off the food drive with a “It’s Not a Crock Pot” soup lunch to raise awareness for hunger.  I’ll be entering a soup in the contest on behalf of an organization I’m involved with.

Also, we’ve been hosting a “Good Deed Friday” project about once a month where students who are involved in Pro Bono get together with students from other law organizations to perform community service in and around Columbia. 

This semester, we kicked-off a new program called “Carolina Clerks” that allows attorneys with a pro bono case to obtain assistance from a USC Law student.  That program is wonderful because it provides help to the attorney while simultaneously providing experience to a law student who is eager to learn.

When asked about how she first became involved in these multiples projects, she noted “We host the food drive every semester, so that’s an easy Pro Bono opportunity for everyone.  Mostly, I learn about projects through my activities with the Board Members and Pam.  In fact, every time I walk into Pam’s office, she’s always telling me about the new ideas she has, and it’s wonderful that she’s so creative.”

Ashley’s passion for pro bono doesn’t stop there.

One semester, I participated in a “Pro Bono and Jelly” hunger awareness bake sale during the food drive.  We encouraged students and faculty to bring their lunches and donate the money they would normally spend eating out to Harvest Hope.  I have also visited retirement centers with other volunteers to sit down and talk with senior citizens about their legal needs.  We fill out surveys to identify how the legal community can best serve this group of people.   Additionally, this summer I worked with South Carolina Legal Aid as a public interest law clerk, so I stayed on this semester as a volunteer.   Our Pro Bono program has close ties with that office because they serve the public.

 I performed a lot of community service in high school and during my undergraduate career, so it seemed silly not to continue doing good things for others when I started law school.  Admittedly, it’s a lot more difficult during your first semester to get involved, but once I settled in I wanted to find out what I could do.  Pro Bono opportunities have provided me with a lot of hands-on legal experience.  I’m so thankful for the program, and I really enjoy working with students and people in our community.  I really believe that one of my responsibilities in this profession requires me to give back some of my time to people who really need it.  A lot of people don’t understand our judicial system, so law students and practicing attorneys should aspire to reach out to them and make the experience as helpful as possible.

When asked about whether she experienced any surprises with her pro bono work, Ashley reflects “I wouldn’t say I have had too many surprises.  I think becoming a GAL was a little overwhelming at first, though.  My first case was difficult for me because it was hard to believe that children, right here in Columbia, are abused and neglected every day.  We see these things on TV, so it was almost surreal to experience it first hand.  However, it was rewarding to stand in front of a judge in Family Court and have my final opinion heard and implemented.”

I asked Ashley about what she had learned from her pro bono service:

From my pro bono experiences, I have learned quite a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and what kind of law I think I might pursue.  For example, I learned that family law is more difficult because of the emotional element that’s always present when you speak to a client or work with family members.  Pro bono work has taught me patience and understanding.  When you realize that you have to explain legalese to someone who may or may not have graduated from high school, your perspective changes and you realize how valuable your services are to the clients you serve.  I have also learned how fortunate I am, and I’m thankful for the experiences I have had.

And pro bono service is not a new concept for Ashley. She recalls that “I have always believed that it is important for each person to serve the communities in which we live.  It’s so valuable to give back what we take.  Pro bono service really changed my view of the law because now I understand what it is like to see it from a regular person’s perspective.  By “regular person,” I mean someone who has not studied the law, someone who may not be aware of what his or her rights are in our country, and someone who can only tell me a story, not a particular legal issue.  That’s why I think pro bono service is so important because it’s one of a lawyer’s professional duties to give back to society.”

I asked Ashley if she had any thoughts about pro bono service that she wanted to share with her fellow law students. Her response was thoughtful and frank:

I think that pro bono speaks for itself.  Truly, a person only needs to get involved in one pro bono program to experience the joy and pleasure of doing good things for other people.  Everyone has a little time to sacrifice, and it only takes one project or one client to keep a law student engaged and active in pro bono work for life.

She remains an active pro bono volunteer at SC Legal Services volunteering three hours a week as a law clerk. She has high esteem for the SC Legal Services attorneys noting that they are “fabulous, and they work hard for their clients.  I have learned a great deal from them and could not be more thankful for the experience I have had there.  They have taught me so many things that classroom lectures don’t quite touch on in law school.”

Is Ashley’s pro bono going to continue into her law practice?

Most definitely.  I think I would be doing a disservice to myself and my community by not engaging in pro bono work.  

That is music to my ears. We are lucky to have have such dedicated young attorneys and law students who cannot imagine their profession without giving back.

Stay tuned as we highlight them throughout this week!

~RFW

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: Margaret “Marti” Bluestein

Margaret "Marti" Bluestein

Margaret, or as she is more commonly known, Marti Bluestein graduated from the USC School of Law in 1993; and is one of the founding partners of Bluestein Nichols Thompson Delgado, LLC.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

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.

-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.

Are you willing to carry the ball?

I'll carry the ball

This morning I attended the Richland County CASA Quarterback Breakfast at the Clarion Hotel in Columbia, SC where I feasted on a sumptuous southern buffet breakfast and met several interesting and enthusiastic volunteers. (You have to be enthusiastic to show up at a non-mandatory 7:30 a.m. meeting, right?)

I sat with Paige Greene, RCCASA’s Executive Director, for a few minutes and learned the following:

  • RCCASA hosts quarterly quarterback breakfasts for volunteer recruitment and retention. While this event is primarily geared toward males, there are some women who show as well.
  • If each event brings in 10 new volunteers, that is 40 new volunteers per year.
  • RCCASA has already reached its 2010 goal with a total of 70 new “recruits.”

Since January 1, 2010, they have served 934 children via 973 court hearings through their program. The average amount of time their cases are open (assignment to closure) is 9 months. And since January 1st, they have closed 408 cases.

If you want to learn more about RCCASA or you want to volunteer to speak for a child, call (803) 576-1735 or email casa@rcgov.us or check out their website at www.rccasa.org.

More photos from this morning’s event:

Another Steps Up
Breakfast is served
Footballs
Footballs everywhere - and each football has the name of a GAL and the names of the children he has helped!
Got Game?
Paige speaks
I'll carry the ball
Speaking about the different initiatives
Quarterbacks!
Table . . .
Thanks for helping!
The group listens
Tossing the Ball

-RFW

Richland County CASA Selected for Nationwide Resiliency Initiative

Richland County CASA

Richland County CASA has been selected to participate in nationwide Resiliency Initiative. Only 12 agencies from across the nation were selected to take part in this year-long project.  The goal of this project will be to collectively design a “best practice model” for building Resiliency among staff and volunteers.  This project is under the direction of the University of Texas, School of Social Work.

Congratulations!

-RFW

Congratulations Richland County CASA!

Spotlight on RC CASA

The National CASA has award Richland County CASA with their Promising Practices Spotlight this April 17, 2010, during their recognition banquet at the National CASA Association Annual Conference held in Atlanta, GA.

According to their site:

Promising Practices Spotlights highlight original activities, programs, projects or events that enhance the CASA/GAL program’s ability to deliver on the mission of providing court-appointed volunteer advocacy to abused and neglected children. More than one program may be highlighted each year.

For a list of other award winners, click here.

-RFW