Let’s talk about Pro Bono

I have written about Pro Bono legal representation on different occasions, especially during or near the ABA’s National Celebrate Pro Bono Week. Here in South Carolina, I’ve seen more discussion about it, and even a little more participation.

But, I still don’t see as much participation as I would expect. So I have a question for attorneys, paralegals, and law students:

If you are not regularly engaged in pro bono representation, why not?

Please add your comments below. No expletives please. And, I’d like your honest answers.

  • Have you been asked?
  • Do you know where to find opportunities?
  • Are you nervous to do so on your own?
  • Do you think you don’t have enough time to add another case?

Thanks!

~rfw

South Carolina Homeownership and Employment Lending Program – SC HELP

Are YOU a Homeowner who is Facing Foreclosure Due to:

Unemployment,

Underemployment,

Reduction in Self-Employment Income,

Death of Spouse,

Catastrophic Medical Expenses, or

Divorce?

If so, there may be help for you via SC HELP, see SC HELP Flyer.

Monthly Payment Assistance:

  • makes monthly payments while you are seeking employment and a return to self-sustainability

Direct Loan Assistance:

  • pays up to $20,000 on past due mortgage to bring it current

Property disposition assistance:

  • provides $5,000 to help transition families from homeownership to rental housing if:

1. Application with SC HELP completed FIRST
2. Permission for short-sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure granted
3. Money distributed AFTER execution of deeds completed

South Carolina has been awarded, $295,431,000 in funding from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Funds to prevent mortgage foreclosure.

SC Housing Corp., a non-profit Division of the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority is administering the Program, known in SC as the South Carolina Homeownership and Employment Lending Program or SC HELP.

South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) is one of the housing processing agencies for SC HELP.  SCLS assists homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure gather and submit the required documents to be approved for mortgage assistance through SC HELP.

The list of documents can be found here – SC HELP Required Documents List

There are no income requirements for SC HELP and all services are free to the homeowner.

SC HELP will not pay any more than $20,000 on the arrearages.

SC HELP may approve payment of the $20,000 but the actual payment will not be made until SC HELP has verification that the homeowner can pay the balance of the arrearages or that it has been forgiven by the lender or it has been placed at the end of the mortgage.

The requirements for the property disposition assistance program should be carefully reviewed.

NOTE: A homeowner is not eligible for this program if the property has already been sold at foreclosure.

Homeowners may call South Carolina Legal Services toll-free at 1-888-257-1988 Or 1-855-HELP-4 SC

Homeowners may also submit an application at www.SCMORTGAGEHELP.com

For more detailed information about SC HELP, please see Information Flyer

For more information about SC Legal Services, please see SCLS General Brochure

~RFW

Celebrate Pro Bono: Allison Humen

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

Meet ALLISON HUMEN, 3L at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Allison Humen

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!

~RFW

Celebrate Pro Bono: Bryan Lysell

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

Meet BRYAN LYSELL, 3L at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Bryan Lysell

Bryan Lysell has been involved in the USC School of Law Pro Bono Program since his first semester in law school. He currently serves as co-Presidents of the Pro Bono Board and participates in the Carolina Clerks project with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and he volunteers at the Homeless Law Clinic (HELP) in St. Peter’s Church.

I asked Bryan a few questions about pro bono, including what first drew him to the program. Here’s what he said:

That is hard to say.  I guess what first drew me to the Pro Bono Program was public radio.  I like NPR and the pro bono program volunteers each year to man the telephones at ETV’s fall fundraiser.  I volunteered for that and sat next to Pam Robinson.  Pam asked me what I did before I came to law school and when I told her that I used to work for a labor union, she was one of the first people I met in South Carolina who had a positive reaction.  I think I thought to myself then that a program that that lady runs must be a good program.  That impression has been borne out time and again over the last three years.

When asked about he became involved with the various projects, he noted:

I learned about all of these programs through Pam Robinson.  With regard to the Carolina Clerks position, I responded to a general request that Pam had sent out via email.

In September, Pam needed someone to fill an open spot at HELP one morning and she asked me if I could stop by.  I think Pam asked me because HELP is a morning gig and she knew that I am generally an early riser.

He also participates with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA),

VITA was one of the first things that I got involved in at law school and I feel like it really set the tone for my continued participation in the pro bono program.  I used to be a labor union representative and I enjoy talking to people.  VITA gave me an opportunity to interact with folks who have problems and who are trying to get help with them.  It had a lot of the characteristics of my former employment and it was comforting to me to be able to do something that felt familiar and that I thought I was good at (particularly in my 1L year when that feeling is an otherwise rare commodity.

One of his favorite pro bono memories is participating in VITA:

I had a nice surprise while doing taxes.  An elderly man came in needing to have his taxes prepared. 

Usually I like to chat with folks while I do their taxes.  I find it entertaining and having a conversation with the person to whom you’ve entrusted an important task usually makes people feel more comfortable in that entrustment. 

This guy just would not bite, though; he responded monosyllabically, if at all to any questions I would ask, even those related to taxes. 

As I went through his documents, I found a 1099 for a pension that he received from LTV.  LTV is a steel company that specializes in producing steel pipe. I asked him whether he worked in a mill and he told me that he worked at a mill in Cleveland. 

Well, I’m from Pittsburgh, and my father, my uncle, and my grandfather all worked in the mills, and in particular my grandfather worked in the McKeesportworks, which specialized in continuous cast steel pipe.  When I told him all of that, his demeanor turned 180 degrees and he was as affable as anyone I had ever met.  We talked about the Steelers and the Browns, about steel mills, about South Carolina summers and how unbearably long and hot they are, and about Midwest winters and how unbearably long and cold they are. 

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that guy.  I hope he comes around again this year.

You need to listen to people when they are talking to you about their concerns, that sometimes they’re saying more than what they’re actually saying.

As he related what he’s learned from doing pro bono work, it was evident that he will make a fine attorney:

I have relearned that you need to listen to people when they are talking to you about their concerns, that sometimes they’re saying more than what they’re actually saying.  I think that has particularly been the case at the homeless legal clinic.  Sometimes you are talking to people who have been involved in significant domestic violence issues and while some people can talk openly about it, others cannot. 

When asked about whether participating in pro bono changed his view of law, he noted:

What changed my view of the law was learning that lawyers have an ethical obligation to helping people in need gain access to the justice system.  I feel like that ethical obligation corresponds with my own notions of what a personally productive career would be and what is an appropriately civic minded individual.

In his co-President role, he actively speaks about pro bono and encourages other students to participate. Specifically:

When I talk to other law students about the Pro Bono Program I usually like to stress to them that this is an opportunity to interact with actual people, the kind that you are going to interact with as a real attorney, and that law students should take those opportunities whenever they can get them. 

This kind of interaction is an education in its own right, and the ability to communicate complicated ideas to people in a manner that is easily understandable is an essential component to being a good advisor, which itself is essential to being a good lawyer. 

I usually conclude by saying that, if nothing else, it feels good to be able to help people that need it and that as lawyers we have an ethical obligation to do exactly this kind of work.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from this valuable pro bono leader!

~RFW

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

LSC President Sandman Discusses Pro Bono

In case you missed it elsewhere, LSC President Sandman discusses pro bono and its importance to legal services programs.

He also discusses the limitations of legal services organizations and the great value of law firm and corporate pro bono participation. Well worth watching!

Tip of the hat to Cheryl Zalenski at the ABA Center for Pro Bono who tweeted this. Thanks for the heads-up.

-RFW