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

Guest Blogger: Daniel Kim

Recently, I have been given the opportunity to work at the SC Access to Justice Commission (SCATJ) by being appointed as a “BFF,” a bar foundation fellow. The program is known as the South Carolina Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows Project, which was started to increase student awareness of public interest law. It also offers public legal service organizations the help they need to accomplish the work they do for the public. Now you may wonder what SCATJ is and what the organization does; I know I did. But one of the great things about this program is that it gives students a chance to learn about public interest organizations that they did not know existed.

SCATJ is faced with the difficult challenge of “ensuring access to justice for all South Carolinians.” This organization was created to help people with low income and modest means obtain access to the South Carolina court system. One of their programs is geared towards self-represented litigants, and that is the field I have done the most amount of work. One of my major projects since starting here has been to work on an information guide for different counties within the judicial district of the new Newberry County Self-Help Center. Often times, self-represented litigants forego hiring an attorney due to lack of financial means. However, these litigants often go into court with no resources or knowledge of the SC legal and court system. They do not understand the legalese in forms, the process to properly fill out court documents and forms, and court policies and procedures, such as service of process.

SCATJ tries to provide self-represented litigants with guidelines and resources so that they may enter the court with more knowledge of the system. Chief Justice Toal has spearheaded the movement to streamline polices and procedures and have records be automated through the use of the Internet. This has enabled all courts in different SC counties to have similar paperwork.

The reason I came to law school was to help those in need and make an impact in the community. As cliché as that may sound, my passion and desire to achieve this goal is the reason I applied to be a “BFF” and the reason I want to become an attorney. The goals of SCATJ align with the goals I seek to accomplish after law school, and this is the sole reason I wanted to take part in this opportunity. This has been an invaluable learning experience for me thus far. I have learned a lot about public interest law, SC law, and the challenges everyday South Carolinians face to acquire what we, as law students, sometimes take for granted: obtaining justice. It has been a pleasure to work here at the SCATJ, and I look forward to continuing to work here in order to give back more to the community while continuing to learn and grow from this experience.

-Daniel Kim

It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!

-RFW

ANNOUNCEMENT OF LOWCOUNTRY LEGAL AID, INC. AWARD WINNERS TO BE HONORED AT 4th ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF JUSTICE

I’m very pleased to share the following announcement from LowCountry Legal Aid, Inc.:

LowCountry Legal Aid, Inc. (“LCLA”) would like to announce the winners of its annual service awards.  LCLA is proud to announce that Sue Berkowitz, Esquire has won the Clifford R. Oviatt Legal Award for the Advancement of Social Justice, which honors a lawyer who supports social justice issues through legal representation, volunteer community service, financial support and the promotion of social justice ideas in daily life.  Sue Berkowitz is an attorney and director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, based in Columbia.  South Carolina Appleseed fights for low income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic and legal injustice.

Ms. Berkowitz has been a consistent voice working on behalf of low-income South Carolinians for over 20 years.  She has focused her practice in the areas of health, welfare, hunger and consumer issues. She has worked on the passage of numerous pieces of legislation, including the Small Loan Act of 1995, the Family Independence Act of 1995, the High Cost and Consumer Home Loan Act of 2003, the eligibility increase for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (2007), SC Identity Theft Act (2008), Payday Lending Act (2009) and Unemployment Modernization (2010).  Berkowitz works with a number of state agencies on policy issues that impact the low income community, including changes to consumer and mortgage lending laws, the Family Independence Program, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Food Stamp rules. She has authored defenses to a foreclosure chapter for a manual produced by the South Carolina Bar as well as numerous manuals for SC Appleseed. She was awarded the Order of Palmetto, the SC Commission on Women’s Woman of Achievement Award, USC School of Law Order of the Coif and the NAACP President’s Award for her work on predatory lending and poverty issues. Berkowitz is a fervent watchdog on consumer, health and hunger issues.

Past winners of the Oviatt Award include attorneys Dick Oviatt, posthumously, William L. Bethea, Jr. and W. Brantley Harvey, Jr.

Mr. David W. Ames has won the Marilyn Stein Bellet Award for the Advancement of Social Justice, which honors a person who supports social justice through volunteer community service, financial support and the promotion of social justice ideas in daily life.  Mr. Ames, a Hilton Head Island resident since 1973, is a planner and developer who consulted in both public and private sector community planning throughout the Southeast, Mexico and the Caribbean. The size, scale and complexity of the projects have varied from small, single use projects to major resort developments, as well as town, county and regional plans. He currently serves as chairman of The Children’s Center Board of Trustees and is chairman emeritus of Hope Haven of the Lowcountry.  Mr. Ames has served on several boards and community service projects in the past, including the board of South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Beaufort County Aviation Board, Hilton Head College Center, Leadership Hilton Head, Sea Pines Academy, Hilton Head Island Chamber of CommerceLeadership South Carolina, South Carolina Nature Conservancy, Community Development Corporation, and the Mayor’s Task Force on the island’s future.

Past winners of the Bellet Award include Marilyn Stein Bellet, posthumously, Thomas C. Barnwell, Jr., and Jerold H. Rosenblum, posthumously.

Barbara Swift has won the William T. Althoff Award for Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.  Ms. Swift has served on the LCLA Board for some time with enthusiasm and hard work, and has furthered the LCLA goal of providing free advice, education and legal representation to low income families in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Counties.

Swift, a Hilton Head Island resident since 1996, currently serves as president of Wellesley in South Carolina and Coastal Georgia, secretary/treasurer of Nadeshiko Kai, New York and co-president of the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island, an organization which she served in various capacities on and off for 15 years.  In past years, Barbara has volunteered for numerous local organizations, including the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head, Al-Anon, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, Junior League, Planned Parenthood and United Way of the Lowcountry. She recently came off the board of LowCountry Legal Aid after nine years of dedicated service.

Past winners of the Althoff Award include William T. Althoff, posthumously, Kenneth R. Nagle, and Edward “Ted” Noakes.

The award recipents will be honored at LowCountry Legal Aid’s 4th Annual Celebration of Justice January 22, 2011 at Belfair Plantation Country Club in Bluffton, South Carolina. The evening will include innovative food, live jazz music by Lavon Stevens, a fundraising silent and live auction and an awards presentation to honor the above individuals.  Silent auction items include golf foursomes, a wine tasting for 10 from Corks, a week at Eagle Lake Lodge, and more.  Silent auction items are still being accepted and tickets, which are $100, are still available by contacting the Legal Aid office at 815-1570 or lcla@hargray.com.  LowCountry Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation and assistance to low income families in the lowcountry.

Thanks President Obama! Now we can have a Happy New Year!

Here’s the official press release:

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

December 29, 2010

Statement by the Press Secretary, 12/29/2010

On Wednesday, December 29, 2010, the President signed into law:

H.R. 6398, which provides for permanent Federal deposit insurance coverage for Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, the interest earned on which is used by States to support legal aid for low-income individuals.

Why does this mean?

This amendment will provide Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTAs) with the same temporary, unlimited insurance coverage afforded to noninterest-bearing transaction accounts under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – H.R. 6398 extends unlimited FDIC insurance to IOLTA accounts through December 31, 2012.

For more details, http://www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/changes2.html.

Happy New Year!

-RFW


Focus on Pro Bono: Margaret S. “Molly” Day

Recently I had a moment to sit down with a law school classmate, Margaret S. Day aka Molly and discuss pro bono and public interest law with her.


  • I understand that you were active with pro bono in law school.  Please tell me about your experiences there.

I was very fortunate to become involved with Women in Law and the Pro Bono Board in law school, and those two entities opened up a world of volunteering for me.  I participated in Sistercare‘s Battered Incarcerated Women‘s project, which allowed me to assist women in correctional facilities with their legal proceeding against their former abusers.  Going to the correctional facilities and meeting these women from all walks of life who had harmed their abusers and then been punished for that was a real eye opening experience.  I learned a lot about appellate proceedings and a lot about life from that experience.

I also volunteered with Sistercare’s legal advocacy project at the courthouse.  I sat in Sistercare’s office a few hours a week and helped battered women fill out temporary restraining orders and other documents to protect them against their abusers.  I also went to court as moral support for some of these women who were facing their abusers.  Again, I learned a lot about the legal process and life with this project.


In law school, I was privileged to serve as President of the Women in Law Association.  I took part in the organization of many fundraisers, such as the Race Judicata, a race to raise money for a local charity, and a large garage sale in the lobby of the law school, among others.  I learned so much about fundraising from the ground up with these endeavors, and I use this experience today on every nonprofit board I serve.


  • What first drew you to pro bono work?

I was drawn to become a lawyer and especially to pro bono work when I was in undergrad.  To work my way through undergrad, I worked in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, what was, and may still be, the poorest county in the United States.  To get to work, I would have to drive by ramshackle shacks built on mud and built of plywood, with no plumbing, and naked children.  Prior to that job, I had not been exposed to poverty at that level.  These same residents would come to the casino and spend their welfare checks at the slot machines.  Compared to these people, I was wealthy with my casino salary and tips. I so wanted to help, but had no idea where to start.  It was when the casinos were fighting unionization that I learned I might be able to persduade with argument.  I was asked by the cocktail waitresses to be a spokeperson for their interests.  The ensuing discussions opened my eyes to the law as a career possibility and way to help people.


  • Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

Currently I spend most of my pro bono work helping LowCountry Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to those who could not otherwise afford it.  The majority of the cases we see are family law related.  This cause is so important and some people don’t understand it.  Can you imagine being married to an abuser of you or your children and not being able to get a divorce?    My work with LCLA has certainly influenced my pro bono work.   I am more willing to take family law cases even if it is an area that I have never practiced in before. The need is so great, and I am willing to ask other lawyers with experience to assist me and bring me up to speed, just so a person will have a lawyer.  Keeping a nonprofit going in this economy is a full time job, especially a nonprofit that is little understood by those outside of the legal field.  I serve on the Board for LCLA, and as its Community Outreach Coordinator, two roles that could easily fill a full time schedule.  I also assist in setting up wills clinics for groups in the community.  We recently did a wills clinic for the Bluffton Fire Department, and we hope to do another one soon for another service or community profession.


I am also a PAI (private attorney involvement) for South Carolina Legal Services.  I take cases at a reduced rate for people that could not otherwise afford an attorney.  Right now I am representing a man that is trying to adopt his nephew.  I am learning a lot about adoption!  Luckily I have a friend from law school that does adoptions all the time, and she has provided immeasureable advice.


  • How do you find out about this work?

I usually find out about pro bono projects through friends.  Robin Wheeler (you!) introduced me to the SC Legal Services people at a Bar Convention.  My friend Mary Sharp, a lawyer in private practice, introduced me to Lowcountry Legal Aid and asked me to be on the Board while she was its president.  My friend Pam Robinson of USC Law school has opened my eyes to many pro bono opportunities. Additionally, I have nonlawyer friends that ask me to help at events.


I wish that I had the time to do more pro bono work for LCLA.  I would like to start taking cases for them in estate planning and advance directives.  I never anticipated that there might be a need for these areas for people that need legal services, but I have found that all people need to feel secure about the guardian of their children should they pass, or the person making their healthcare or end of life decisions.  I am hoping that I will soon be able to devote a set time every week to assisting LCLA with this area.


  • What other projects have you done?

I would like to talk about my appointed cases.  I have been appointed to represent some men in my past three cases that were accused of very nefarious activities.  I was appointed to represent a man that spoke no English and was accused of shaking his baby, and his baby was taken away from him.  He was a decent man and a good father, but because he did not speak any English and was lower income, his baby had not been diagnosed with a rare brain problem she had since birth.  A small fall on to the floor produced symptoms of shaken baby.  It was very rewarding to prove that he was a good father and get his baby back into the home.  This case could have fallen through the cracks and the baby could have entered the system.  Luckily, that did not happen.
Another appointed case I had was a father accused of sexually molesting his child.  He had not molested her and in fact had not been allowed to see her for two years. He had a disability and was not the most educated person, so he had been pushed through the DSS system without understanding the ramifications. Indeed, he had been paying child support on a child that he averred was not his for two years.  After almost a year of hearings and arguments, he was allowed to stop paying child support for the child that was not his, and have visitation for the child that was.
In cases like these, the appointed attorney is often the only fail safe the client has to see that justice is done.  In these difficult economic times, the judicial system and the state agencies are so overburdened and understaffed that they cannot possibly investigate all of the facts and make sure all parties are represented to the utmost.  The appointed attorney must give those cilents 100%.


  • What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned so much about humanity, good and bad, and been surprised by who was good and who was bad.  And i have learned so much about the law that I would not otherwise have learned.  I have met the most interesting people while doing pro bono work; people I would not have met otherwise, if i had not ventured out to do a pro bono project.  My pro bono clients have been so grateful for my representation, and it has always been a rewarding experience to represent them.  I have gained a new respect for the American justice system.  Many times the pro bono lawyer is the one last stopgap for the client in an overburdened legal system or state agency system.  In many of these cases the person has not been heard in his or her steps through the system and the pro bono lawyer is the first person to listen to the person and validate them.


  • Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

My view of the law has been changed by my pro bono service.  My first job out of law school was working for a government agency, and my next job was working for a big firm.  In both jobs, I was able to get a routine down to do the most work efficiently to make the most money and produce the best results for my clients.  But in both jobs, my clients were big entities and it was easy to lose sight of the real purpose of the legal system.  With my pro bono work, I have represented individuals who must rely on the justice system to decide the biggest things in their life.  I have gained a renewed respect for due process and our judiciary in this process.


  • What do want to tell lawyers or law students about pro bono?

Just do it!  Not only will you learn some legal skills, get your name out there, and meet new people, but you will make the world a better place for some lucky client.

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

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.

Ellen Hines Smith: Legal Services Attorney of the Year – NOMINATIONS ARE OPEN

Have a favorite Legal Services Attorney?


Now’s your time to nominate them for the Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year.

Here’s the form:

Ellen Hines Smith Nomination Form 2010

What’s the Award Criteria?


  • A SC Bar member who is employed as an LSC grantee program lawyer;
  • Application made by November 15th of each year;
  • SC Access to Justice Commission sends nomination solicitations by October 1 of each year;
  • Sent to Executive Director of  SC Bar Foundation and Executive Director of SC Access to Justice Commission;
  • Award winner decided by a joint awards committee of the SC Bar Foundation and SC ATJ Commission, meeting in January each year;
  • Provides reasons for nominee to receive award;
  • Award jointly presented at SC Bar Foundation Gala;
  • Award not necessarily granted every year.
  • Who has received the award before?


    1989 – Martha B. Dicus

    1990 – Thomas L. Bruce

    1991 – Johnny Simpson

    1992 – Harold F. Daniels

    1993 – Andrea E. Loney

    1994 – Mozella Nicholson

    1995 – Thomas A. Trent

    1996 – Susan A. Cross

    1997 – Angela M. Myers

    1998 – Ethel E. Weinberg

    1999 – Nancy M. Butler

    2000 – Byron A. Reid

    2001 – Lynn P. Wagner

    2002 – Eddie McConnell

    2003 – Frank Cannon

    2004 – Willie B. Heyward

    2005 – Lynn Snowber-Marini

    2006 – Eddie McConnell

    2007 – Marcia Powell-Shew

    2009 – Maureen White

    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