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

2011 Ellen Hines Smith Nominations Now Open!

We are pleased to announce that nominations for the 2011 Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year are open!

The Ellen Hines Smith Award was established in 1989. It is given to a South Carolina Bar member who is employed as an LSC grantee program lawyer who has demonstrated long-term commitment to legal services and who has personally done significant work in extending legal services to the poor.

The form is available in pdf at Ellen Hines Smith Nomination Form 2011 or by email request to rwheeler@scbar.org.

Who is eligible?

  • A SC Bar member who is employed as an LSC grantee program lawyer.

Who is not eligible?

Previous award winners are not eligible:

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

2010 – Susan J. Firimonte

When is the application due?

  • The application must be made by October 15, 2011.

How do I find out who received the award?

  • The SC Bar Foundation and the SC Access to Justice Commission present the award at the annual SC Bar Foundation Gala. This year the Gala will be held on January 21, 2012 in Columbia during the SC Bar Convention

For more information about Ms. Ellen Hines Smith, visit the USC School of Law Memory Hold the Door page dedicated to her.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ~ 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

SC Supreme Court News: Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet

Earlier today the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued an Order with Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet based upon suggestions from the legal community to the SC Access to Justice Commission.

Changes include:

  1. Addition of a sample script for the Plaintiff;
  2. Paragraphs 1 and 2 have been added to Page 1 so the parties can provide the county and state of their residency;
  3. Paragraph 3 of Page 1 has been added so the parties can provide the county and state where they last shared a residence;
  4. Paragraph 4 has been revised to allow the Plaintiff to select the length of time the parties have lived in South Carolina; and
  5. The statement “If no name change is requested, please leave blank” is added at the end of Paragraph B on page 3.
The instructions for completing the Simple Divorce Packet have been revised to reflect these changes.

-RFW

Congratulations to Texas Access to Justice Foundation!

In one of my e-alerts I saw where the Texas Access to Justice Foundation funded a YouTube video to help low-income self-represented litigants navigate the court system. I viewed the video and was duly impressed. While some of the information will vary for self-represented litigants in South Carolina, the video does provide good general information about what to expect in court.

Here’s the video:

Congratulations Texas!

-RFW

Update: Newberry County Self-Help Center Pilot Program

You may remember a quick announcement on the blog about the Newberry County Self-Help Center Pilot Program back in February. Well I’m pleased to say that the Newberry County Self-Help Center has regular operating hours – 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the 1st Wednesday of every month.

The Center is located inside the main courthouse, just past security on the right. There are brochures available to the public and a list of clinics and other public offerings will be available to those interested.

Thanks.

~ 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

Tennessee introduces Justice for All

I watched this stunning video produced by the Tennessee Supreme Court and not only was I impressed with its quality and its simplicity, but also with its universality.

Unfortunately, the statistics used within the video match the statistics here in South Carolina.

But the message is strong. And it’s needed.

Watch for yourself!

-RFW

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