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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day: USC School of Law Pro Bono Style

I was very excited to hear from Pam Robinson about a project the USC School of Law Pro Bono Program was doing for Valentine’s Day. She asked several attorneys from around the state to complete the following:

I love being a lawyer because . . .

The following is the response:

Fantastic idea and great result!

Why do you love being a lawyer?

-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.

Focus on Pro Bono: John Tenney

John Tenney

John Tenney is currently in his third (last) year of law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  This semester, his classes are Health Law and Policy, Advanced Legal Writing, Interviewing Counseling and Negotiation (ICN), Trial Advocacy, and Fiduciary Administration. John currently serves as Treasurer of USC Law’s chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, and as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

Favorite class?

I’d say it’s a toss-up between Trial Advocacy and ICN, because I have been eager to get an opportunity to take more skills-based courses that allow me to get a firsthand feel for how “real lawyering”, if you’ll allow the term, actually works.  I believe both courses teach important practical skills with which anyone planning to have a career in the legal field ought to be familiar, regardless of whether one plans to be a trial attorney or never set foot in a courtroom.

Current pro bono work?

Currently I am a volunteer clerk at the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.  It is a fantastic opportunity, and I am excited to have the chance to see firsthand how the Court functions, and to do my best to help the Court carry out its duties.  Everyone there is very friendly and approachable, but also hard working and dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

In addition to this, I am serving as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

I think it was the opportunity to immediately make a positive contribution. Through Pam Robinson and the Pro Bono Program, right away I was able to become a part of programs that directly helped people.  I was eager to dive right in as soon as I could, and pro bono work is the perfect way to quickly have a positive, lasting impact.

How did you first learn about these projects?

I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Pro Bono Program’s various programs, but the first one in which I participated was Project AYUDA, which helps spread awareness to the Spanish-speaking community about legal rights and resources.

I learned about the ALC volunteer clerk opportunity from talking with Pam Robinson, who is a wonderful and endless resource for just about anything, be it pro bono-related or not (and there are always snacks in her office if you need a quick boost!).  If there is a pro bono opportunity out there, Pam knows about it, and knows how you can become involved with it.

Have you done any other pro bono projects while in law school?

I have also done work translating documents into Spanish for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which I have done at various times during my law school time.

Pam was instrumental in helping me obtain a summer clerkship after my first year at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. Like many public interest organizations, P&A is full of bright, focused people dedicating themselves to protecting and advancing disability rights, making sure that all people, not just some people, are able to enjoy the benefits and protections under the law.  They work directly with their clients to protect and advocate for their rights, and I was able to work with several of the attorneys on their cases.  It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend anyone interest in pro bono work to inquire about volunteering or clerking there.

This past summer I clerked at South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS).  This organization assists low-income South Carolina residents in a wide variety of civil matters, including domestic violence.  I really enjoyed this clerkship because it was a great mixture of getting legal experience, working with capable and dedicated attorneys, and meeting directly with clients.  In addition to the aforementioned usual clerk duties, I also was able to participate in clinics held in the community, with attending hearings, and even acted as interpreter between an attorney and a client who only spoke some English. Their office is a great place to be, and just like P&A, I would definitely recommend looking ito volunteer opportunities there.

As cliché as it may sound, the best part really is seeing how appreciate the clients are.  These are people that need legal help just like the any other person would, and SCLS (and P&A as well) provides free legal help to them.  When a client says “thank you”, there’s real meaning behind it, and as I mentioned before, that’s key when it comes to looking yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.  That person needed help with a consumer issue, may not have known where to turn for legal advice, and now that person is getting the assistance they need to take care of the issue.

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

It certainly has, and more importantly, it’s made me eager to make people more aware of the breadth of what pro bono work encompasses.  I think some people have a perception that pro bono work is confined to a narrow slice of law, or that it’s a minor part of the legal community, which is not even remotely accurate.  There are lots of people involved in the pro bono area, and not necessarily because they work for a public interest organization- plenty of lawyers working in private practice take volunteer cases, to help the legal community and the community at large.  Pro bono service goes on everywhere, and there’s always room for more help.

Do you plan to go into private practice?

As of right now I am not certain if I will go into private practice, and if I do, whether it would be immediately or farther down the line.  However, should I go into private practice, I would be eager to maintain a part of my practice dedicated to pro bono work.

What do you want to tell other law students about your pro bono work experience?

I would tell other law students to jump into pro bono work.  I think one of the most important parts of a career is how you feel about yourself at the end of the day- did you make a difference?  What kind of a difference?  By working with pro bono organizations, you get the satisfaction of knowing you have helped people who need and deserve it, as well as the added bonus of being able to say with certainty that you’ve made a positive difference, be it in your state, your city, or your community.

Additionally, I know that many students are understandably concerned about gaining experience in the legal field, and clerking at pro bono organizations provides an excellent opportunity to do this!  In my two clerkships, I did everything you would expect to do as a clerk at any firm- I did research, wrote memos of varying length and complexity, sat in on client meetings, and other miscellaneous duties that would be assigned to a clerk anywhere.  Combine that with the ability to help those who might not otherwise get help, and you’ve got a perfect opportunity.

-RFW

Why I do Pro Bono . . .

Why do I do pro bono? This is a question I’m frequently asked.

Here are some of my responses:

1. I like to do it. It makes me feel good. When I help someone with a legal issue/problem, I feel GREAT!

2. Often, it exposes me to new people. If there’s a pro bono project, chances are I’ll meet at least one new person.

3. It’s part of my responsibility as an attorney. See Rule 6.1.

4. I learn something new EACH TIME! Whether I learn a new area of the law, a tidbit about a particular part of the state, a new technology, a new organization that’s helping people, etc.

5. Often, I get to teach something to someone. Yup, that’s right. I get to be a teacher. And, that’s pretty cool. I always liked playing school as a child – especially when I got to play the teacher. So here’s my opportunity to re-enact one of my favorite childhood pastimes.

6. I can hone up on my “lawyering” skills. That’s right, it’s called a “law practice” for a reason, right? And I need to practice, right?

Why do you do pro bono?

-RFW

Calling ALL South Carolina Medicaid Advocates and Beneficiaries!

This just in from SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center!

Public Hearing on S.C. Medicaid Managed-Care Plan

MONDAY, AUGUST 23, 2010  10:00 AM

THIS is your chance to tell CMS and the state Medicaid agency what you think of the proposal to mandate managed care.

A public hearing by telephone has been scheduled for Monday, August 23rd, at 10:00 a.m. to receive public input about the Medicaid changes proposed by DHHS.

On July 1, 2010, DHHS filed a Medicaid state-plan amendment asking the federal government to make Managed Care mandatory for more than 500,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in our state, as well as allowing DHHS to qualify people for Managed Care who are currently ineligible.

This is the perfect opportunity to tell CMS how South Carolina DHHS’ proposed changes would impact you or the people you serve.

To participate, call (877) 251-0301 and provide the operator with the conference ID 93410633.

CMS suggests you call in 10 minutes prior to the 10:00 a.m. start time.

If you have further questions, contact Sue Berkowitz at sberk@scjustice.org.

-RFW