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

Introducing 3L Tiffany D. Gibson, Pro Bono Law Clerk

GUEST POST by Tiffany D. Gibson

Tiffany.D.Gibson

I was raised in a low socioeconomic background.   Both of my parents are on Social Security Disability.  My mother has been on SSD since I was in the 5th grade.  My father has been on SSD since I was in the 12th grade.   Our family has struggled even more since both of my parents are on disability.   Getting through paying bills from month to month is a blessing for the household.  Moreover, my parents have only a high school education, and the rural Pee Dee region of South Carolina is what they know.   I have seen my parents and members of the family have legal issues but not have access or the financial means to afford an attorney.   One of my uncles has had a long battle with trying to acquire Social Security Disability, but he has had to fight the system on his own and with no outside legal help.   I have seen my father in an extended involvement with probate issues of his deceased father’s estate, but he has not had an consistent legal help  or someone to just guide him on the  ins and outs of probate law with regards to his inheritance.   From  a few of my family experiences, I realize firsthand how crucial pro bono is to providing access  to justice for those who are unable to or who just do not know how to go about exercising their rights to justice.

As a law student, it is so easy to get caught up in the chaos of assignments, papers, job searches, jobs, organizations, and social life.  Involvement in pro bono is the priceless opportunity that gives you that necessary outlet.  It opens your eyes and helps you to realize that it is not about you and your personal goals.  It is about my community and what I can do to service my community as a present law student and in future practice of law.  Involvement with Pro Bono helps you to become more well-rounded and improves your ability to work with and interact with all degrees of life from different socioeconomic, race, and ethnic backgrounds.

A good percentage of the population of my law school comes from privileged or comfortable middle-class backgrounds.   A lot of these students come to law school very much oblivious to the extent of the critical need for pro bono service within our community.  Involvement in Pro Bono is needed to make them understand just how much the  community needs their service.

I have talked to a few friends at Charleston Law, and they informed me that a certain amount of pro bono hours are required for every law student.   At University of South Carolina, we do not require pro bono hours.   I believe that a pro bono requirement would be a great investment for the law school and the community that we service.  This will get the students out into the community who would not get involved on their own otherwise.   The requirement would also plant seeds into the law students –seeds that would hopefully grow and continued to be nourished when they are out in practice.

Should 3Ls Provide Legal Representation: POLL

Read about a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court that allows 3rd year law students to represent Felony Defendants UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A LICENSED ATTORNEY!

The Rule.

Please feel free to add your own comments either within the poll or below.

Does this enhance access to justice? Or does it further disenfranchise people living in poverty?

-RFW

PS – Thanks to Commissioner Rangeley Chewning for pointing out the Ohio article!

The Silver Lining

As a soon-to-be 3L, the thought of finding a job in today’s economy is very overwhelming.  It’s not just the lack of jobs in the market that frightens me, but also the school loans that I will have to start repaying. 

When I started law school, I thought I might work in a law firm for a while to pay off a sizable portion of my loans and then pursue my real interest in public interest work. This line of thinking is common among my fellow students, and unfortunately, the reality of paying for a legal education does prevent many from taking public interest jobs. 

At an ATJ public hearing this past summer, a South Carolina Legal Services  (SCLS) attorney cited SCLS’ inability to attracted new law school graduates with better salaries as one of the barriers preventing SCLS from expanding its operations and providing more legal representation to the indigent of South Carolina.

While I’m sympathetic with the fact that many associates at large firms are losing their jobs, maybe the  economy will prompt law firms to restructure the way they compensate employees (i.e., smaller salaries in order to avoid layoffs), which in turn may lead more new law school graduates to accept positions in public interest work, knowing that they will not necessarily be passing up a much bigger and better salary that would help them repay student loans.

 Read more about this possible silver lining in this opinion piece in the New York Times.

Alex

Views of the Recession

www.law.com paints a colorful canvas with its national portrait of 3Ls who speak out about job prospects in this market.  The article, The View From 3L: Law students set for graduation face the future with eyes wide open by Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal was published here on January 27, 2009.

I recommend it for law students as well as practicing attorneys or prospective employers.

-RFW