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

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-RFW

The GOOD Lawyer

Request for Attorney Denied

Imagine this scenario:

Child is removed by SC DSS from a single parent home due to allegations of child abuse or neglect.  Single parent, a mother, is working, but making very little and falling well within the federal poverty guidelines.

Child is assigned an attorney Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child in court. The GAL, whether attorney, SC Volunteer GAL Program or Richland County CASA volunteer, looks out for the child’s best interest.

Mother cannot afford an attorney.

At the first SC DSS hearing, Mother asks the court to provide her with an attorney. The attorney GAL walks with Mother to the Clerk of Court’s office to help her fill out paperwork to apply for a court-appointed attorney. The clerk asks Mother for the $40 fee to accompany the application. Mother does not have $40 to pay the fee. Mother does not have $20 to pay the fee. The attorney GAL asks if the clerk can make an exception and waive the fee. The clerk refuses to waive the fee. Mother has no attorney.

The attorney GAL is concerned. She is aware that Mother cannot afford an attorney, and that this is a serious legal issue; one in which there is potential for Mother to lose custody of her child. And Mother is unrepresented.

Do you think this is FAIR? Do you think this is JUSTICE?

What if I tell you that this scenario is real? Does that change your mind?

Well, it is based on a similar real-life situation.

Fact Recap: Child taken from single parent – Mother – based on allegation of abuse and neglect. Mother works, but does not make a lot of money. Mother shows in court unrepresented. Mother tries to get attorney appointed WITH assistance from attorney representing her child. The Mother is still not able to get an attorney to represent her because she CANNOT pay $40 filing fee and is unable to get a waiver.

What happens next?

Attorney representing Mother followed up. She contacted several people, none of whom were judges, to see if anything could be done to waive the fee. She was given a contact name and followed up. Mother will be receiving a court appointed attorney.

Does this mean Mother will prevail?

Not sure. It will depend on the facts of the case and adherence to any treatment plans or court orders.

Does it mean that the GAL thinks the child should have stayed in the home?

I don’t know. Honestly I didn’t ask the question. Either way though, the Mother is in the midst of a crisis. Her child has been removed from her home. It’s likely that she is (choose one:) distraught/embarrassed/angry/other emotion . As I’ve noted on numerous occasions, when emotions are high, it sometimes takes away our ability to reason or rationally make an argument or listen to court proceedings. An attorney provides a buffer for the emotional client, and makes the proceedings more well-reasoned.

So? Why are you bringing up this issue?

Because I so often hear that attorneys are just *blankety-blank bottom-feeders* AND I know better. And this is a perfect example of that. This attorney went beyond her ethical duty to ensure that the Mother in a case receives legal assistance.

Unfortunately I won’t give more details or name the attorney because this is an on-going case and I don’t want to identify anyone or give away confidences. Suffice it to say that this attorney will hold a dear place in my heart.

Thank you anonymous attorney!

-RFW

JAX Pro Bono Attorneys Do It for FREE

Pro Bono Attorneys ROCK
Pro Bono Attorneys ROCK

A recent article in The Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record spotlights Pro Bono Attorneys and the work they’re doing in conjunction with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

The best part of Pro Bono service is summed up by attorney Hamilton “Ham” Cooke:

“I know I get more out of helping these people than they do,” he says.

Congratulations JAX Attorneys!

South Carolina Attorneys: To sign up to become a pro bono volunteer, visit the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program

-RFW

It’s Time. Time to Talk about UNBUNDLED Legal Services.

Unbundled Legal Services

aka Limited Scope Legal Representation

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve noticed we appear to be in somewhat of a fiscal crisis. A meltdown. A mess. A recession.

Sure, sure. But what does that have to do with the law? Well, it seems that with this financial hiccup, this financial blip, this financial snarfle has profound impact on the daily lives of individuals. The impact results in loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of medical insurance, loss of transportation, destroying marriages in its wake, affecting many.

Much of the loss involves court action – unemployment actions, foreclosure actions, bankruptcy and collection filings, divorce actions, etc. In the past many of these individuals would seek assistance from attorneys who are well-versed in the laws affecting their clients.

This is NOT occurring in this era of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown and other DIY shows. Instead people are flocking into courtrooms themselves, without expert counsel. These individuals may be called Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) or Pro Se Litigants or Pro Per Litigants. In this blog you’ve seen reference to SRLs.

Well, why is this worthy of a column?

  • Because unfortunately many of these individuals are heading into court thinking that they operate similarly to what has been shown on television and that is generally NOT how the court operates.
  • Because many are heading into court not understanding the consequences of the litigation.
  • Because many do not understand the court rules.
  • Because many do not know where to even FIND court rules.
  • Because attorneys have this knowledge and are not able to share their knowledge because of the perception of high costs.
  • Because this will lead to even more barriers to justice which will lead to greater perception that the courts only help people or companies with lots of money.

And that pains me. And it pains many of my attorney friends.

Sure, there’s always a greedy attorney joke out there. About an Ambulance chaser. About a Scheister/Shyster.

Go ahead. Tell the joke, even if it’s in your head. Laugh or chuckle a bit. Then come back to this blog.

Welcome back. Contrary to all you’ve read or heard, MOST, MOST, not all, but MOST attorneys enter the profession to help. It may be to help a specific person – maybe a family member. It may be to help a group of people. And, if you think about it, law and attorneys function precisely TO ASSIST.

Which leads to my attorney friends.

BIG DISCLAIMER: I AM AN ATTORNEY. MY HUSBAND IS ALSO AN ATTORNEY. MY COUSIN IS AN ATTORNEY. MY BROTHER HAS HIS LAW LICENSE.

I have many friends who are currently practicing law. Some are practicing in large firms. Others are solo practitioners. Yet others are government attorneys. And many of them work for non-profit legal service entities.

And we’re all talking. (ok, attorneys do love to talk) We’re all talking about the economy. We’re talking about most of us would not be able to afford to hire ourselves. This is where we all have the nervous giggle, no more of a titter.

It’s true. That’s why I say, it’s time to seriously consider UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICESThe term refers to a broad range of discrete tasks that an attorney might undertake such as: advice, negotiation, document review, document preparation and limited representation.

This will not abate the current fiscal crisis, but it may help people as they enter the civil legal system. Any other ideas? Anyone?

-RFW

To read about Unbundled Legal Service in Canada recently in the news, click here.

Guest Blogger: Marvin H. Feingold

GUEST BLOGGER:

marvin-feingold

Editorial- By Marvin H. Feingold, Esq.

 

Thank you SC Access to Justice and Justice Toal for an informative and enlightening discussion on the obstacles to pro se litigants in South Carolina courts.  At Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services, serving Charleston County low income residents, we have established procedures that address your concerns. We also have ideas for providing pro bono attorneys to further all residents’ ability to effectively advocate on their behalf.

  

We agree that in Family Court and Magistrate court, a litigant going pro se is at a decided disadvantage.  Even with access to pleadings, a great deal of explanation is necessary for her to properly present a case.  With that in mind, we at Charleston Pro Bono have established a process wherein Charleston School of Law students prepare pleadings for each case; pro bono attorneys then, meet with the client to walk her through the process.  Our office is on call to answer questions at all stages.

 

Self-help is a necessary and effective method of helping to bridge the Justice gap. The development of efficient and effective avenues of self help requires the full commitment of Court Clerks, Judges, Bar Associations, legislators and attorneys. Also necessary, are efforts to streamline court procedures and to make them more pro se friendly. Something along these lines was done last May when Justice Toal Ordered that pleadings in Family Court may be filed In Forma Pauperis without the need to wait for a Motion to be granted before filing. If the IFP is later denied, the party then has 30 days to pay the filing fee. Another example is the statutory provision which allows visitation to be enforced pro se simply by presenting an affidavit to the Clerk of Court.

 

Adjusting the procedural infrastructure to make it more pro se friendly should be considered in the rule-making and legislative processes. Such adjustments of procedure should be informed by the thinking and experience of other States as well as academics who study the subject. The Access to Justice Commission should serve as a clearinghouse for information about self-help developments and also as a leader in promoting policies of Courts which make “going pro se” more workable into the future.

 

 Currently, the South Carolina Bar maintains, on its website, a “how to self represent” in a simple 1 year separation divorce including forms and specific instructions and a “script” for appearance in Court. Pro Bono Legal Service and South Carolina Legal Services, both conduct regular “pro se clinics” in which clients are given personal advice on how to proceed pro se in simple divorce cases. The SC Supreme Court and Charleston County Courts also maintain some legal forms which pro se litigants can access although there is little guidance given as to their use.

 

In addition to simple divorces, Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services has, had success with the following cases which have been handled pro se.

  • Uncontested custody actions
  • Paternity and visitation actions
  • Actions by a parent to recover custody after removal
  • Petitions for Modification of Child Support

Another aspect of pro-se assistance deals with a side of this dynamic subject which has received relatively little examination, namely, Defensive pleadings to avoid default in Common Pleas and Magistrates Court. Specifically, at Charleston Pro Bono, Answers and even Counterclaims have occasionally been ghostwritten for pro se litigants. Such “unbundled” assistance should be recognized as a legitimate function for a lawyer to perform. How much and what kind of advice is appropriate when preparing such a pleading. What ethical considerations apply? What follow-up and/or continuing guidance is appropriate?

 There is little doubt that pro-se litigation will continue to be an important factor in the mix of resources available to low-income people in South Carolina. A  course of inquiry most appropriate to the Access to Justice Commission would in my opinion be: What does the future hold for this device? What types of matters lend themselves to pro se treatment? What are the ethical implications for lawyers assisting clients to proceed pro se? How much should a lawyer be involved in a pro se litigant’s case? What sort of follow-up and/or continuing guidance is appropriate? What about Ghostwriting of pleadings for the pro se litigant? How can Courts, Clerks of Court, bar associations and individual attorneys cooperate to maximize the benefit to all of such a device and lastly, what statutory or rules changes are advisable?

 

All of this effort toward self help may be enhanced through an emphasis on client legal education. “Law schools for non-lawyers” presented by various attorney organizations, courses offered by our community colleges, adult education courses and work done by Legal Services Programs to distribute information about the workings of our legal system may be our first line of defense against injustice in the civil courts.

 

As to the idea of having a Kiosk at the court house, “confidentiality” and “avoiding conflicts” would seem to be the major problems with having Attorneys occupy the kiosk. An “ask a lawyer” model could incorporate the Kiosk idea by having an intake worker available at the courthouse and a list of attorneys on call during specific hours to answer questions. Some sort of “pro se” assistance is however needed, especially at Family Court.

 

 

-Mr. Feingold is the Pro Bono Director of Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and is licensed to practice law in South Carolina. For more information about Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services visit http://www.probonols.org/.  Not affiiliated with the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program.

Want to Recognize Someone Special for their Pro Bono Work?

Attorneys often get a bad rap. Think about the terms ambulance chaser, sharks, bottom-feeders, and more. You get the picture.

But, this is not an accurate picture of attorneys. Each year, thousands of hours of legal work are donated, that’s right, for FREE, to assist individuals with legal problems. These individuals are unable to afford attorneys on their own and often meet federal poverty guidelines. Many times these individuals would end up losing their homes, employment, medical coverage, child custody, etc. without this assistance.

And, each year, the South Carolina Bar recognizes these attorneys for the good they do – their pro bono publico (for the public good) service.

If you know of an attorney who has helped you, helped a family member or a neighbor with their pro bono work, I encourage you to nominate them. Right now the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program is accepting nominations.

Criteria:

(a) Demonstrated dedication to the development and delivery of legal services to South Carolinians who meet up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines through a pro bono or other volunteer program.

(b) Contributed significant work toward developing innovative approaches to delivery of volunteer legal services.

(c) Participated in an activity that resulted in satisfying previously unmet needs or in extending services to underserved segments of the population.

(d) Successfully litigated pro bono cases that favorably affected the provision of other services to South Carolinians who meet up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

(e) Successfully achieved legislation that contributed substantially to the delivery of legal services to South Carolinians who meet up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines .

 Why is this so important? It’s important to recognize that although there may be attorneys who live up to the reputation of being a shark, there are so many more who devote their time and expertise to making the world a better place, one person at a time.

Help us recognize these attorneys – nominate one.

For more information, visit http://www.scbar.org/member_resources/pro_bono_program/.

-RFW