Celebrate Pro Bono: Allison Humen

As part of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, we are highlighting pro bono legal service in South Carolina.

Meet ALLISON HUMEN, 3L at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Allison Humen

Allison Humen currently serves as the SBA Liaison to the USC School of Law Pro Bono Board. When asked what drew her to pro bono service, she recalled:

Since I was younger, I have participated in various service projects and organizations.  The Pro Bono program offered the opportunity to continue serving not only the community at-large, but also the legal field which we are all now a part of.  Not only do you get to serve, but you are able to do this alongside your classmates. 

She describes her first major experience with the Pro Bono Program, the Harvest Hope Food Drive in the fall of of 1st year:  

All of the students and professors do a wonderful job of encouraging students to work together to make such a large donation to Harvest Hope each year.  Being a part of this unified effort in giving back to the community proved how much good the school can do.  Since then, I was invited to join the Pro Bono Board, from which I have not only been able to participate in various projects, but also help organize these projects for the student body.

She’s been involved in several pro bono projects over the past few years:

I completed the Guardian ad Litem training in my first year, and since then having been serving as an advocate for the best interests of the children in my cases.  From speaking to older classmates and hearing about their experience with this program, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to help families and children, while being able to participate in the legal process.  Although it is difficult at times by playing an important role in these children’s’ lives and their future, it has been an invaluable experience.  I would recommend this program to every law student.  Not only does this experience remind you of the personal aspect of the law which we are studying, it also gives you practical experience.

 I am currently a Carolina Clerk.  This is a program created by Pam Robinson and Dean Wilcox, which matches volunteer law students with lawyers who have agreed to pro bono client representation.  The Pro Bono Program has widely publicized this new program throughout the school as well as on the school’s website, so I was eager to help kick-off the program and volunteered early.  The current case I am working on is a DSS case, so it has been interesting to work on family law issues from the standpoint of the parent, rather than the children which are the sole focus of the Guardian ad Litem role. 

As a member of a few student organizations I wanted to create a way for different organizations to team up and serve together.  With the help of Pam, the Student Bar Association and the Pro Bono Board initiated Good Deed Friday.  This program gives all of the student organizations, journals, Moot Court Bar, and Mock Trial Bar the opportunity to join together and volunteer a (Fri)day of service at a local charitable organization.  Our first Friday was September 30th, which members of the Student Bar Association, Pro Bono Board, and the Real Property Trust and Estate Law Journal volunteered a few hours at the Harvest Hope Food Bank.  Not only are we helping the community, but we are also strengthening the law school community by enabling student leaders to bond over these “good deeds.”

Any lessons learned from pro bono?

Pro bono work has expanded my view of how many people are in need and are in need in so many different ways.  When you are surrounded by so many fortunate members of the law school community for the vast majority of your time, it is easy to forget how many people go without.  Participating in pro bono has heightened my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with, as well as my compassion for those who have less and my responsibility to help any small way I can.  

What’s your advice to other law students?

Get involved early!  Even if you are afraid you won’t have the time. Everyone in law school is busy, but Pam does a wonderful job of providing a wide-range of opportunities within the Pro Bono Program.  So if you only have one afternoon a month to offer, we will find a place for you to volunteer then!  If you aren’t able to complete the two-week Guardian ad Litem training, there are many ways to volunteer that do not require any additional training! 

Will you continue pro bono service after law school?

My passion for service did not begin in law school, and I am certain that it will not end after graduation.  It is important for every one of us to do pro bono work, and I believe this need is only strengthened once you become a licensed attorney.  At that point, you will have more tools in your belt and therefore be able to serve the community in ways that the majority of the population cannot. 

Thanks for your service Allison! I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

~RFW

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