Pro Bono Q&A with Brett Barker

Brett Barker graduated from the inaugural class at Charleston School of Law in 2007. And he is back there again; as Assistant Dean of Students for Evening Administration. Recently he took a few minutes to speak with me about public service and pro bono legal service.

I understand that one of the goals of Charleston School of Law is “to teach the practice of law as a profession, having as its chief aim providing public service.” Do you think that this goal, along with the school’s emphasis on pro bono legal service influenced you?

The Charleston School of Law’s emphasis on pro bono work had an enormous influence on me.  I started working with Marvin Feingold at Pro Bono Legal Services (PBLS) during my second year of law school. Pro Bono Legal Services awarded me the Nelson Mullins Crisis Ministries Fellowship during the summer prior to my third year of law school. These experiences helped solidify my commitment to pro bono and more importantly, how I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

It is difficult to attend the Charleston School of Law and not be drawn to pro bono work.  The school instills in each student the duty attorneys have to serve pro bono clients.  There are lectures, presentations and the 30 hours of pro bono requirement that expose you to the many rewarding opportunities available.

Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

I understand you’re active working with Crisis Ministries and Pro Bono Legal Services. How did you first learn about these projects? In law school I began working with the Crisis Ministries Homeless Justice Project on the recommendation of Dean Saunders, Associate Dean of Students, at The Charleston School of Law.  She was instrumental in starting the Crisis Ministries Legal Clinic, along with Jeff Yungman, a classmate.  Jeff now serves as Director of the program.  Through this relationship I also became involved in PBLS.  I continued to volunteer with PBLS and Crisis Ministries. Both organizations have a support network of attorneys and paralegals that assist if needed.  Most of the work I do for these organizations is in the family law and criminal practice areas.

Have you been actively involved with other pro bono projects?

I am active in my community.  I serve on the Boards of the Folly Beach Exchange Club, Carolina Commuters, and the Boys and Girls Club Shaw Unit.  I am the Treasurer for the James L. Petigru American Inn of Court.  In the past I have served on the Executive Board of the Mediation and Meeting Center of Charleston and as the Vice Chair of The Birthday Foundation Board.

What was most rewarding to you?

I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

Have you had any surprises over the years related to your pro bono service?

My pro bono clients have always been extraordinarily appreciative.  The pro bono work that attorneys perform is truly life changing or can be life changing.

What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned more than I can tell.  I have learned so much from the non profits where I served.  Following a clerkship, I hung out my shingle.  I found that when I first started practicing no matter how busy attorneys were, they were always willing to serve as a mentor for me, especially when they found out that I was doing pro bono work.  I was then able to take those practical skills and use them when I had clients with similar problems.

What do you want to tell other law students and/or attorneys about pro bono work?

It is very rewarding both professionally and personally.

Last words about pro bono?

Do it!


ABA 2010 Commission on Homelessness and Poverty Coming to Charleston

ABA 2010 Commission on Homelessness & Poverty Lawyers Working to End Homelessness are meeting in Charleston at the end of this month.

And, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, October 29th, they’ll be presenting on emerging best practices for Veterans at the Charleston School of Law.

For more information, check out the flyer – Homeless Veterans Justice Initiative Program FALL BUSINESS MTG Charleston SC.

No RSVP is needed and there is no cut-off date.  If anyone has any questions they can contact Jeff Yungman at 843-723-9477 ext. 114 or by email.

For additional information about how Crisis Ministries is helping out our veterans, check this out – VA gives Crisis Ministries $1.2 M to help homeless veterans.

-RFW

The Name’s Bono, Pro Bono

bono

It seems only appropriate to use a movie theme as we start to close out the year. After all, in Hollywood, this is the time for new releases as well as a time to reflect on movies from the past year. The same is true in the Access to Justice (ATJ) Community.

There are 4 main components to ATJ:

  1. EDUCATION. Education of the Bench, Bar, and General Public about ATJ as well as what’s currently available for people living within the federal poverty guidelines or those living just above the guidelines, but still unable to afford legal representation.
  2. STAFFED PROGRAMS. This category encompasses LEGAL SERVICES, in South Carolina SCLS, as well as other IOLTA grantees such as Crisis Ministries (homeless), Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation (heirs’ property), CODA (domestic abuse), SisterCare (domestic abuse), SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center (poverty groups and policy), and Low Country Legal Aid to name a few. The Commission would like to expand this collaboration to include entities such as Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A)Catholic Charities,  Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and others who are providing much needed legal services to people who would otherwise remain disenfranchised. The goal is to collaborate and coordinate in order to serve more while maintaining high quality legal services.
  3. PRO BONO. This category expands to the entire Bar membership, the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program and law firm pro bono programs, as well as paraprofessional organizations such as the South Carolina Court Reporters Association (SCCRA) and paralegal associations. And Law Students – YOU play a large role as well. Law librarians also play a large role. We are looking to expand existing services and develop new services.
  4. SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (SRLs). This category encompasses all of the previous components in order to provide quality resources to SRLs as well as develop new resources including forms, clear guidelines, instructional packets, clinics, etc.

None of these components can exist in a vacuum. They must co-exist and coordinate in order for access to justice to become a reality.

Today’s focus is PRO BONO; Pro Bono in South Carolina and Pro Bono elsewhere.

SOUTH CAROLINA. There have been previous posts about the SC Bar’s Pro Bono Program, namely that nominations for Pro Bono Volunteer of the Year are due – NEXT WEEK.

It saddens me that as of this post today there have been NO NOMINATIONS RECEIVED!

Now, I know there are South Carolina attorneys who have volunteered their services in the past year for pro bono. So why aren’t they are clambering for recognitition? Isn’t there at least ONE person who will see this post and nominate someone?

If  you are an attorney who has NOT yet participated in the SC Bar’s Pro Bono Program, let’s address why not, shall we?

  • LACK of TIME. Did you know that the SC Bar’s Pro Bono Program receives requests of all kinds and staff will take into consideration the amount of time you’re willing to spend?
  • LACK of INSURANCE. Did you know that the SC Bar’s Pro Bono Program provides malpractice insurance to ALL of its participants? Even if you are currently unemployed, you will be covered.
  • LACK of EXPERIENCE. NOT TO WORRY! The SC Bar’s Pro Bono Program has MENTORS! Just request one when you sign up. This also allows you the opportunity to NETWORK and grow in another practice area. AND when you sign up, you are eligible for FREE TRAINING! That’s right – FREE!
  • LACK of KNOWLEDGE about the PROGRAM. What do you want to know? If it’s not covered on the website, then feel free to call Angela McKeirnan at 803-799-6653 x. 169 or 877-797-2227 x. 169 for more information. She’ll answer your questions.
  • My job/firm doesn’t allow me to represent individuals. Ok, there are other tasks you can do such as develop manuals, conduct training/clinics in the evening or weekends, ASK-A-LAWYER, be a MENTOR, etc. Just ask.
  • LACK of MOTIVATION. Did you know that Pro Bono attorneys actually feel BETTER after assisting others? Additionally with all the community good will you’re developing, it may benefit your rainmaking efforts without having to go into overdrive. Try it, you just might like it.

And now for Pro Bono news elsewhere:

NY: Found on The Home Equity Theft Reporter – HEADLINE: NYC Pro Bono Effort Training Lawyers In Fight Against Foreclosures. Full story at http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=4&id=25032.

NY: Attorney Adrienne Flipse Hausch of Garden City has been recognized for her outstanding pro bono legal commitment. Full story at http://www.gcnews.com/news/2008/1205/Community/034.html

FL: Found on http://www.suncoast.com (WWSB ABC Channel 7) – “Study: Fla. lawyers lax on free legal service.” Report found at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/documents/2008_Pro_Bono_Report.pdf.

CA: Santa Clara Bar offers Pro Bono Boot Camp tomorrow – found at http://www.probono.net/calendar/event.221637-Pro_Bono_Boot_Camp.

Western Australia: Pro bono work standard practice found at http://www.wabusinessnews.com.au/login.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wabusinessnews.com.au%2Fstory%2F1%2F69039%2FPro-bono-work-standard-practice.

-RFW

Speaking of Hunger, what about the Homeless?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Project H.E.L.P. and the attorney training scheduled for Friday, October 3rd. Here is an update from the apparently successful training.

Jeff Yungman, Director of Legal Services for the Homeless Project at Crisis Ministries in Charleston, started off the CLE with a general discussion of the issues that homeless clients face. 

Sue Berkowitz, Director of SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, who talked about Benefits Law, including Temproary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid.  

Rita Roache, a Charleston attorney with South Carolina Legal Services, spoke about Family Law. 

Stacy Thompson, of Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson, & Delgado, spoke about Social Security Benefits and Claims. 

Approximately 40+ attorneys attended the training and there are volunteers booked through spring ’09. The first service event will be held in November.

Stay tuned . . . .

-RFW