Focus on Pro Bono: Douglas Rushton

Douglas Rushton

Douglas is in his third year at the University of South Carolina School of Law. This semester he notes that his most interesting classes are Appellate Advocacy, Commercial Speech Seminar, and Criminal Practice Clinic, in which he will represent, at a trial in magistrate’s court, a young man who has been accused of criminal domestic violence. He currently serves as the Executive Student Works Editor of the Law Review, and is a member of the Order of the Wig and Robe.

Douglas, what pro bono work are you currently involved in?

I am currently teaching courses for the CHOICES program at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Please tell me more about CHOICES.

The program seeks to give the kids at DJJ a better understanding about the legal system and a bit of practical knowledge of the law.  Most recently, another law student and I taught a course to a group of about ten guys about rules, laws, and values.  The idea was to develop by discussion what a law should do (e.g., protect citizens) and how it should do so (e.g., fairly).

Any surprises?

The most surprising part of the program was the interest and participation we got from the guys in the program.  All of the guys had first hand knowledge of how the criminal justice system worked and had many differing opinions about it.  However, most had not really thought about why the system functions as it does, and its goals.

Do you see a future with pro bono service?

I have truly enjoyed the pro bono work that I have done, and I will continue to stay involved, in one way or another, in public service.  I am pursuing, almost exclusively, jobs in public service. I have enjoyed working as a public defender in my clinic, and hope to continue in that type of work as an actual attorney.

-RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Chelsea Leathers

Chelsea Leathers

Chelsea Leathers is a 3L at the USC School of Law.  Her classes this semester are Secured Transactions, Individual Employment Law, Immigration Law, Poverty Law, Trial Advocacy and Death Penalty Seminar.  Her favorite classes are Poverty Law and Death Penalty Seminar.  She is also a member of the James L. Petigru Public Interest Law Society.

What Pro Bono Program are you currently involved in?

Right now, I am involved in the CHOICES Program.  I first learned about this program after receiving a flier in my mailbox at school.  I have not done any other pro bono projects while in law school however I have been greatly satisfied with my decision to do CHOICES.

What lesson have you taken from your pro bono service?

I think the most valuable lesson I have learned is “not to judge a book by its cover.”  While this sounds cliché, I think it is the perfect way to describe my participation with CHOICES.  Initially, I was a little hesitant about how the juveniles would react to the program.  My encounters with the juveniles put my fears to rest.  They were a bright group of young men with creative ideas and goals for the future.  Not only were they receptive to the program, but they were also a joy to be around and they taught me many things that I did not know.

Has your pro bono service changed your idea of law or pro bono?

Not really.  I had always been service oriented and have enjoyed helping others.  The one thing that I can say is that I will be more willing to take a chance and volunteer in areas outside of my comfort zone.

Do you see yourself in private practice or public interest?

At this point, I do not plan to go into private practice; I would prefer to work in a public interest setting.  If I do end up in private practice, I will definitely volunteer as a pro bono attorney.  Through my experiences, I have tried to encourage other law students to participate in pro bono programs.  We are all extremely busy but I still think it is important to share my stories and hopefully, others can find time in their schedule to help someone else.  It really does offer a nice break from lives as law students and personally, it reminds me of why I decided to attend law school.

-RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Elliott Tait

Elliott Tait is currently a 2L, taking Wills, Trusts and Estates, Constitutional Law II, Problems in Professional Responsibility, Transnational Law, and Poverty Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is also a member of the Pro Bono Board and the Moot Court Bar.

When asked about his favorite class, Eliott replied “I really enjoy Poverty Law, taught by Professor Patterson.  It’s a class that analyzes the major policies relating to the poor, and it has certainly opened my eyes to the good things that government has been able to facilitate as well as the many things they could improve upon.”

While at the law school, he has checked in from time to time with Pamela DeFanti Robinson, the school’s Pro Bono Program Director. Through this program, he has been able to volunteer in a number of ways, with a memorable volunteer experience teaching a few CHOICES classes at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  The curriculum is meant to give the kids in DJJ practical and accessible knowledge of the law.  In particular, Elliott references the day he taught a lesson on law enforcement.  At the beginning of the class the kids were very cynical and even hostile toward anything surrounding the idea of police officers.  By the end of the class, however, a few of the kids were able to really put themselves in the shoes of police officers and begin to understand the reasons behind their conduct.  The simple acknowledgment that “maybe cops aren’t as bad as I think” was a huge victory.

Currently, he is providing Pro Bono assistance by working with the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s Self-Represented Litigant Committee under the supervision of Stephanie Nye, Counsel to the Chief Justice. This Committee is working to implement the state’s first self-help centers, which will provide resources to self-represented litigants.  Specifically Elliott is helping to draft and edit self-help centers’ guidelines. Additionally he is also drafting a resource list which contains relevant contact information and links to resources that for self-represented litigants.

When asked whether this particular Pro Bono experience has given him any surprises, he noted “I have been surprised at the level of opposition to self-help centers in some counties.  I understand some feelings of caution about the idea, but outright opposition is surprising.”

He continued “I have learned about the real value in providing services to self-represented litigants.  It’s a shame that South Carolina is many years behind other states in providing such services.”

Elliott also noted that his pro bono experience working with the SC Access to Justice Commission “has simply reaffirmed that the practice of law is a great way to serve others, as there is great need.”

As to his future?

“At this stage I see myself going into some form of public service.”

And what would he tell other law students about his experience?

“Pro Bono work has always been interesting, unique, challenging, and rewarding.  It has really enriched my law school experience, and I plan to make it a significant part of my professional career.”

-RFW