Focus on Pro Bono: Margaret S. “Molly” Day

Recently I had a moment to sit down with a law school classmate, Margaret S. Day aka Molly and discuss pro bono and public interest law with her.


  • I understand that you were active with pro bono in law school.  Please tell me about your experiences there.

I was very fortunate to become involved with Women in Law and the Pro Bono Board in law school, and those two entities opened up a world of volunteering for me.  I participated in Sistercare‘s Battered Incarcerated Women‘s project, which allowed me to assist women in correctional facilities with their legal proceeding against their former abusers.  Going to the correctional facilities and meeting these women from all walks of life who had harmed their abusers and then been punished for that was a real eye opening experience.  I learned a lot about appellate proceedings and a lot about life from that experience.

I also volunteered with Sistercare’s legal advocacy project at the courthouse.  I sat in Sistercare’s office a few hours a week and helped battered women fill out temporary restraining orders and other documents to protect them against their abusers.  I also went to court as moral support for some of these women who were facing their abusers.  Again, I learned a lot about the legal process and life with this project.


In law school, I was privileged to serve as President of the Women in Law Association.  I took part in the organization of many fundraisers, such as the Race Judicata, a race to raise money for a local charity, and a large garage sale in the lobby of the law school, among others.  I learned so much about fundraising from the ground up with these endeavors, and I use this experience today on every nonprofit board I serve.


  • What first drew you to pro bono work?

I was drawn to become a lawyer and especially to pro bono work when I was in undergrad.  To work my way through undergrad, I worked in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, what was, and may still be, the poorest county in the United States.  To get to work, I would have to drive by ramshackle shacks built on mud and built of plywood, with no plumbing, and naked children.  Prior to that job, I had not been exposed to poverty at that level.  These same residents would come to the casino and spend their welfare checks at the slot machines.  Compared to these people, I was wealthy with my casino salary and tips. I so wanted to help, but had no idea where to start.  It was when the casinos were fighting unionization that I learned I might be able to persduade with argument.  I was asked by the cocktail waitresses to be a spokeperson for their interests.  The ensuing discussions opened my eyes to the law as a career possibility and way to help people.


  • Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

Currently I spend most of my pro bono work helping LowCountry Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to those who could not otherwise afford it.  The majority of the cases we see are family law related.  This cause is so important and some people don’t understand it.  Can you imagine being married to an abuser of you or your children and not being able to get a divorce?    My work with LCLA has certainly influenced my pro bono work.   I am more willing to take family law cases even if it is an area that I have never practiced in before. The need is so great, and I am willing to ask other lawyers with experience to assist me and bring me up to speed, just so a person will have a lawyer.  Keeping a nonprofit going in this economy is a full time job, especially a nonprofit that is little understood by those outside of the legal field.  I serve on the Board for LCLA, and as its Community Outreach Coordinator, two roles that could easily fill a full time schedule.  I also assist in setting up wills clinics for groups in the community.  We recently did a wills clinic for the Bluffton Fire Department, and we hope to do another one soon for another service or community profession.


I am also a PAI (private attorney involvement) for South Carolina Legal Services.  I take cases at a reduced rate for people that could not otherwise afford an attorney.  Right now I am representing a man that is trying to adopt his nephew.  I am learning a lot about adoption!  Luckily I have a friend from law school that does adoptions all the time, and she has provided immeasureable advice.


  • How do you find out about this work?

I usually find out about pro bono projects through friends.  Robin Wheeler (you!) introduced me to the SC Legal Services people at a Bar Convention.  My friend Mary Sharp, a lawyer in private practice, introduced me to Lowcountry Legal Aid and asked me to be on the Board while she was its president.  My friend Pam Robinson of USC Law school has opened my eyes to many pro bono opportunities. Additionally, I have nonlawyer friends that ask me to help at events.


I wish that I had the time to do more pro bono work for LCLA.  I would like to start taking cases for them in estate planning and advance directives.  I never anticipated that there might be a need for these areas for people that need legal services, but I have found that all people need to feel secure about the guardian of their children should they pass, or the person making their healthcare or end of life decisions.  I am hoping that I will soon be able to devote a set time every week to assisting LCLA with this area.


  • What other projects have you done?

I would like to talk about my appointed cases.  I have been appointed to represent some men in my past three cases that were accused of very nefarious activities.  I was appointed to represent a man that spoke no English and was accused of shaking his baby, and his baby was taken away from him.  He was a decent man and a good father, but because he did not speak any English and was lower income, his baby had not been diagnosed with a rare brain problem she had since birth.  A small fall on to the floor produced symptoms of shaken baby.  It was very rewarding to prove that he was a good father and get his baby back into the home.  This case could have fallen through the cracks and the baby could have entered the system.  Luckily, that did not happen.
Another appointed case I had was a father accused of sexually molesting his child.  He had not molested her and in fact had not been allowed to see her for two years. He had a disability and was not the most educated person, so he had been pushed through the DSS system without understanding the ramifications. Indeed, he had been paying child support on a child that he averred was not his for two years.  After almost a year of hearings and arguments, he was allowed to stop paying child support for the child that was not his, and have visitation for the child that was.
In cases like these, the appointed attorney is often the only fail safe the client has to see that justice is done.  In these difficult economic times, the judicial system and the state agencies are so overburdened and understaffed that they cannot possibly investigate all of the facts and make sure all parties are represented to the utmost.  The appointed attorney must give those cilents 100%.


  • What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned so much about humanity, good and bad, and been surprised by who was good and who was bad.  And i have learned so much about the law that I would not otherwise have learned.  I have met the most interesting people while doing pro bono work; people I would not have met otherwise, if i had not ventured out to do a pro bono project.  My pro bono clients have been so grateful for my representation, and it has always been a rewarding experience to represent them.  I have gained a new respect for the American justice system.  Many times the pro bono lawyer is the one last stopgap for the client in an overburdened legal system or state agency system.  In many of these cases the person has not been heard in his or her steps through the system and the pro bono lawyer is the first person to listen to the person and validate them.


  • Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

My view of the law has been changed by my pro bono service.  My first job out of law school was working for a government agency, and my next job was working for a big firm.  In both jobs, I was able to get a routine down to do the most work efficiently to make the most money and produce the best results for my clients.  But in both jobs, my clients were big entities and it was easy to lose sight of the real purpose of the legal system.  With my pro bono work, I have represented individuals who must rely on the justice system to decide the biggest things in their life.  I have gained a renewed respect for due process and our judiciary in this process.


  • What do want to tell lawyers or law students about pro bono?

Just do it!  Not only will you learn some legal skills, get your name out there, and meet new people, but you will make the world a better place for some lucky client.

Eat Tacos, Battle Domestic Violence

Beginning today at 11:00 a.m. and running through Monday, November 15th at 9:00 p.m., you can participate in the 18th Annual TACOS FOR SISTERCARE.

 

During that time for each taco sold at Taco Bell® restaurants in the Columbia, SC community listed below, 10¢ will be contributed to Sistercare.

Sistercare provides services for battered women and their children residing in Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry and Richland counties in South Carolina.

Sistercare’s services include:

  • Children’s Services
  • Community Counseling Services
  • Community Education and Awareness
  • Court Advocacy
  • Emergency Shelters
  • Service Telephone Line
  • Shelter Follow-Up Program
  • Transitional Housing
  • Hispanic Outreach Services

Please tell everyone, your co-workers, friends and family about this fundraiser. What could be more fun than to eat tacos at Taco Bell® and know that you’re helping Sistercare?

NOTE: This fundraiser APPLIES TO TACOS ONLY!!

We’re talking about eating TACOS, any tacos from crunchy beef tacos to soft potato tacos.

PARTICIPATING TACO BELL® LOCATIONS:

  • 9802 Two Notch Road

  • 7526 Garners Ferry Road

  • 515 W. Main St., Lexington

  • 2632 Decker Blvd.

  • 1928 Broad River Road

  • 739 Knox Abbott Dr., Cayce

  • 3983 Platt Springs Road, W. Columbia

  • 4328 Sunset Blvd., Lexington

  • 1112 Broad St., Sumter

  • 1192 Lake Murray Blvd. Irmo

-RFW

Massachusetts Releases Interim Report on Access to Justice

Just last month, the Massachusetts Court System released its  Interim Report on Access to Justice Initiatives (Massachusetts), specifically initiatives in the Trial Court. This initiative is not to replace the work of their Access to Justice Commission, but to enhance it, as noted in the report itself.

Much of their work mirrors what we in South Carolina are doing.

They are reviewing progress in other states:

  • looking at developing forms and interactive websites for self-represented litigants;
  • reviewing implications and feasibility of limited scope representation aka unbundled legal services;
  • exploring ways to develop court service centers;
  • increasing access to the courts for those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

They are reviewing challenges within their current system:

Their consensus? Action toward providing:

  • services for court users with limited or no English language skills, including staff who can speak and read other languages,
  • instructional materials in other languages, and court forms in other languages;
  • technology, including wireless (internet) access in courthouses, MassCourts public access, and court forms that can be completed on-line;
  • self-help centers and materials; and
  • child care centers.

What’s fascinating? This came about through a survey to court personnel. Often we hear that the government is full of bureaucratic red tape.

What’s encouraging? That this very government is working to make the process easier for us to navigate – during a time of economic crisis.

Kudos Massachusetts! We’ll be watching your progress and wish you well throughout the process.

-RFW

South Carolina’s #1 Crime: Domestic Violence

Purple Ribbon Dom Viol

This morning while reading an article about Domestic Violence in The State newspaper, I became a little choked up. Why this article this morning? I don’t know for certain.

It could be because I’ve been focusing on Domestic Violence this month a little more than usual. Sure I’ve noted Domestic Violence Awareness Month each year, but this year, I’ve received information about DV while also searching for statistics as well as stories.

I don’t have to go too far to find someone I know. Even in high school one of my best friends confided in me that her boyfriend liked to hurt her. I advised her then to stop seeing him. It took a few more times of him “hurting” her before she finally did.

Then in my late twenties, one of my dear friends moved out of town to be with her “dreamy” boyfriend. Through the grapevine I heard that she was being abused. I called her up at work and asked if this was true. She didn’t want to talk about it. That was ok, I didn’t give up. Eventually I went to visit her, and meet him. At first glance, he seemed dashing and quite charming. I could see the attraction. Later though when we “girls” stayed up late chatting into the wee hours, I learned the truth. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to move her back home – while he was away.

And then there’s the pro bono work I did in law school. A friend and I volunteered with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program to assist the grant-sponsored Sistercare legal advocacy program. Our role was limited – we, advocate/law students, couldn’t represent the victims in court, but we could meet with them, complete the questionnaire with them, hand them tissues, hold their hands and hug them. They told us that they appreciated our help.

And one time, the attorney supervisor had another engagement and wasn’t able to appear with one of the victims. The victim, a mild-mannered woman who had been married 30+ years to the man, wasn’t able to afford an attorney. And she had nobody else to go with her into the courtroom. The volunteers were not allowed to represent the victims but were allowed to accompany them into the courtroom.

So I went. I was a little nervous. A little scared. After all, the husband was there. And so was his attorney. And then I had my “aha” moment (as Oprah calls them) – if I was nervous, how did the victim feel?

When the judge asked everyone to identify ourselves, I noted that I was the advocate and unable to represent the woman next to me. The judge allowed me to stay.

The hearing took about 15 minutes. It was evident that the woman didn’t know how to defend her claim. And I was just there to offer her a friendly hand.

After the hearing we went into the hall, where it was TENSE. The woman and I spoke on one side of the hall. The husband and his attorney spoke on the other side. I remember her telling me “I have to go back. He has all the money. I haven’t worked in 30+ years. He said it will be ok.”

I watched as she left me and walked over to her much taller, larger husband. They embraced. I felt alone and demoralized. I don’t know what she felt.

Every now and then I think about her. Is she ok? I’ll probably never know.

-RFW

Staying Informed on Domestic Violence in SC

Domestic Violence—SOVA

Because domestic violence is such a huge problem in South Carolina, I want to continue to highlight agencies that help victims of domestic violence.  SOVA is South Carolina’s State Office of Victim Assistance.  It provides help with some crime related costs of domestic violence.  Visit their website to see eligibility criteria, forms for assistance and how the process works. (en Español) SOVA also provides information on victims’ rights, victims’ laws as well as a list of Judicial Circuit Solicitors that work on these cases.

Upcoming Event—The SC Victim Assistance Academy http://www.scvaa.sc.gov/

May 31, 2009-June5

There is still space available, but the conference is next week so sign up soon!  The purpose of the conference is to provide current information to victim service providers.  The conference will give you insight into all of the services that South Carolina offers to victims of domestic violence.

-Allie

PS – Other Upcoming Events are also listed!

Domestic Violence—Access to Legal Assistance

            Robin gave me some of the information she received at the recent Equal Justice Conference in Orlando.  A handout from the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence immediately stood out to me.  They are creating a National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Legal Service Provider Directory.  This directory will increase the number of pro bono attorney’s working with victims of domestic violence.  The directory will be available this summer on their website ProBono.Net.  Through programs in the directory the Commission will use, train and mentor volunteer lawyers.  The directory will make access to the legal process easier for victims of domestic violence.

            Domestic violence is an enormous problem in South Carolina.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 35,894 people were victims of domestic violence.  Domestic violence resulted in 28% of the murders in South Carolina in 2006.   The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault reports that South Carolina ranks 2nd in the nation for the number of women killed by men. 

            If you are an attorney interested in helping victims of domestic violence visit www.abanet.org/domviol to see how you can help.  You can also receive CLE credit by watching a Webinar series on Domestic violence But hurry, the Webinar ends May 27th!

-Allie

Attorneys + Make-Up = Domestic Violence Crusaders

I’m thrilled to introduce this to you. While touring the exhibitors yesterday at the 2009 Equal Justice Conference, I met Rebecca Henry. It was through her that I learned about the ABA/Avon Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory Project.

Rebecca Henry
Rebecca Henry

The Project is developing a national, searchable, online directory of pro bono programs providing legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.

The directory will be available this summer on ProBono.Net.

And they need attorneys to complete the survey.

There is NO deadline for completing the survey. So complete it at your convenience.

This is especially important now as many domestic violence shelters and legal assistance projects are losing some of their traditional support – and many domestic violence shelters and support services are predicting a rise in domestic violence in the current economic climate.

Please complete the survey! If you’re at the 2009 EJC, you’ll find it in the Exhibition Hall. If not, click here to access the online survey.

And thanks for your assistance in breaking the cycle of domestic violence. And KUDOS to the ABA, the Avon Foundation and probono.net for developing this project.

-RFW