Celebrate Pro Bono: David C. Shea

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

Meet David C. Shea, South Carolina attorney.

David C. Shea

When asked about what first drew him to pro bono, he responds:

I started in law school, hoping to gain some practical legal experience while at the same time helping others. Having been the first in my family to be financially able to attend a university, much less go to law school, I felt attending law school as a privilege for which a public debt is owed. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged and helped by family and teachers who thought I might amount to something, so I simply feel a moral duty help out others. This might not be the best reason, but to me it’s just part of my upbringing.

I grew up in South Florida and had an interest in immigration work, and while at USC Law, Pam Robinson had a program which allowed me to help with deportation cases and actually conduct a hearing during my 2L year with attorney supervision. This experience ultimately resulted in me obtaining a highly competitive Department of Justice summer internship in Chicago. So, in a sense, an unintended consequence of pro bono efforts helped jump start my career. 

David Shea’s name kept popping up when I spoke with various people about who to interview for Celebrate Pro Bono. And it’s easy to see why. According to several sources, he “always tries to keep at least one active pro bono case going at any given time, as well as volunteering with the Law Related Education committee’s programs, including Mock Trial.”

When asked about his current pro bono work, he noted:

I just finished a trial for a client for a divorce and child custody issues; the Decree is not even finished yet.

My practice is mainly concentrated in divorce work, so I limit my pro bono intakes to that area. I believe lawyers can be more effective my volunteering in their areas of practice, and the clients are better served as well.

 I take appointments directly from the South Carolina Bar pro bono program, and make a point of being available for questions for the Bar staff who administer and manage the programs. 

He is also active with the LRE Committee, including being a past chair.

I believe the LRE programs are instrumental to educating South Carolina’s students about the law and building the character of our future lawyers and judges, and leaders in general for those who don’t go on to law school.

I asked David about whether his pro bono legal work has been rewarding. Apparently it’s been very rewarding:

I got a hug in the courtroom from my client after my last pro bono divorce trial. Another client made me a cake. Things like that happen more often from pro bono clients than paying clients. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t get at least a “thank you” from a pro bono client, even when I lost.

In mock trial, it’s rewarding to see a shy student blossom into a confident public speaker. I didn’t have mock trial available when I went to school, and I’m shy by nature so it’s extra rewarding to see a student with a background like mine succeed in mock trial.

While not really a pro bono moment, I started out my legal career as a public defender. Years after I had opened my own practice, the spouse of a former public defender client tracked me down to personally give me her husband’s 1997 Master’s golf ball marker. She said her husband had recently died but always talked with her about how much he appreciated me helping him and that she thought I should have it since it was the year I represented him. You just can’t recreate the overwhelming feeling of appreciation from a moment like that – I had no idea prior to that moment what something relatively minor in my life was so major in his life – but the ball marker sits in my office as a reminder to do what’s right, and in a respectful manner, as we might not appreciate what it might mean to someone else. 

His philosophy about pro bono legal service:

I’m fortunate to be blessed with three children, a marriage, and a busy law practice, and time management is getting harder and harder as they all grow. However, as lawyers we need to remember we are fortunate to be positions of responsibility and power not afforded to many professions, and we need to appreciate and accept that. It’s the lawyers who DON’T who cause the bad press for the rest of us.

We all can build in some time to give back to our community if we try, and the rewarding feelings are indescribable. I’ve been active in Mock Trial long enough now that students I’ve met in the competitions are now colleagues, and it’s rewarding for one of them to approach you at a function to say “I remember when you did … back when I was in high school.”  

Given the nature of many domestic pro bono cases, oftentimes trial is more likely than settlement, thus it doesn’t serve your family, the courts, or your clients well to get overextended. Do what you can, but keep perspective and balance. We all have our areas of interests and expertise, and between all the pro bono opportunities available to us through the S.C. Bar, our county Bars, the law schools, and the community in general, there’s an opportunity available for most any lawyer whether you want a few hours or a long term project.

Just as being a divorce lawyer is good for a marriage in terms of seeing what doesn’t work for others, doing pro bono work is good for a healthy legal mind and body in terms of doing for others what they can’t do for themselves.

Unfortunately, I see a lot a lawyers who probably would be much happier if they would let themselves experience a pro bono moment once in a while, as it would take them back to the days of idealism and helpfulness they had when they first dreamt of being a lawyer. The lawyers who entered our profession just for the financial rewards will dismiss this and go back to their work, if they are even reading this at all.

It you haven’t volunteered in a long time and my comments have actually given you pause, we still need some more judges for the Middle School Mock Trial competition in November and December. Do yourself a favor and call 803-252-5139 to volunteer right now while you are feeling guilty and longing to feel rewarded! 

Not surprisingly, David C. Shea’s volunteer work extends beyond his legal work, he also belongs to the Richland Sertoma Club, an organization dedicated to helping Midlands citizens and those with speech, hearing and language disorders. He is also a Cub Scout Den Leader to a wild, diverse, and fun group of first graders. 

I cannot imagine a better role model for those first graders! Thanks Dave!

~RFW

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Guest Blogger: Cynthia Cothran, LRE Director at the SC Bar

Help make mock trial rock!

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Volunteers Needed!

It is that time of year again!

The Law Related Education (LRE) Division is seeking volunteers for its growing mock trial programs, which teach middle and high school students about the legal system through trial role playing. Mock trial volunteers enjoy the thrill of competition while scoring and presiding over trials. LRE not only needs volunteers to score the competitions, but attorney coaches to help prepare the teams.

WANT TO SCORE A COMPETITION?

Competitions Dates and Locations are as follows:

October 31, 2009 Middle School Mock Trial Regional Competitions (Charleston (full), Columbia, Conway and Greenville)

November 21, 2009 Middle School Mock Trial State Competition (Lexington) (full)

February 27, 2010 High School Mock Trial Regional Competitions (Charleston, Columbia, Conway, and Greenville)

March 12-13, 2010 High School Mock Trial State Competition (Columbia)

WANT TO COACH?

If anyone is interested in serving as an attorney coach instead of a scoring judge, there are several high schools that need attorney coaches that are as follows:

Berkeley County: Cane Bay High School

Horry: Carolina Forest High School

Richland: Lower Richland High School, Ridgeview High School, Spring Valley High School

York: Nations Ford High School, Westminster Catawba Christian School

Pickens: D.W. Daniel High School

All mock trial volunteers earn pro bono credit for their hours dedicated to the mock trial program. To learn more or volunteer, contact Cynthia H. Cothran at ccothran@scbar.org or at (803) 252-5139.

Law Related Education – Does it matter?

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 Tomorrow I will be a JUDGE.

A Mock Trial Judge.

Not the PRESIDING mock trial judge, but a judge nonetheless.

No fancy black robe BUT I do have the fascinating joy and responsibility of judging mock trial for MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS!

You may be thinking to yourself, big whoop. Now YOU have to “work” on a Saturday. And besides, it’s not real life.

Well, newsflash – it does offer the opportunity to CHANGE someone’s life.

Wait. WHAT?!?!?

That’s right. Mock trial can change someone’s life. I’m not saying it will, but it is within the realm of possibility.

Participating in mock trial or other law related education allows students to gain a deeper understanding of how the legal system works. The South Carolina Bar’s Law Related Education (LRE) division offers many differents programs in addition to mock trial,including Foundations of Democracy, Community Works, Law Day, We the People, and Foundations of Democracy to name a few. Here are some of the comments that LRE has received from teachers, students and parents about the impact of LRE:

From an elementary school – “[the] impact is far reaching and has included reading, writing, public speaking and social studies.”

From a high school student – “I never knew, until We the People, how the Constitution plays an intricate role in my life. Now I understand the limits of our government . . . We the People has made me a better presenter, speaker and a more educated American.”

From a middle school teacher – “Students from Project Citizen demonstrate leadership skills in dealing with school and community concerns. It is amazing to watch these students present their research to large groups of adults with confidence and pride.”

From a parent – “Participating in [We the People] was a remarkable experience for [my daughter] and for the other members of the team.  . . . My daughter has always had a dream of being a physician, but she came home from the national competition with a changed mind and heart. Because of this experience she had found her passion – and that passion is the study of the Constitution and of law.”

I find these remarks absolutely convincing. Yes, participation in law related education is a great thing. And, as one who has participated in the past and is LOOKING FORWARD to tomorrow’s mock trial rounds, it means a lot to me. I haven’t even told you about how it makes me feel. And trust me, if it didn’t make me feel good, it would be awfully hard to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning in order to be downtown no later than 8:45 a.m.

Mock trial makes me feel good because I see passion in these students. Tomorrow middle school students will stand in front of strangers, their parents, their coaches, their opponents and their opponents’ families. They will be nervous. They will present their cases. They will look at the judges. They will remember to ask for the judge’s permission before starting. They will question witnesses. They will make closing arguments. They may even stumble over their words.

But these 11-14 years will be there. On a Saturday. No later than 8:45 a.m. In their suits. Ready to take part in a demonstration of our justice system.

THAT takes passion.

What have you concluded? Does Law Related Education matter?

What do I think? I think it definitely matters. It allows students to study the law, study the system, and learn how to present their argument without resorting to fisticuffs. There’s no violence involved. Sure a courtroom can get heated. But it’s respect of and for the system that allows it to succeed.

It’s what allows us to ponder access to justice for all.

(And to dream of being a judge, even if only for a day, a Saturday.)

-RFW

If you would like more information about the South Carolina Bar’s Law Related Education, please visit http://www.scbar.org/public_services/law_related_education/.

If you are interested in supporting the South Carolina Bar’s Law Related Education program OR the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, please visit http://www.scbarfoundation.org/.

Both the South Carolina Bar’s Law Related Education program and the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission are funded by IOLTA grants from the South Carolina Bar Foundation.

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