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?