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

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.

Focus on Pro Bono: James Gaul

James Gaul is currently a 1L in his first semester at the University of South Carolina  School of Law. As all 1Ls do, he is taking Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Property along with legal writing and research. So far, his favorite class is Torts.  While he notes that “it was tough at first now that we are getting past policy and into some cases, it’s the most interesting class in my opinion.”  Running a close second is “Property which seems to be the most straight-forward to me.” James is a member of the Student Bar Association as well as the ABA’s Law Student Division with plans to get more involved with the International Law Society and the Public Interest Law Society.

His current Pro Bono work?

Working as an arbitrator with the Lexington County Juvenile Arbitration Program.

What does that entail?

“Basically, when a juvenile is a nonviolent first time offender, the Lexington County Solicitor prefers to send them through arbitration rather than through the court system.  The juvenile is given the option of going through arbitration instead of going before a judge, leaving them without a court record.  The goal of arbitration is to satisfy the victim of the crime and/or the community while creating sanctions for the juvenile that will help them learn from their actions and develop useful skills to keep them out of the juvenile justice system.  The program has an amazing success rate, something like 95%.  Going through arbitration not only keeps the juvenile out of the justice system for that particular incident, but it also works to help keep them out for good.”

Any noteworthy surprises?

“I was surprised at the amount of training that goes into the Arbitration Program.  We had four weeks of three hours classes that culminated in an exam!   The training was definitely worth it though; I mean we have the lives of young people in our hands, so we had better know what we are doing.”

Takeaway from this experience?

“I have learned so much its hard to choose just what to tell you about.  I guess the most important thing that I have learned is how easy and gratifying it is to help change someone’s life.  After the initial training, an arbitration case will take up three to five hours of your life.  In these three to five hours you are literally changing someone’s life for the better.  Who knew it could be so easy? I was excited going in, and my experience so far has done nothing but increase my excitement.”

Why this program?

“I learned about this project while researching possible law schools.  The reputation of the pro bono program at USC was one of the major draws for me.  The website is http://law.sc.edu/pro_bono/.  When Pam Robinson (the Pro Bono Director) sent out a general email to incoming 1Ls about possible pro bono projects I jumped on it.”

Why the emphasis on Pro Bono?

“I worked my way through undergrad, and was never really able to volunteer.  Now that I am in law school, and forbidden to work I finally have a chance to give back.  Honestly, I also like the practical experience that volunteering will give me, but mostly it’s about a chance to give back to my community.”

Future Pro Bono plans?

“As I mentioned, this is my first semester in law school. I do plan on doing Guardian Ad Litem training in January.  I’m looking forward to it.”

What do you want to tell other law students about your pro bono experience?

“I would like to point out that no matter how busy you are, you can always make time to volunteer.  Not every pro bono opportunity requires lots of intensive training and a big time commitment.  I know at USC you can be a tutor at a local elementary school with a commitment of just one hour a week.  I know how it feels to be overwhelmed with class and everything else that is involved in being a law student, but trust me, volunteering is worth it.  It’s a stress reducer, and it makes you feel like you have accomplished something.”

Parting words?

“Neither the Juvenile Arbitration Program nor the Guardian Ad Litem program requires you to be a lawyer or a law student. Any member of the public can volunteer for either of these programs.”

-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

It’s ON, Mr. Colbert!

Special By Pamela DeFanti RobinsonDirector, Pro Bono Program at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

This morning I received the following email from Ms. Robinson:

Greetings

I am making a concerted effort to help my very good friend Greg Baldwin, the President of VolunteerMatch take down Stephen Colbert in the Spoon to Spoon Challenge!

Yes, Ben and Jerry’s has created a very special and I might add extremely delicious ice cream, BERRY VOLUNTARY.


Enjoy Greg and the great folks at VolunteerMatch’s YouTube debut as they challenge Stephen and his Americone Dream™.

And don’t forget to vote.


Vote often and vote for the BERRY!


You may also spread the word and be part of ice cream history.  It is time to tell SC native Mr. Colbert that friends of the USC School of Law Pro Bono celebrate 20 years of volunteering by voting for BERRY VOLUNTARY.  We are making VOLUNTEERS the WORD!!!

Be creative, be viral, TWEET, go to your Facebook friends, spread the word, don’t just sit there eating ice cream.

Cut, copy, paste this message until your fingers are tired, just spread the word.  Let’s overwhelm Stephen Colbert’s Facebook page with SC comments.

Here is the all important link: http://colbert.vmchallenge.com/

P.S. I promised Greg that within a week I could get him 1,000 SC votes!! Prove me wrong and make that number higher to the 20th power!

Just FYI, in the interest of full disclosure I serve on the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration with Greg.


ONLY 12 DAYS LEFT TO VOTE