Allison Humen currently serves as the SBA Liaison to the USC School of Law Pro Bono Board. When asked what drew her to pro bono service, she recalled:
Since I was younger, I have participated in various service projects and organizations. The Pro Bono program offered the opportunity to continue serving not only the community at-large, but also the legal field which we are all now a part of. Not only do you get to serve, but you are able to do this alongside your classmates.
She describes her first major experience with the Pro Bono Program, the Harvest Hope Food Drive in the fall of of 1st year:
All of the students and professors do a wonderful job of encouraging students to work together to make such a large donation to Harvest Hope each year. Being a part of this unified effort in giving back to the community proved how much good the school can do. Since then, I was invited to join the Pro Bono Board, from which I have not only been able to participate in various projects, but also help organize these projects for the student body.
She’s been involved in several pro bono projects over the past few years:
I completed the Guardian ad Litem training in my first year, and since then having been serving as an advocate for the best interests of the children in my cases. From speaking to older classmates and hearing about their experience with this program, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to help families and children, while being able to participate in the legal process. Although it is difficult at times by playing an important role in these children’s’ lives and their future, it has been an invaluable experience. I would recommend this program to every law student. Not only does this experience remind you of the personal aspect of the law which we are studying, it also gives you practical experience.
I am currently a Carolina Clerk. This is a program created by Pam Robinson and Dean Wilcox, which matches volunteer law students with lawyers who have agreed to pro bono client representation. The Pro Bono Program has widely publicized this new program throughout the school as well as on the school’s website, so I was eager to help kick-off the program and volunteered early. The current case I am working on is a DSS case, so it has been interesting to work on family law issues from the standpoint of the parent, rather than the children which are the sole focus of the Guardian ad Litem role.
As a member of a few student organizations I wanted to create a way for different organizations to team up and serve together. With the help of Pam, the Student Bar Association and the Pro Bono Board initiated Good Deed Friday. This program gives all of the student organizations, journals, Moot Court Bar, and Mock Trial Bar the opportunity to join together and volunteer a (Fri)day of service at a local charitable organization. Our first Friday was September 30th, which members of the Student Bar Association, Pro Bono Board, and the Real Property Trust and Estate Law Journal volunteered a few hours at the Harvest Hope Food Bank. Not only are we helping the community, but we are also strengthening the law school community by enabling student leaders to bond over these “good deeds.”
Any lessons learned from pro bono?
Pro bono work has expanded my view of how many people are in need and are in need in so many different ways. When you are surrounded by so many fortunate members of the law school community for the vast majority of your time, it is easy to forget how many people go without. Participating in pro bono has heightened my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with, as well as my compassion for those who have less and my responsibility to help any small way I can.
What’s your advice to other law students?
Get involved early! Even if you are afraid you won’t have the time. Everyone in law school is busy, but Pam does a wonderful job of providing a wide-range of opportunities within the Pro Bono Program. So if you only have one afternoon a month to offer, we will find a place for you to volunteer then! If you aren’t able to complete the two-week Guardian ad Litem training, there are many ways to volunteer that do not require any additional training!
Will you continue pro bono service after law school?
My passion for service did not begin in law school, and I am certain that it will not end after graduation. It is important for every one of us to do pro bono work, and I believe this need is only strengthened once you become a licensed attorney. At that point, you will have more tools in your belt and therefore be able to serve the community in ways that the majority of the population cannot.
Thanks for your service Allison! I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!
I was drawn to pro bono work, because I feel like everyone should give back in some way. I am a lawyer, and this is my way of helping.
What is your current pro bono service?
My current pro bono work includes serving as a guardian when called on in DSS cases. I have represented SSI claimants in the past though I have not done that in quite some time. I was first introduced to the pro bono program as a young lawyer. I volunteered for the Access to Justice Committee of the S.C. Bar many years ago and the pro bono program was involved with that committee. I get calls from the SC Bar and CASA to serve as a guardian.
I understand you have a long history of pro bono. What other projects did you work on?
I used to work on the Pro Bono Auction and actually headed that up for several years. I volunteered for free legal clinics as a young lawyer, but mostly I have served as a guardian or have represented SSI claimants.
Do you find pro bono service rewarding?
My most rewarding cases have been the ones where I served as a child’s guardian. It is an incredible feeling to give them a voice.
Have you found any surprises through your pro bono service?
I have learned that people are truly thankful for the assistance that you give them. You are usually their last hope.
Any words of wisdom for law students or other attorneys re: pro bono?
I would like to tell students and lawyers alike that doing pro bono work always brings me as much joy as the person I helped. It reminds me what a difference our profession can make.
The short answer is that it “feeds one’s soul.” The longer answer is that it nourishes one’s idea of self and reaffirms a person’s capacity for goodness.
What else should we know?
It does not bring personal gain in any pecuniary sense. It often takes time that could be spent in more lucrative endeavors. What appears to be a “limited engagement” can involve many unanticipated hours. Attorneys may not receive appreciation for doing it. And a few times, I have even had my motives for doing pro bono work questioned.
Do other members of the Bar share your view of providing Pro Bono legal service?
I think that most attorneys, the Bar as a whole, feel that pro bono work contributes to their professionalism and fulfills their calling. It certainly sets us apart from many other fields of employment. Most attorneys see their role as significant, even if their role in any one case does not appear to be significant or a particular case has no obvious significance. Justice as a societal goal is not often achieved through the relatively few game-changing constitutional precedent cases. It is usually achieved through incremental gains over time for individuals.
RCCASA hosts quarterly quarterback breakfasts for volunteer recruitment and retention. While this event is primarily geared toward males, there are some women who show as well.
If each event brings in 10 new volunteers, that is 40 new volunteers per year.
RCCASA has already reached its 2010 goal with a total of 70 new “recruits.”
Since January 1, 2010, they have served 934 children via 973 court hearings through their program. The average amount of time their cases are open (assignment to closure) is 9 months. And since January 1st, they have closed 408 cases.
If you want to learn more about RCCASA or you want to volunteer to speak for a child, call (803) 576-1735 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their website at www.rccasa.org.
Promising Practices Spotlights highlight original activities, programs, projects or events that enhance the CASA/GAL program’s ability to deliver on the mission of providing court-appointed volunteer advocacy to abused and neglected children. More than one program may be highlighted each year.
We held our own National Conference in Columbia, SC and individuals from Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Texas visited our sunny state to learn how to recruit male volunteers Although our program has celebrated successes, we find that it is an on-going effort and we continue to be faced with challenges.
As we serve more children, more male volunteers are needed.
Our program felt the impact of the economic crisis. Funding was an issue but more importantly our volunteers were greatly impacted. Many volunteers were faced with relocation and others were faced with decreasing the amount of time they could spend volunteering. Our most committed, dedicated volunteers were taking on second jobs, reentering the workforce, and volunteers who were once retired were now employed.
Beginning July 1, 2010, RCCASA will need to be able to serve 100% of the children.
We are rising to the challenge and will be increasing our recruitment efforts. We are proud of the job our volunteers have done and know that our ability to serve 100% of the children will mean these children will have a strong advocate.
So in a nutshell what does this really mean……It means that more than ever we NEED YOUR assistance in making this happen. You may not be able to volunteer but you may have a spouse, co-worker, brother, friend, or colleague. Out biggest recruitment tool has been through word of mouth and when you tell someone about CASA, you are making a difference in the lives of the abused and neglected children in our community.
Because it highlights a specific recruiting effort by Richland County CASA (RCCASA) for male volunteers. About 9 minutes into the video we learn why this is so important – because 60% of the children served by CASA are male whereas a few years back most volunteers were female.
The children served by RCCASA are children who are involved in the Family Court system and are the subjects of abuse or neglect investigations. It is fairly frequent that the only stable person in these childrens’ lives is the CASA representative, the Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
RCCASA recognized that these children needed volunteers who would also be able to serve as a role model. They saw the need and modified their recruitment plan to fulfill the need.
If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about RCCASA, click here.
Child is removed by SC DSS from a single parent home due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. Single parent, a mother, is working, but making very little and falling well within the federal poverty guidelines.
At the first SC DSS hearing, Mother asks the court to provide her with an attorney. The attorney GAL walks with Mother to the Clerk of Court’s office to help her fill out paperwork to apply for a court-appointed attorney. The clerk asks Mother for the $40 fee to accompany the application. Mother does not have $40 to pay the fee. Mother does not have $20 to pay the fee. The attorney GAL asks if the clerk can make an exception and waive the fee. The clerk refuses to waive the fee. Mother has no attorney.
The attorney GAL is concerned. She is aware that Mother cannot afford an attorney, and that this is a serious legal issue; one in which there is potential for Mother to lose custody of her child. And Mother is unrepresented.
Do you think this is FAIR? Do you think this is JUSTICE?
What if I tell you that this scenario is real? Does that change your mind?
Well, it is based on a similar real-life situation.
Fact Recap: Child taken from single parent – Mother – based on allegation of abuse and neglect. Mother works, but does not make a lot of money. Mother shows in court unrepresented. Mother tries to get attorney appointed WITH assistance from attorney representing her child. The Mother is still not able to get an attorney to represent her because she CANNOT pay $40 filing fee and is unable to get a waiver.
What happens next?
Attorney representing Mother followed up. She contacted several people, none of whom were judges, to see if anything could be done to waive the fee. She was given a contact name and followed up. Mother will be receiving a court appointed attorney.
Does this mean Mother will prevail?
Not sure. It will depend on the facts of the case and adherence to any treatment plans or court orders.
Does it mean that the GAL thinks the child should have stayed in the home?
I don’t know. Honestly I didn’t ask the question. Either way though, the Mother is in the midst of a crisis. Her child has been removed from her home. It’s likely that she is (choose one:) distraught/embarrassed/angry/other emotion . As I’ve noted on numerous occasions, when emotions are high, it sometimes takes away our ability to reason or rationally make an argument or listen to court proceedings. An attorney provides a buffer for the emotional client, and makes the proceedings more well-reasoned.
So? Why are you bringing up this issue?
Because I so often hear that attorneys are just *blankety-blank bottom-feeders* AND I know better. And this is a perfect example of that. This attorney went beyond her ethical duty to ensure that the Mother in a case receives legal assistance.
Unfortunately I won’t give more details or name the attorney because this is an on-going case and I don’t want to identify anyone or give away confidences. Suffice it to say that this attorney will hold a dear place in my heart.