JAX Pro Bono Attorneys Do It for FREE

Pro Bono Attorneys ROCK
Pro Bono Attorneys ROCK

A recent article in The Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record spotlights Pro Bono Attorneys and the work they’re doing in conjunction with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

The best part of Pro Bono service is summed up by attorney Hamilton “Ham” Cooke:

“I know I get more out of helping these people than they do,” he says.

Congratulations JAX Attorneys!

South Carolina Attorneys: To sign up to become a pro bono volunteer, visit the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program

-RFW

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Three Amigos . . .

Late last Thursday I had the honor and pleasure to moderate a panel about Access to Justice at the Charleston School of Law as part of their Professionalism Series. Of course anytime that access to justice is recognized as important in the legal field, I’m always thrilled, but this offered me a chance to listen to others.

Many people at the Charleston School of Law worked hard to make our presentation a success, especially Abby Saunders, Graham Ervin, The Honorable Robert S. Carr and Sean, our media guru. And many thanks to the students who listened intently and came up afterwards to ask questions.

Fortunately I was familiar with those I was moderating, all of whom are SC Access to Justice Commissioners – Jennie L. Stephens, Executive Director of the Center for Heirs Property Preservation; The Honorable Deadra L. Jefferson, Resident Circuit Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit; and Stuart M. Andrews, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.

allow-me-to-introduce

Ms. Stephens presented information about her work including a video clip from the Center’s informational video. If you are not already familiar with the Center, please check out their website. They have lots of valuable information and define the term “Heirs’ property.”

Heirs’ property is the name given to land that is owned by a group of family members who are the descendants of the original purchaser. The deed to the land is registered in the name of a deceased family member. Usually, the property has passed to each new generation through the State’s intestate laws. With each new generation, it is likely that family members may die without leaving wills stating who should inherit their share of the land.

Judge Jefferson offered perspective from the bench. Her words were inspirational and thought-provoking. I really appreciated the reference to Charles Hamilton Houston‘s quote that a lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.” Additionally, Judge Jefferson reminded us that attorneys are often the first face of justice and that laws are not enacted for the benefit of a few.

Mr. Andrews completed the presentation by reminding the students and the speakers why it is necessary to have an access to justice initiative. He noted that according to an ABA study, over 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals are not met. He also presented a snapshot of Pro Bono by South Carolina Attorneys in 2006 (below).

sc-bar-pro-bono-program-2006

Every day I am grateful to work with so many dedicated and driven individuals; individuals such as the three commissioners outlined here. And I wanted to take a moment to thank them as well as the unspoken heroes at courts, and legal and social non-profits around the state.

Thank you for working to improve the system.

You are appreciated.

And your work is important.

-RFW

SC ATJ New Year’s Wishes or Resolutions?

COUNTDOWN TO 2009

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As the New Year’s wishes and resolutions are starting to pour in, I’ve had a few moments to ponder Access to Justice resolutions for 2009. Before I lose count of the many goals for 2009, I thought I’d share a few.

12. South Carolina Access to Justice will develop a working relationship with legal paraprofessionals throughout the state.

11. Technology advances such as instant messaging, podcasts, YouTube videos, and email allow greater communication to and for people in need of low-cost legal services, especially when transportation imposes a barrier.

10. The Commission and partner organizations reach solutions to the need for interpreters for individuals who are Deaf and with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

9.  South Carolina law students, both USC School of Law and Charleston School of Law students, become engaged in access to justice and collaborate with the Commission for creative solutions.

8. South Carolina attorneys recognize the opportunity that unbundled or limited scope legal services can provide to South Carolinians with low income or of modest means, especially during this financial climate while sustaining the attorney’s practice at the same time.

7. SC Access to Justice establishes a library workgroup to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) with access to approved, free legal forms (http://www.sccourts.org/forms/indexSelfHelp.cfm) and to establish a long-lasting partnership with libraries.

6. All South Carolinians who are unable to afford an attorney can reach one access point for all South Carolina legal service organizations.

5. Every County Courthouse will house or have access to a nearby self-help center for self-represented litigants.

4. Every county self-help center will be staffed for a minimum of 5 hours per week by pro bono attorneys.

3. Every South Carolina licensed attorney completes at least 50 hours of pro bono service as per ABA Model Rule 6.1 VOLUNTARY PRO BONO SERVICE.

2. The Second Pilot Lawyer Mentor Program incorporates the aspirational Pro Bono expectation and that it becomes a “shall” instead of a “should.”

1. That ALL South Carolinians have equal access to the law and its remedies without regard to their economic status.

Happy New Year!

-RFW

Why South Carolina Attorneys – I DO DECLARE!

I came across this Declaration of Commitment to Clients while searching for something else this morning. While I’d seen it before and even have a pretty copy of it in my files, it wasn’t and isn’t often that I pull it out to remind myself of my duties. Oh sure, I have every intention of doing so, but you’ve heard about good intentions paving the way to . . . At any rate, I thoughtfully reviewed each commitment. From the number of complaints/information that come into the SC Bar about attorneys not calling or keeping their clients up-to-date, you’d think that attorneys really aren’t serving our clients. But I do realize that for every complaint that comes in, there are 4 or 5 attorneys doing exactly what they’ve committed to do. They keep in regular contact with their clients. They preserve client confidences. In a nutshell, they honor their commitment.

My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
 
So, why the column? Well, it’s the line where atorneys are committed “to make our legal system MORE ACCESSIBLE and RESPONSIVE” to our clients. It’s right there in Black-n-White (and yellow).
Are we doing that? The answer is yes, we are. At least some of us. Within the South Carolina Access to Justice community, there are initiatives regarding court forms -adding them to the website for more accessibility to judges, attorneys and the public as well as make sure that they are written in PLAIN ENGLISH. Initial work is on putting together a Divorce Packet – based on one year separation, no children, no property. The packet will contain not only the forms, but instructions for completing the forms as well. And, more forms and instructional packets are to follow.

You may wonder who has been involved in this process. ATTORNEYS. That’s right, attorneys. Court Administration attorneys. Supreme Court attorneys. Legal Services attorneys. South Carolina Bar attorneys. South Carolina Family Court Judges – all of whom are attorneys.

Congratulations South Carolina! Your attorneys are working to make the law and its many processes easier to follow and understand.
-RFW