It’s been a really good year for South Carolina Access to Justice! Below is our newsletter that highlights a few items we’ve been working on.
Happy New Year Everyone!
It’s been a really good year for South Carolina Access to Justice! Below is our newsletter that highlights a few items we’ve been working on.
Happy New Year Everyone!
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!
John Tenney is currently in his third (last) year of law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law. This semester, his classes are Health Law and Policy, Advanced Legal Writing, Interviewing Counseling and Negotiation (ICN), Trial Advocacy, and Fiduciary Administration. John currently serves as Treasurer of USC Law’s chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, and as a member of the Pro Bono Board.
I’d say it’s a toss-up between Trial Advocacy and ICN, because I have been eager to get an opportunity to take more skills-based courses that allow me to get a firsthand feel for how “real lawyering”, if you’ll allow the term, actually works. I believe both courses teach important practical skills with which anyone planning to have a career in the legal field ought to be familiar, regardless of whether one plans to be a trial attorney or never set foot in a courtroom.
Current pro bono work?
Currently I am a volunteer clerk at the South Carolina Administrative Law Court. It is a fantastic opportunity, and I am excited to have the chance to see firsthand how the Court functions, and to do my best to help the Court carry out its duties. Everyone there is very friendly and approachable, but also hard working and dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.
In addition to this, I am serving as a member of the Pro Bono Board.
What first drew you to pro bono work?
I think it was the opportunity to immediately make a positive contribution. Through Pam Robinson and the Pro Bono Program, right away I was able to become a part of programs that directly helped people. I was eager to dive right in as soon as I could, and pro bono work is the perfect way to quickly have a positive, lasting impact.
How did you first learn about these projects?
I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Pro Bono Program’s various programs, but the first one in which I participated was Project AYUDA, which helps spread awareness to the Spanish-speaking community about legal rights and resources.
I learned about the ALC volunteer clerk opportunity from talking with Pam Robinson, who is a wonderful and endless resource for just about anything, be it pro bono-related or not (and there are always snacks in her office if you need a quick boost!). If there is a pro bono opportunity out there, Pam knows about it, and knows how you can become involved with it.
Have you done any other pro bono projects while in law school?
I have also done work translating documents into Spanish for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which I have done at various times during my law school time.
Pam was instrumental in helping me obtain a summer clerkship after my first year at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. Like many public interest organizations, P&A is full of bright, focused people dedicating themselves to protecting and advancing disability rights, making sure that all people, not just some people, are able to enjoy the benefits and protections under the law. They work directly with their clients to protect and advocate for their rights, and I was able to work with several of the attorneys on their cases. It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend anyone interest in pro bono work to inquire about volunteering or clerking there.
This past summer I clerked at South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS). This organization assists low-income South Carolina residents in a wide variety of civil matters, including domestic violence. I really enjoyed this clerkship because it was a great mixture of getting legal experience, working with capable and dedicated attorneys, and meeting directly with clients. In addition to the aforementioned usual clerk duties, I also was able to participate in clinics held in the community, with attending hearings, and even acted as interpreter between an attorney and a client who only spoke some English. Their office is a great place to be, and just like P&A, I would definitely recommend looking ito volunteer opportunities there.
As cliché as it may sound, the best part really is seeing how appreciate the clients are. These are people that need legal help just like the any other person would, and SCLS (and P&A as well) provides free legal help to them. When a client says “thank you”, there’s real meaning behind it, and as I mentioned before, that’s key when it comes to looking yourself in the mirror at the end of the day. That person needed help with a consumer issue, may not have known where to turn for legal advice, and now that person is getting the assistance they need to take care of the issue.
Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?
It certainly has, and more importantly, it’s made me eager to make people more aware of the breadth of what pro bono work encompasses. I think some people have a perception that pro bono work is confined to a narrow slice of law, or that it’s a minor part of the legal community, which is not even remotely accurate. There are lots of people involved in the pro bono area, and not necessarily because they work for a public interest organization- plenty of lawyers working in private practice take volunteer cases, to help the legal community and the community at large. Pro bono service goes on everywhere, and there’s always room for more help.
Do you plan to go into private practice?
As of right now I am not certain if I will go into private practice, and if I do, whether it would be immediately or farther down the line. However, should I go into private practice, I would be eager to maintain a part of my practice dedicated to pro bono work.
What do you want to tell other law students about your pro bono work experience?
I would tell other law students to jump into pro bono work. I think one of the most important parts of a career is how you feel about yourself at the end of the day- did you make a difference? What kind of a difference? By working with pro bono organizations, you get the satisfaction of knowing you have helped people who need and deserve it, as well as the added bonus of being able to say with certainty that you’ve made a positive difference, be it in your state, your city, or your community.
Additionally, I know that many students are understandably concerned about gaining experience in the legal field, and clerking at pro bono organizations provides an excellent opportunity to do this! In my two clerkships, I did everything you would expect to do as a clerk at any firm- I did research, wrote memos of varying length and complexity, sat in on client meetings, and other miscellaneous duties that would be assigned to a clerk anywhere. Combine that with the ability to help those who might not otherwise get help, and you’ve got a perfect opportunity.
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.”
I was raised in a low socioeconomic background. Both of my parents are on Social Security Disability. My mother has been on SSD since I was in the 5th grade. My father has been on SSD since I was in the 12th grade. Our family has struggled even more since both of my parents are on disability. Getting through paying bills from month to month is a blessing for the household. Moreover, my parents have only a high school education, and the rural Pee Dee region of South Carolina is what they know. I have seen my parents and members of the family have legal issues but not have access or the financial means to afford an attorney. One of my uncles has had a long battle with trying to acquire Social Security Disability, but he has had to fight the system on his own and with no outside legal help. I have seen my father in an extended involvement with probate issues of his deceased father’s estate, but he has not had an consistent legal help or someone to just guide him on the ins and outs of probate law with regards to his inheritance. From a few of my family experiences, I realize firsthand how crucial pro bono is to providing access to justice for those who are unable to or who just do not know how to go about exercising their rights to justice.
As a law student, it is so easy to get caught up in the chaos of assignments, papers, job searches, jobs, organizations, and social life. Involvement in pro bono is the priceless opportunity that gives you that necessary outlet. It opens your eyes and helps you to realize that it is not about you and your personal goals. It is about my community and what I can do to service my community as a present law student and in future practice of law. Involvement with Pro Bono helps you to become more well-rounded and improves your ability to work with and interact with all degrees of life from different socioeconomic, race, and ethnic backgrounds.
A good percentage of the population of my law school comes from privileged or comfortable middle-class backgrounds. A lot of these students come to law school very much oblivious to the extent of the critical need for pro bono service within our community. Involvement in Pro Bono is needed to make them understand just how much the community needs their service.
I have talked to a few friends at Charleston Law, and they informed me that a certain amount of pro bono hours are required for every law student. At University of South Carolina, we do not require pro bono hours. I believe that a pro bono requirement would be a great investment for the law school and the community that we service. This will get the students out into the community who would not get involved on their own otherwise. The requirement would also plant seeds into the law students –seeds that would hopefully grow and continued to be nourished when they are out in practice.
Here are some noteworthy events coming up in May 2009. Feel free to add them to your calendar.
Friday, May 1 – P&A’s Annual Gala: Celebrating Abilities: An Evening of Jazz and Art
To benefit Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A)
6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the 17th floor of the Meridian Building.
Admission: $50 per person, sponsorships available
Friday, May 8 – University of South Carolina School of Law GRADUATION
Saturday, May 9 – South Carolina Bar Young Lawyer Division’s 3rd Annual Justice Jam
To benefit Sistercare
7:00 p.m. at Sudworks in Five Points
Admission: $5 per person
Tuesday, May 12 – Women After Five 16th Annual Reception and Silent Auction
To benefit Sistercare
5:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Columbia Conference Center
Admission: $40 per person donation requested
Friday, May 22 – CODA 2009 Carolina Spring Fling
To benefit CODA and Lowcountry survivors of domestic violence
6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Hargray Building and Harvey Plaza
Admission: $50 per person or $40 per person for groups of 10 or more
Saturday, May 16 – Charleston School of Law GRADUATION
There’s a new publication in town and it’s FOR THE GOOD OF THE ORDER:PROFILES IN PRO BONO, A Publication of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program.
South Carolina Access to Justice is happy to welcome this publication.
Thanks to the keen eyes of Angela McKeirnan, Public Services Director at the South Carolina Bar!