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!
Patti is currently serving as co-President of the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Board, but her interest in pro bono began even before law school.
I’ve always had a strong desire to help others, and getting involved with Pro Bono was the most direct way I felt I could do that while in law school. Other students spoke highly of the program, so I was excited to be a part of it!
She has been a member of the Pro Bono Board since her 2nd year of law school, but participated in various events as a 1L.
Her latest project through Pro Bono was helping the South Carolina Journal of International Law & Business participate in a service day at Habitat ReStore. She is very active in helping to organize the Best Class Food Drive held each semester and have taught CHOICES classes at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice.
What pro bono experience brings her the most joy?
The incoming students service day. It’s great to see new students helping out in the community, and I love being a part of their experience!
Being involved in the program has allowed me to be active in the community and continue helping others. There is so much need in the world, and locally, that I believe everyone has a duty to help. Everyone has a skill that is beneficial to others!
Plus I didn’t realize that so many attorneys are willing to “donate” their time for various causes. It’s encouraging to know that!
And she has a great message for law students:
Get involved!! There is something for everyone, and everyone benefits.
Patti’s enthusiasm for pro bono is immediately evident and she emphatically notes that she will continue to participate in pro bono projects once she becomes licensed. And I don’t doubt her for one minute!
Bryan Lysell has been involved in the USC School of Law Pro Bono Program since his first semester in law school. He currently serves as co-Presidents of the Pro Bono Board and participates in the Carolina Clerks project with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and he volunteers at the Homeless Law Clinic (HELP) in St. Peter’s Church.
I asked Bryan a few questions about pro bono, including what first drew him to the program. Here’s what he said:
That is hard to say. I guess what first drew me to the Pro Bono Program was public radio. I like NPR and the pro bono program volunteers each year to man the telephones at ETV’s fall fundraiser. I volunteered for that and sat next to Pam Robinson. Pam asked me what I did before I came to law school and when I told her that I used to work for a labor union, she was one of the first people I met in South Carolina who had a positive reaction. I think I thought to myself then that a program that that lady runs must be a good program. That impression has been borne out time and again over the last three years.
When asked about he became involved with the various projects, he noted:
I learned about all of these programs through Pam Robinson. With regard to the Carolina Clerks position, I responded to a general request that Pam had sent out via email.
In September, Pam needed someone to fill an open spot at HELP one morning and she asked me if I could stop by. I think Pam asked me because HELP is a morning gig and she knew that I am generally an early riser.
He also participates with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA),
VITA was one of the first things that I got involved in at law school and I feel like it really set the tone for my continued participation in the pro bono program. I used to be a labor union representative and I enjoy talking to people. VITA gave me an opportunity to interact with folks who have problems and who are trying to get help with them. It had a lot of the characteristics of my former employment and it was comforting to me to be able to do something that felt familiar and that I thought I was good at (particularly in my 1L year when that feeling is an otherwise rare commodity.
One of his favorite pro bono memories is participating in VITA:
I had a nice surprise while doing taxes. An elderly man came in needing to have his taxes prepared.
Usually I like to chat with folks while I do their taxes. I find it entertaining and having a conversation with the person to whom you’ve entrusted an important task usually makes people feel more comfortable in that entrustment.
This guy just would not bite, though; he responded monosyllabically, if at all to any questions I would ask, even those related to taxes.
As I went through his documents, I found a 1099 for a pension that he received from LTV. LTV is a steel company that specializes in producing steel pipe. I asked him whether he worked in a mill and he told me that he worked at a mill in Cleveland.
Well, I’m from Pittsburgh, and my father, my uncle, and my grandfather all worked in the mills, and in particular my grandfather worked in the McKeesportworks, which specialized in continuous cast steel pipe. When I told him all of that, his demeanor turned 180 degrees and he was as affable as anyone I had ever met. We talked about the Steelers and the Browns, about steel mills, about South Carolina summers and how unbearably long and hot they are, and about Midwest winters and how unbearably long and cold they are.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that guy. I hope he comes around again this year.
As he related what he’s learned from doing pro bono work, it was evident that he will make a fine attorney:
I have relearned that you need to listen to people when they are talking to you about their concerns, that sometimes they’re saying more than what they’re actually saying. I think that has particularly been the case at the homeless legal clinic. Sometimes you are talking to people who have been involved in significant domestic violence issues and while some people can talk openly about it, others cannot.
When asked about whether participating in pro bono changed his view of law, he noted:
What changed my view of the law was learning that lawyers have an ethical obligation to helping people in need gain access to the justice system. I feel like that ethical obligation corresponds with my own notions of what a personally productive career would be and what is an appropriately civic minded individual.
In his co-President role, he actively speaks about pro bono and encourages other students to participate. Specifically:
When I talk to other law students about the Pro Bono Program I usually like to stress to them that this is an opportunity to interact with actual people, the kind that you are going to interact with as a real attorney, and that law students should take those opportunities whenever they can get them.
This kind of interaction is an education in its own right, and the ability to communicate complicated ideas to people in a manner that is easily understandable is an essential component to being a good advisor, which itself is essential to being a good lawyer.
I usually conclude by saying that, if nothing else, it feels good to be able to help people that need it and that as lawyers we have an ethical obligation to do exactly this kind of work.
I’m looking forward to hearing more from this valuable pro bono leader!
Ashley became involved in pro bono when she saw flyers posted during her first semester of law school about the Guardian ad Litem program. Instead of signing up immediately she waited until her second semester and began talking with Pam Robinson (USC School of Law Pro Bono Director) about that particular program. Ashley recalls “I was so excited because she remembered me even after the first time I spoke with her. She signed me up for Pro Bono announcements. I participated in the Guardian ad Litem training course, and it was “all she wrote” after that.”
She’s been participating in the law school’s pro bono program for 2 years now; serving on the board since her 2nd year of law school.
While Ashley continues to serve as GAL, she also stays involved in a lot of projects.
Right now, we’re gearing up for our semester food drive for Harvest Hope. It’s my job to get my classmates involved because we have a competition between the three law classes. I want the 3Ls to win this year! We’re kicking-off the food drive with a “It’s Not a Crock Pot” soup lunch to raise awareness for hunger. I’ll be entering a soup in the contest on behalf of an organization I’m involved with.
Also, we’ve been hosting a “Good Deed Friday” project about once a month where students who are involved in Pro Bono get together with students from other law organizations to perform community service in and around Columbia.
This semester, we kicked-off a new program called “Carolina Clerks” that allows attorneys with a pro bono case to obtain assistance from a USC Law student. That program is wonderful because it provides help to the attorney while simultaneously providing experience to a law student who is eager to learn.
When asked about how she first became involved in these multiples projects, she noted “We host the food drive every semester, so that’s an easy Pro Bono opportunity for everyone. Mostly, I learn about projects through my activities with the Board Members and Pam. In fact, every time I walk into Pam’s office, she’s always telling me about the new ideas she has, and it’s wonderful that she’s so creative.”
Ashley’s passion for pro bono doesn’t stop there.
One semester, I participated in a “Pro Bono and Jelly” hunger awareness bake sale during the food drive. We encouraged students and faculty to bring their lunches and donate the money they would normally spend eating out to Harvest Hope. I have also visited retirement centers with other volunteers to sit down and talk with senior citizens about their legal needs. We fill out surveys to identify how the legal community can best serve this group of people. Additionally, this summer I worked with South Carolina Legal Aid as a public interest law clerk, so I stayed on this semester as a volunteer. Our Pro Bono program has close ties with that office because they serve the public.
I performed a lot of community service in high school and during my undergraduate career, so it seemed silly not to continue doing good things for others when I started law school. Admittedly, it’s a lot more difficult during your first semester to get involved, but once I settled in I wanted to find out what I could do. Pro Bono opportunities have provided me with a lot of hands-on legal experience. I’m so thankful for the program, and I really enjoy working with students and people in our community. I really believe that one of my responsibilities in this profession requires me to give back some of my time to people who really need it. A lot of people don’t understand our judicial system, so law students and practicing attorneys should aspire to reach out to them and make the experience as helpful as possible.
When asked about whether she experienced any surprises with her pro bono work, Ashley reflects “I wouldn’t say I have had too many surprises. I think becoming a GAL was a little overwhelming at first, though. My first case was difficult for me because it was hard to believe that children, right here in Columbia, are abused and neglected every day. We see these things on TV, so it was almost surreal to experience it first hand. However, it was rewarding to stand in front of a judge in Family Court and have my final opinion heard and implemented.”
I asked Ashley about what she had learned from her pro bono service:
From my pro bono experiences, I have learned quite a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and what kind of law I think I might pursue. For example, I learned that family law is more difficult because of the emotional element that’s always present when you speak to a client or work with family members. Pro bono work has taught me patience and understanding. When you realize that you have to explain legalese to someone who may or may not have graduated from high school, your perspective changes and you realize how valuable your services are to the clients you serve. I have also learned how fortunate I am, and I’m thankful for the experiences I have had.
And pro bono service is not a new concept for Ashley. She recalls that “I have always believed that it is important for each person to serve the communities in which we live. It’s so valuable to give back what we take. Pro bono service really changed my view of the law because now I understand what it is like to see it from a regular person’s perspective. By “regular person,” I mean someone who has not studied the law, someone who may not be aware of what his or her rights are in our country, and someone who can only tell me a story, not a particular legal issue. That’s why I think pro bono service is so important because it’s one of a lawyer’s professional duties to give back to society.”
I asked Ashley if she had any thoughts about pro bono service that she wanted to share with her fellow law students. Her response was thoughtful and frank:
I think that pro bono speaks for itself. Truly, a person only needs to get involved in one pro bono program to experience the joy and pleasure of doing good things for other people. Everyone has a little time to sacrifice, and it only takes one project or one client to keep a law student engaged and active in pro bono work for life.
She remains an active pro bono volunteer at SC Legal Services volunteering three hours a week as a law clerk. She has high esteem for the SC Legal Services attorneys noting that they are “fabulous, and they work hard for their clients. I have learned a great deal from them and could not be more thankful for the experience I have had there. They have taught me so many things that classroom lectures don’t quite touch on in law school.”
Is Ashley’s pro bono going to continue into her law practice?
Most definitely. I think I would be doing a disservice to myself and my community by not engaging in pro bono work.
That is music to my ears. We are lucky to have have such dedicated young attorneys and law students who cannot imagine their profession without giving back.
Stay tuned as we highlight them throughout this week!
I was very excited to hear from Pam Robinson about a project the USC School of Law Pro Bono Program was doing for Valentine’s Day. She asked several attorneys from around the state to complete the following:
The following is the response:
Fantastic idea and great result!
Remember Alexandra D. “Alex” Hegji, the first law clerk for the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission? Well, she graduated this year. And she graduated with a JOB. And she moved to Washington, D.C. to start her job. This I knew.
However, when I was out at the Equal Justice Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, I ran into Pamela D. Robinson, the director of the USC School of Law Pro Bono Program. (yes, I know – it’s bad when it takes running into a local at a national conference many miles away) That’s when I learned that Alex was a Presidential Management Fellow!
She’ll be working at Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is charged with ensuring a safe work environment under the OSH Act of 1970.
It could be because I’ve been focusing on Domestic Violence this month a little more than usual. Sure I’ve noted Domestic Violence Awareness Month each year, but this year, I’ve received information about DV while also searching for statistics as well as stories.
I don’t have to go too far to find someone I know. Even in high school one of my best friends confided in me that her boyfriend liked to hurt her. I advised her then to stop seeing him. It took a few more times of him “hurting” her before she finally did.
Then in my late twenties, one of my dear friends moved out of town to be with her “dreamy” boyfriend. Through the grapevine I heard that she was being abused. I called her up at work and asked if this was true. She didn’t want to talk about it. That was ok, I didn’t give up. Eventually I went to visit her, and meet him. At first glance, he seemed dashing and quite charming. I could see the attraction. Later though when we “girls” stayed up late chatting into the wee hours, I learned the truth. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to move her back home – while he was away.
And then there’s the pro bono work I did in law school. A friend and I volunteered with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program to assist the grant-sponsored Sistercare legal advocacy program. Our role was limited – we, advocate/law students, couldn’t represent the victims in court, but we could meet with them, complete the questionnaire with them, hand them tissues, hold their hands and hug them. They told us that they appreciated our help.
And one time, the attorney supervisor had another engagement and wasn’t able to appear with one of the victims. The victim, a mild-mannered woman who had been married 30+ years to the man, wasn’t able to afford an attorney. And she had nobody else to go with her into the courtroom. The volunteers were not allowed to represent the victims but were allowed to accompany them into the courtroom.
So I went. I was a little nervous. A little scared. After all, the husband was there. And so was his attorney. And then I had my “aha” moment (as Oprah calls them) – if I was nervous, how did the victim feel?
When the judge asked everyone to identify ourselves, I noted that I was the advocate and unable to represent the woman next to me. The judge allowed me to stay.
The hearing took about 15 minutes. It was evident that the woman didn’t know how to defend her claim. And I was just there to offer her a friendly hand.
After the hearing we went into the hall, where it was TENSE. The woman and I spoke on one side of the hall. The husband and his attorney spoke on the other side. I remember her telling me “I have to go back. He has all the money. I haven’t worked in 30+ years. He said it will be ok.”
I watched as she left me and walked over to her much taller, larger husband. They embraced. I felt alone and demoralized. I don’t know what she felt.
Every now and then I think about her. Is she ok? I’ll probably never know.