Pro Bono Program
SC Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows
The USC School of Law Pro Bono Program and SC Bar Foundation are proud to announce the development of the SC Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows project. This year-long effort was designed to enhance the ability of South Carolina legal services organizations by placing public service minded USC School of Law students as law clerks within those organizations.
The long-term goal of this project is to create a culture that highly values public interest law as a viable and meaningful career. The project utilizes a system similar to the medical school resident matching concept to place students with organizations. All efforts are made to secure highly motivated students as well as meaningful experiences with the coordinating service providers. After the initial match, an orientation for students, host organizations and supervising attorneys is conducted to introduce everyone to this new enterprise. At all times the students will be made aware of the rules of professional responsibility and the need for professionalism. Students will be asked to develop personal and professional goals they wish to pursue through the Fellowship. Periodic review of those goals with the supervising attorney will be an integral part of the evaluation process as will be the student presentations at the conclusion of each semester.
Here are comments received from several of the Fellows from the Fall, 2010 semester.
"During the time I spent working at my fellowship for the fall semester, I feel that I have learned a great deal. I have worked closely with both CASA attorneys and case supervisors to help abused and neglected children in Richland County. My tasks have ranged from case research and memo drafting to writing appointment orders for guardians and helping CASA raise money for various public organizations such as United Way of the Midlands. This fellowship has really helped me to feel more confident about legal research, which was one of my primary goals in applying to the program. I have learned to be creative, using CaseMaker and other tools since the organization can't afford Westlaw and Lexis. Also, I have spent some time in the courtroom and time speaking with guardians and family members, so I feel more comfortable with basic discussion and negotiation than before I began this program.
The fellowship has also changed my perception of public interest law. Working with abused and neglected children has presented its emotional and personal challenges, and I had to learn to somewhat distance myself from each case. The most difficult lesson was learning that I can't judge other people and hold them to the standards that I am used to because not all people are the same. The feelings create both compassion and frustration because it is difficult to accept the actions that people take against their children, but I must be patient and work with them. Further, it has been difficult to see the need in our community and how that need is not always well-funded or recognized by everyone. It makes day-to-day challenges more difficult, but I have learned to be flexible and creative. "
Ashley Cole, Richland County CASA
"My work at P&A has varied over the past semester from researching specific legal issues and drafting memoranda to writing an informative brochure for potential clients. One project I am especially excited about will be continued into this semester. It started as a side project that included medical research on medications for children and has developed into a case study on a particular treatment facility and treatment approaches with children. (This project is still in progress and is considered confidential, as we are not yet sure where the project will go). One of the goals was to become involved with the local legal community and community at large, but after working for P&A my outlook has enlarged. Working in a public interest legal community effectively requires alliances with professionals in other fields. This project has made me realize the most cost-effective way to approach a solution might be communication with the interested parties in other organizations and agencies. Rather than filing a complaint or seeking a formal investigation, a practical solution could be to ask for what you want, negotiate, bring thorough research, seek help from professionals in other areas to support your research, and present a solution the other side might find agreeable.
Another goal of mine has been to work with clients and learn how to advocate for a particular client. After working with P&A and accompanying an attorney to two client meetings, I realized public interest law requires something further. As attorneys, we have to learn to communicate in a manner our clients understand and to understand what exactly it is that our client wants. For example, we visited one client at a residential treatment facility who was a stroke victim and was nearly non-verbal. He could communicate, but mostly through nodding and simple yes or no answers. The attorney was very skilled at asking the right questions, following up on answers that she did not understand, and asking whether she understood correctly what he wanted. One of the care workers at the facility put the client down, saying "I don't know why you want to talk with him, he can't talk." But I could tell he was relieved that the attorney listened to his responses, wrote down his wishes, and detailed for him a plan for a resolution. My new goal is to speak with and write to clients in clear, plain English, and to always make sure I know and understand what my clients are seeking. Forget legalese, forget statutes with odd terms of art. The first step toward accomplishing that goal will be to edit my brochure down to a sixth grade reading level."
Hillary Lovell, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities.
"Through working as a law clerk at South Carolina Legal Services, I have been able to accomplish several of my personal goals while also assisting the community with various legal issues. Originally, I sought to improve my research and formal writing. I feel that my position has enabled me to accomplish this goal in several ways. I have been able to complete memorandum relating to several areas of the law including family and employment law. For instance, I was able to research specific issues related to child custody, divorce, and wrongful discharge. Moreover, I have expanded my knowledge of general issues such as evidence and civil procedure. Overall, these research assignments have helped me develop a broader understanding of issues I have learned about in the classroom and how the law is applied to real life situations.
Several of the assignments I received also allowed me to improve my problem-solving abilities and my creative-thinking skills. For instance, I was able to work on assignments that were not time-sensitive and allowed me to extensively research the issues and possible solutions. This process also allowed me to become more efficient in my researching skills. Finally, I was able to assist in drafting complaints and other documents related to initiating lawsuits. These assignments allowed me to develop practical skills and become familiar with the process of initiating a case in South Carolina courts.
Along with the more traditional duties of a law clerk, I was able to accomplish my goal of increased client interaction. The client interactions ranged from observing a custody hearing to visiting a client's home to execute a will. The most touching experiences I have had while working at South Carolina Legal Services involved the clients. The majority of the clients have expressed great appreciation for the services they receive. Moreover, the services provided and the issues faced by the clients have a great impact on their lives and often relate to very sensitive issues such as employment, housing and family. Outside of client interactions, I was also able to observe informal meetings between attorneys, judges and clients in order to negotiate potential settlements. These observations have assisted me in developing a professional connection to the surrounding community and understanding the nature of the legal community in South Carolina.
Overall, I feel that through my position at South Carolina Legal Services I have achieved several goals. On a personal level, I was able to improve my research and writing skills while also developing a better understanding of issues relating to employment and family law. Furthermore, I was able to learn how a case is initiated and developed in the South Carolina court system. Most importantly, my position allowed me to assist members of the community that are in need of adequate legal representation and often forgotten or viewed as undeserving by society."
Chelsea Leathers, SC Legal Services Columbia, SC
"During the fall semester of my third year in law school I had the opportunity to work for the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program through the SC Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowship Program. One of my main objectives for the fellowship was to strengthen my practical research and writing skills in a wide variety of substantive areas of law. It was important to me that, after finishing this program, I would be familiar with a number of different legal topics so that when I graduate law school I will be a successful and valuable addition to any public interest law organization.
While working for the Guardian ad Litem Program, I conducted extensive legal research on a number of legal topics, many of which consisted of novel legal questions that South Carolina courts had not yet addressed. This allowed me to combine legal research with the legal reasoning skills I have developed in law school, in order to write effectively about the possible outcomes of various legal questions.
In addition to the legal memoranda I drafted and the motions with which I assisted, I also had the opportunity to attend conferences and observe appellate arguments which I feel enhanced my understanding of legal and administrative proceedings while allowing me to meet with many legal professionals.
I believe that my time with the SC Guardian ad Litem Program has enabled me to successfully complete my goals and I feel that this opportunity will play an important role in the development of my legal career."
Katie Cerulli, SC Guardian ad Litem Program
"The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families is dedicated to achieving three main goals for each of its clients. One, keep them out of jail for failure to pay child support. Two, provide education on soft skills and access to formal education through established institutions or trade practitioners. Three, get them a job so they can pay their child support. Therefore, the Center's mission is both front and back-end focused.
Due to the fact that the Jobs Not Jail Component (the vehicle for achieving the first goal outlined above) is established and successful, Lisa and I have been focusing on the last two goals (access to education and job acquisition). In doing so, we are studying South Carolina's Workforce Development system through national, statewide and local level analyses. We have found that there is much discrepancy in reported workforce development needs, systems, processes, barriers, requirements, etc. which must be addressed in order to improve the efficiency and efficacy of South Carolina's system. Through detailed analyses of the practical implications of such discrepancies we hope to achieve alterations to the system which would help improve our clients' access to educational training funds, and thus better job opportunities; which in turn will allow the State to realize its goal of enforcing child support effectively in the least expensive manner possible.
We are working with SCDSS, the head of South Carolina's Office of Child Support Enforcement, South Carolina's local WIA boards, private entities, etc. in order to achieve our goals. We believe there is much to be done in exposing the inequities of the Workforce Development System and the effects those inequities have on our population.
In my opinion, my experience is invaluable. Not only am I as a fellow obtaining practical legal experience, but I feel as if I am contributing to a worthy and important cause. Often during law school we as students are faced with stressors and issues which we see as unduly burdensome. However, through exposure to individuals with issues of a grave, personal and pressing nature, we are able to see our situation for what it really is, a responsibility laden opportunity to assist others do what they are incapable of doing themselves."
James T. Laura, SC Centers for Fathers and Families
"I am currently working in a number of areas of law. I am helping Appleseed write briefs to help consumers whose rights have been adversely affected by recent holdings in the state. Unfortunately the recent holdings by the SC Supreme Court may infringe upon low-income citizens' fundamental right of access to the courts. I am working to update statistics on poverty in South Carolina, and I am helping with a case involving predatory home lending. Soon I will assist another attorney with some education law issues. I am lucky to have the opportunity to help in so many different ways this year.
This experience has been invaluable thus far. Every attorney at Appleseed has been mentoring me and ensuring that this program will be as educational and productive as possible. I have been working at Appleseed for the past year and a half, but once I became a SC Bar Foundation Fellow the scope of my work changed and my experience has been even better than it was before. I am busy, and the work is challenging, but I am truly enjoying every day."
Neal Allen, SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center
"One of the largest challenges AJC faces is improving and expanding legal resources for people of low income and spreading awareness of the legal resources that are currently available. Self-represented litigants in the State face challenges in the legal system due to lack of financial means, lack of resources, and lack of knowledge of various aspects of the legal system, including proper forms and correct court procedures.
I am currently working on developing and organizing a Self-Help Guide for pro se litigants to help spread awareness of the resources available to low income people who do not have the financial means to seek help from an attorney. In addition, I am assisting in the early stages of a study to determine how legal representation affects the outcome of civil cases in the State. The ultimate goal of the study is to inform the legislature of the legal needs of low income people in the State and obtain more financial resources for statewide legal aid.
This has been a great educational experience. It has provided us with the opportunity to give back to our community while learning about the legal profession and the legal challenges faced by low income people in South Carolina.
Lara Caudy, SC Access to Justice Commission
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