20th Anniversary Celebration

20th Anniversary Celebration Committee

20 Things You Might Not Know

20 Things You Can Do

Where are they now?

History of the Pro Bono Program

For the Good of the Order

Pro Bono Program

Where are they now?

Robin Wheeler

What kind of pro bono or volunteer work have you been involved in?
While there have been various volunteer activities in my past, my legal pro bono work has resonated exactly as I thought it would. I went to law school to help people and so far it's been working. In law school, I volunteered in various ways, but one that continued after law school was working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for Richland County CASA. This allowed me to become familiar with the Family Court, prior to trying my own cases.
In my role at the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, I do not provide legal representation. As a result, I am more able to seek out volunteer activities. In the past few years, I have worked closely with the SC Bar's Ask-A-Lawyer (AAL) Program and the Law Related Education (LRE) Program. While both are widely varied in the service provided, I have been extremely happy (albeit tired) when I've completed an Ask-A-Lawyer opportunity - either on-site or via web chat OR when I've served in the LRE Mock Trial competitions. Both are very rewarding.
More recently I have been a pro bono volunteer for Adult Protective Services cases. When Rule 608 was changed so that attorneys were no longer appointed as GALs, a system was not already in place. A system is currently under development to fill the gap, and prior to that, a temporary "fix" was underway, coordinated through the SC Bar Public Services Division. I served as a GAL for two vulnerable adults.

What are the main reasons why you would recommend that law students become involved in pro bono work?
That's a good question. There are so many reasons. Sure, it's the right thing to do. It offers a sense of purpose outside the books. But most importantly, it allows you the opportunity to explore areas of the law that you may not otherwise be exposed to. It's very hard to come out of law school and inherently know that you will practice in one specific area. But pro bono exists in all areas of the law - plaintiff's work, corporate defense work, bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, civil rights, criminal defense, etc. And as a student, this is your time to explore. You may not represent the individuals, but you may provide legal research to someone in an area you hadn't previously considered. And the liability is limited. As a student, you'll have supervision by a licensed attorney. And they want to minimize exposure themselves too. And you learn. You learn how to be a lawyer. And what better time than when you're a law student, right?

Has pro bono work contributed to your sense of career satisfaction?
Most definitely. As I noted earlier, I am no longer in a position to provide individual legal representation. My pro bono work allows me to give back on an individual basis. Through the AAL programs, I receive immediate feedback from the callers or web chats. Usually the people are happy to have someone listen to them. And with the LRE programs, it is extremely gratifying to see how South Carolina youth are inspired to work within the legal system. It's immediately evident that these middle school and high school students have been preparing for these trials for a long time. They sacrifice a lot of spare time to compete - on Saturdays no less!

Did your experiences in the Pro Bono program at USC prepare you or benefit you in your career?
YES. Emphatically yes! Prior to law school, I announced to my friends that I was going to law school to help people. After much laughter, my attorney friends had advised me to introduce myself to Pamela Robinson and get involved in Pro Bono. I did just that. I introduced myself to Pam and never looked back. Even as a 1L, through the Pro Bono program I was able to give back to the community AND work within the legal system. As a 1L, I volunteered as an advocate with the Sistercare Legal Advocacy project. Even with my poor sense of direction, I found the courthouse and the courtrooms. I interviewed battered women and sat in the courtroom with them. While I was not able to represent them, I did introduce myself to the judges and offered them moral support. It was an interesting entrée into the Family Court. I also participated in Richland County CASA.

In your career, have you seen an overlap between your volunteer work and your sense of your own place in the community and the legal profession?
Yes. As an attorney, my work has remained within public interest, my law degree has also opened doors for me to give back to the community as well. I am currently on the Mental Health America of South Carolina Board of Directors. I am the only attorney on the board, and have been told that having an attorney board member is valuable. It actually opened the door for me to find an attorney to do some pro bono legal work for the organization - in real estate.

How do pro bono efforts fit in to the work of the South Carolina Bar?
As active attorneys, we are bound by the Court Rules, which address pro bono service. RULE 6.1: VOLUNTARY PRO BONO PUBLICO SERVICE (http://sccourts.org/courtReg/displayRule.cfm?ruleID=407.0&subRuleID=RULE%206.1&ruleType=APP) offers guidance on this. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission has been working closely with the SC Bar's Pro Bono Committee to ensure that pro bono opportunities are offered to the private bar and to develop effective new opportunities.

What kind of perceptions, positive or negative, do you think that the bar as a whole has about attorneys who are actively involved in pro bono work?
As with most people, attorneys are diverse in their opinions, however, most attorneys I know are in favor of pro bono legal work. Many provide expertise in their own ways - at their churches, through their civic clubs, to their neighbors.

What is most memorable/best experience you had during your law school career through the Pro Bono program?
I've already noted my work at Richland County CASA and at the Sistercare Legal Advocacy project. In addition, I volunteered as a student mentor for a McCants Elementary School student. I brought in and sorted food for Harvest Hope, sold hot dogs to raise funds for Pro Bono, and tried to participate in many activities. But another of my favorites was research. I helped research and log Good Samaritan Laws, then I helped to index the SC Bar's Ethics Advisory Opinions. I enjoyed those a lot.

How would you encourage current law students to get involved with the Pro Bono program?
Simply go to the 2nd floor and introduce yourself to Pam. Look at the board. Ask questions about the opportunities and tell her what you like to do. Even if the opportunity doesn't yet exist, it may soon. Pam is innovative and always looking for ways to engage students. And, if you offer your services, she'll find a way to get and keep you involved!

What does the 20th Anniversary of the Pro Bono program mean to you?
I'm thrilled and proud to be a part of this program. I can't believe we're already at the 20th Anniversary! And I'm looking forward to the next 20!

What is your most cherished memory with Pam?
I continue to develop cherished memories with Pam. Throughout law school I sought out her advice and to this day, I continue to meet with her and seek her advice. Pam has a vast knowledge and institutional history of most everyone involved in pro bono, public interest law, and general volunteer programs within the state and for much of the rest of the country. And I'll always thank her for encouraging me to apply at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., my first attorney position, a great place to learn to be an attorney. Without her encouragement and support, I'm positive I wouldn't be where I am today. Thanks Pam!