Law school’s pro bono program matches students to community needs
My job at the Charleston School of Law often makes me feel like a matchmaker. As I work to connect students with opportunities for practical legal experience through our Pro Bono Program, I sometimes am reminded of the song “Matchmaker” from the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Since the Charleston School of Law opened its doors in August 2004, it has had a mission to instill in its students the value of public service. Our Pro Bono Program, through which students provide free legal services under the supervision of licensed attorneys, has been there every step of the way.
All Charleston School of Law students must perform at least 30 hours of free legal work in the public interest to graduate. Many of our students go well beyond the requirement.
Since our first academic year, our students have contributed more than 166,000 hours of free legal services through our Pro Bono Program. That’s comparable to an individual doing about 80 years of full-time work. Looking at recent graduating classes, about three-fourths performed more than the 30-hour requirement and about one-third performed 100 hours or more.
Today, our students can fulfill their pro bono requirement through work at one or more of over 130 approved pro bono sites. This work must be law related, supervised by a licensed attorney, and performed on behalf of a governmental, non-profit, charitable, or educational organization or for a private attorney who has a pro bono or court appointed case. In addition to volunteering at our approved pro bono sites, students can work through our office to craft their own pro bono experience. What’s inspiring about our focus on the public interest is how it opens students to areas of the law that they might not have been exposed to otherwise. In fact, student pro bono work can translate to public interest work as a practicing attorney. For example, Charleston School of Law graduates Jeff Yungman and Mary Matthews serve as attorneys at the Crisis Ministries Homeless Justice Project, while Mallary Scheer helps provide civil legal services to low-income Charleston County residents at Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services.
Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services, which started almost simultaneously with the Charleston School of Law, will honor our retired founder and Chair Emeritus Alex Sanders at the second annual Charleston Pro Bono Reception tonight. As past president of the College of Charleston, former chief judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, former member of both the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate, and as an educator, Judge Sanders’ career has been devoted to public service.
As Judge Sanders said at a recent graduation ceremony, our graduates are unique because “they have learned the practice of law as a profession, having as the chief aim providing a public service, not merely earning a living. They have embraced a desire not only for praise but for praiseworthiness, for fair dealings as well as good deeds, for honor as well as advantage.”
The Charleston community is indeed fortunate to have benefitted — and to continue to benefit — from the tens of thousands of hours of free legal services provided by our pro bono partners and hundreds of students.
The relationship between Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and the Charleston School of Law can be described by paraphrasing one of the famous lines from the movie “Casablanca.” Our partnership has been a beautiful friendship.
Thanks to Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and all of our pro bono sites for your friendship and for helping us serve as a matchmaker to benefit our students and the Charleston community and beyond.
Michelle Mensore Condon, an attorney, is the director of public service and pro bono at the Charleston School of Law.