Less than two weeks after it arrived at the University of South Carolina School of Law, the Palmetto LEADER made its first trip into the community to fulfill its mission of helping South Carolinians get the legal services they desperately need.
The Palmetto LEADER is South Carolina Law's mobile law office, a 40-foot bus that is fully equipped with the technology to go out to underserved parts of South Carolina and help those populations receive certain services, like wills, powers-of-attorney, review of legal documents, and more.
"This is a game-changer," said William Hubbard '77, dean of South Carolina Law, during a small ceremony to recognize the Palmetto LEADER's first trip. "The best studies indicate 80 to 85 percent of the poor in our country do not have adequate access to legal services. We need to go to them, and that's what this bus is designed to do. So, this is a great day for the university, for the law school, and for the underserved people of South Carolina."
This is a great day for the university, for the law school, and for the underserved people of South Carolina.
University President Bob Caslen agreed and gave thanks to Kathy Konduros, who, together with her late husband Jim '54, provided funding for the bus through the Konduros Fisherman Fund to expand experiences available to law students.
"Their vision really extends beyond the bus and beyond service to the people of South Carolina. Their vision extends to the leadership and development of the future lawyers coming out of this school," Caslen said. "There's nothing better in my opinion than to give back than by investing in future generations because that's where the legacy is carried on."
For its maiden voyage on February 23, the Palmetto LEADER traveled just a few miles away to the Central Midlands Council of Governments Office of Aging to draft and execute simple wills.
“The services provided during this initial trip is as a sample of what we'll be doing at sites across the state, but we wanted to use today as sort of a test run, to make sure all the technology was functioning properly and so we could work out any kinks," said Pamela Robinson, director of the Pro Bono Program at South Carolina Law.
Once on-site, law students, alongside volunteer attorneys, got right to work setting up the bus and preparing to help its clients.
"I've been involved with the Pro Bono Program since my 2L year, and I've been volunteering with the My Will Program the entire time," said Zach Polo, a third-year student volunteer from Buffalo, New York. "So, when I had the opportunity to do it on the Palmetto LEADER, I jumped at the chance to help out people in rural communities."
Polo is considering a career in estate planning upon graduation and knows that the practical experience he has gained will give him an edge in his transition to practice as well as his job search.
"I felt like this was the best way to not only help people but also get out of the classroom and be able to apply [what I've learned] in a practical setting," he said.
I felt like this was the best way to not only help people but also get out of the classroom and be able to apply [what I've learned] in a practical setting.
Elizabeth Crane '16 couldn't agree more. Crane, one of the volunteer attorneys, is also the associate director of career services at South Carolina Law.
"I tell students that they should be out in the community and getting experience wherever they can," said Crane. "Preparing wills for clients in need is a great way to get legal experience and see what the law is all about outside of the four walls of the law school."
The day went very smoothly from all accounts, with all systems functioning properly and students and volunteers consulting and reviewing wills, drafting and executing wills and health care powers of attorney on behalf of the grateful clients who came out that day.
"I am so blessed," said one client. "They were so helpful and gave me a sense of belonging because I'm not sure I would have been able to afford this."
That’s music to the ears of Betsy Goodale, the director of the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono program, which partners with Robinson on many of the School of Law’s pro bono projects and is glad that there is now a way to provide legal services in rural counties where there are often few attorneys.
“The Bar’s Pro Bono Program is honored to be a part of this initiative and to provide necessary support in the way of attorney volunteers, insurance coverage, and communications,” said Goodale. “We hope attorney volunteers across the state will look for Palmetto LEADER stops near them and take the chance to participate in this truly unique and innovative way to provide pro bono assistance to their fellow South Carolinians.
The bus's next outing will come on March 12, when it makes the first of two trips to the Darlington Free Medical Clinic to help assist South Carolinians with health care power of attorney documents.