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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

Palmetto LEADER volunteers use their legal skills for community service

The first week of May, a handful of practicing attorneys and future lawyers took the Palmetto LEADER out to help the people of Hartsville, South Carolina.  

Facilitated by the Pro Bono Program at the USC Joseph F. Rice School of Law, the Palmetto LEADER (LEgal ADvocacy and Educational Resources) travels throughout the state eight to ten times a year providing students the opportunity practice essential lawyering skills in service of the community. 

“These students and volunteer attorneys are fulfilling a valuable need,” says Taylor Gilliam (‘14), Pro Bono Program director. “And in addition to learning substantive law, students are learning valuable skills, like how to build rapport with a client, alongside practicing lawyers.” 

Olivia Jones (‘01 Honors College, ‘07 law) is one such attorney students had the opportunity to work alongside. Although she currently serves as executive director of the SC Bar Foundation, it was her experience working with the Pro Bono Program as a student at USC Rice School of Law that inspired her practice. Now, she's doing her part to inspire the next generation of lawyers and directly impact South Carolinians in need.  

“I love working with students because they are so eager to learn. They’re like sponges – they soak up all the information and ask insightful, intelligent questions,” says Jones, who is also a member of the USC Law Pro Bono Advisory Council. “I think these students are the same ones that are going to become leaders in providing civil legal services in our community.” 

And there’s a significant need for pro bono legal services. According to the Access to Justice report by the SC Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission released last year, 35 percent of South Carolinians fall 200 percent below the federal poverty line, and more than 20 percent of all South Carolinians are eligible for subsidized legal services. By providing pro bono services, lawyers help combat the justice gap and improve the lives of countless individuals. 

Pro Bono services encompass much more than free representation. They include services offered for a reduced fee, contract work for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for clinics like the ones coordinated by the Palmetto LEADER.  

The USC Rice School of Law was the first to offer a voluntary Pro Bono Program at a U.S. law school and has been a resource for South Carolinians for more than 30 years. The program has numerous supporters, including Senator Gerald Malloy (’88) who hosted the May clinic at the Malloy Law Firm and provided his law office and other resources to ensure the clinic’s success in Hartsville.  

In the past, the Palmetto LEADER clinics primarily offered wills and durable healthcare powers of attorney. Because of Gilliam’s background in appellate defense, he has expanded clinics to help process expungements and name changes. He aims to continue expanding the legal services the Pro Bono Program offers and is looking for more collaborators to help as many people as possible. 

“The hope in coming here is that I can inspire and train students to be that stop gap in the lives of future South Carolinians who may be headed down that path,” says Gilliam, who also volunteered in the Pro Bono Program when he was a student. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we're working on it.” 

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