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Pro Bono Week to Finish with 'Virtual Blitz' in S.C.

Law students and pros are teaming up for a COVID-themed Pro Bono Week Celebration aimed at helping low-income clients and giving students valuable real-world legal experience. The annual event is sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) in conjunction with the University of South Carolina School of Law.

The awareness and advocacy week, which runs from Sunday, Oct. 25 to Saturday, Oct. 31, will culminate with a “Virtual Blitz” on Friday, Oct. 30 set to help provide free legal help for the residents of South Carolina. The theme of the week is “Rising to Meet the Challenge: Pro Bono Responds to COVID-19.”

According to the ABA, the idea for the blitz was conceived seven years ago and is traditionally an in-person event. Due to the pandemic, though, the free legal services are being offered online instead. “We did a couple of these this summer and about the only thing missing are the cookies and snacks that I made for the students and lawyers,’’ said Pamela Robinson, director of the pro bono program at the South Carolina School of Law. “We’ve had great success with our program, which we started as a way of putting students together with lawyers.”

Robinson said the virtual law clinics have been effective and will be likely to continue even after in-person events renormalize. She added, though, the remote events do not have the same ambiance as the in-person events of the past. “I’ll admit [virtual] is more cumbersome and it doesn’t have that same feel as when we are together in a room, but it works,” she said.

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The National Celebration of Pro Bono launched in 2009 as a result of increased demand for free legal services during the economic downturn. “Every October, legal organizations across the country participate in events to draw attention to the need for pro bono participation and to say thanks to those who give their time year-round. The celebration has grown from 600 events in 2009 to 1,631 in 2019,” according to the ABA.

For the blitz, which is spearheaded by the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program and the South Carolina Bar Association, Robinson said approximately 30 lawyers and students will be paired into teams and assist clients with questions posted to SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org. Typically, users will post around 150 legal questions related to civil matters. According to the event’s organizers, the teams will not take criminal law inquiries.

The veteran attorneys participating will also guide the students in drafting model responses to frequently asked questions that can be accessed by future inquirers. “There is a little law professor in every lawyer,” Robinson said. “And they kind of like those teaching moments with the students.”

The pro bono program at the University of South Carolina is the first its kind at a law school in the U.S., notes the institution. “We believe it's important to foster the ethic of professional obligation to provide service to the public, especially to those who cannot afford legal help. The Pro Bono Program works to connect knowledge to the real world, and for almost 30 years, South Carolina Law students have been actively involved in a variety of activities in service to the community. The range of opportunities is varied and ever changing,” reads information from the school.

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