By Rusty Infinger
It is my honor and privilege to serve as your 2023-24 SC Bar President and to thank you for allowing me and our entire Board of Governors the opportunity to serve our Bar. I am proud to be a South Carolina lawyer.
Who Am I?
Many of you may not know me. We all practice and work in different areas of being a lawyer and indeed, it is hard to know everyone. So here’s a little bit about me: I grew up in a small rural community in the Lowcountry called Rosinville – I like to say we were the bedroom community of St. George. The big city for us was Orangeburg. We were a close-knit community who cared about each other, much like the close-knit community I think we share as lawyers. Since then I have lived in Columbia and now Greenville. It continues to be my honor to live in our great state.
How did I start in Law?
My first law job was working as an intern before I went to law school. Attorney Jim Bell – one of three lawyers in St. George, allowed me to work in his office searching titles for a sewer project for the Town of Harleyville. I was absolutely overwhelmed with how Jim and his very capable staff cared deeply for their clients. I have not forgotten that commitment to service, and I am reminded of that daily as I interact with all of you.
How did I start at the Bar?
My entrée into Bar service story is like I bet most of you – someone asked me. I was a relatively young attorney at Nexsen Pruet and one of our partners, Wilburn Brewer, was in line to become president of the Bar. One of his initiatives was pro bono. Wilburn Brewer asked – ok told me – that I would be a member of the Large Firm Pro Bono Committee. That in turn lead to my service and later chairing the then Service to Indigents Committee and working on other Bar committees and sections. This shaped my commitment to Bar service and a passion for working for access to justice to all.
You are President – Now What?
As I was moving forward in leadership of the Bar I was often asked, “What will be your project during your Bar year?” A few things are wrong about this statement. First, it is not “my” project or “my” year. The Bar already is working on so many exciting and impactful projects in our profession and our communities that I certainly hope we will continue and strengthen.
As members of the Bar’s Executive Committee, each of us has pledged to maintain continuity as we lead the Bar over the coming years. I think a better question is what I hope the Bar’s focus will be in the coming year.
There are four areas that I hope as a Bar we will focus on in the coming years. As members you are perfectly suited to help us achieve our goals:
1. Diversity: It is not a topic – it is woven into everything
Our Bar is only as good as is members. We are better when we have a diversity of people, thoughts and ideas; the Bar’s strategic plan includes diversity in every part of the initiatives therein.
While we will be tweaking the plan, those revisions will seek to further strengthen our commitment to diversity on every level. Some of our efforts will include working with you, our law schools and other Bar committees to strengthen the pipeline of diverse students attending law school; working with your local bars to identify and encourage diverse candidates to become judges in every court in SC; and making Bar committees and committee/section chairs more diverse.
2. Pro Bono/Access to Justice
There is nothing more important in our service to the profession and our community than to ensure that all have equal access to our legal system. It has been my honor to serve on the Board of SC Legal Services for many years and to also to have been employed by SCLS.
This gave me a firsthand understanding of the lack of access many of our citizens in SC have and how unfortunately this determines their success/failure in moving through our judicial system.
Recently our Bar, along with the Access to Justice Commission, the Nelson Mullins Center for Professionalism and others launched the Civil Needs Assessment. Many of you were at the Supreme Court when the results of this study were published, and you will agree with me when I say the results were difficult to see. There is a tremendous justice gap in our state. This cannot stand.
As lawyers, we are the only ones who can resolve this dilemma. I submit to you that there is no project, event or initiative that is greater than this one. My hope is that we will take more of our efforts and direct more of our resources for this issue. Already we are reaching out to stakeholders to create a task force to immediately create an action plan. Our new At Large Board Member – Krystal Smith – a former Managing Attorney at SC Legal Services will be leading this effort and I am confident we will soon see results.
This is our problem. We must be the solution.
Even though it was many (actually many, many) years ago when I graduated law school, I remember how very proud I was to be a part of a profession. Unlike my friends and acquaintances, I did not walk away from my education as a businessperson, trades person or otherwise, I was part of a profession. At our law school graduation, they reminded us of this. I had great visions of working as a lawyer – indeed as a professional. The camaraderie of lawyers as opposed to, say, business owners was something I wanted to enjoy.
Unfortunately, we have seen our society become less civil with each other. This has also crept into our profession. Here are some statistics from the ABA:
- More than 85% of Americans believe that civility has sharply declined in our country.
- About 29% blame social media, while 24% hold the media responsible and 19% fault public officials. Only 8% and 7% blame the educational system and popular culture.
The great jurist Judge Clifton Newman spoke to the House of Delegates in May about civility. Let us heed his reminder of the importance of professionalism and civility as our call to action on this topic.
Again, this is our problem, we shall be a part of the solution.
4. Wellness – Mental Health/Physical Health
Being a lawyer is a great honor – remember we are professionals. However, being a lawyer is tough. Life is tough. We must be mindful of taking care of ourselves so that we can help the clients and communities that we serve – indeed the reason that we went to law school and are lawyers.
I’m asking for your help and commitment to caring for yourselves and for each other. The statistics regarding lawyer wellbeing are heart breaking. Over and over again we see our colleagues struggle with mental health issues.
We need to help. We must help. I say again – this is our problem. We must be a part of the solution.
What is the solution? I have no magic powder. I do, however, have you.
While our Bar can turn this tide and our Lawyers Helping Lawyers Commission and Wellness Committee can facilitate our efforts, you – we – are the solution.
Let’s be committed to this cause. Let’s be ready to do the hard work, change the rules, re direct the narrative, do whatever we need to do to turn the trend around.
We can. We must.
In closing, let me say the SC Bar is an incredible organization. You are a part of the reason I am able to say that. My call to action for you:
- Join Bar committees!
- Attend Bar functions. Your presence creates the electricity and enthusiasm to encourage other to serve and become involved.
- Encourage your friends and colleagues to become involved. Tell your story and the benefits of active involvement in our organization.
- And finally – care. Care for yourself. Care for one another. Care for your clients. Care for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Care about creating a diverse and robust organization.
Our future is bright and that is singularly because of you and the work you do each and every day. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your President.
Reach Rusty at email@example.com.