Posted in: Lawyers › None, Pro Bono
“Now is not the time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” – Ernest Hemingway
Improving the lives of our neighbors through pro bono work doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming.
In fact, the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program makes it easy for you to further access to justice with non-committal volunteer opportunities like SC Free Legal Answers, a virtual platform where members of the public post questions online and volunteer attorneys answer questions at their convenience, on their time, from wherever they are. Answering just one question means that you have positively impacted someone’s life.
Take it from Tara E. Nauful – Of Counsel at Beal, LLC and champion of pro bono. Nauful is a regular volunteer for SC Free Legal Answers and helps with the SC Bar’s COVID-19 Pro Bono Hotline, focusing on bankruptcy and landlord/tenant questions. In honor of Celebrate Pro Bono month, she took time out of her schedule to offer words of encouragement for lawyers who are new to pro bono and answer some questions about her volunteer experiences.
- In what ways are you involved with the SC Bar?
I am volunteer for SC Free Legal Answers, where I answer questions posted by clients online. I have also taught/am teaching a few virtual classes as part of the Bar’s Law School for Non-Lawyers series, which is offered at various technical colleges around the state. This year I have also taught a couple of virtual legal clinics put on by the Bar in conjunction with the Charleston County Library. I am a COVID hotline volunteer – when someone contacts the Bar and needs help with a bankruptcy or landlord/tenant issue, I will speak to them. I also serve on a couple of bar committees.
- How long have you been giving back to the community through pro bono work and when did you know it was meant for you?
I have done pro bono work in one form or another since my first semester of law school, when I trained for and became a volunteer guardian ad litem for what was then the Richland County GAL Project. Although there have been years when I did less pro bono work than others, I have always done some type of pro bono or law related volunteer work. I don’t know if it was ever really a conscious decision on my part – it is just something that I have always done.
- What inspires or motivates you?
Earlier this year, at the urging of several of friends, I signed for an all-women’s sprint triatholon put on by group She Tris (www.shetris.com). Given the fact that I hate to run, I’m afraid of drowning, and I’m afraid of being on a bike on a road with cars, it really was a ridiculous thing for me to sign up for. I have known and worked with many amazing women, but I have never known or been part of such a diverse, supportive, and inspiring group of women as those I have met through She Tris, and the affiliated training group Tri It for Life.
- Why do you feel pro bono volunteerism is important? What motivates you to pursue these opportunities?
As lawyers, we have specialized knowledge and skills that most people do not have. And, although there are a lot of lawyers out there, the average individual does not have easy access to legal assistance, particularly in civil cases. I have found that oftentimes, people don’t need a ton of help – they just need some guidance and someone to de-mystify the legal process for them. I have things to do, and I like to make money as much as the next person, but I can afford to take 10 to 15 minutes out of my day to help someone with a legal issue that is causing them stress and anxiety.
- What advice do you have for other attorneys interested in pursuing pro bono?
Even if your daily practice is in a field that does not easily lend itself to pro bono work, there are still ways you can help. There are resources out there to help you (including other members of the Bar). Don’t be afraid. Try it. Start small: sign up for SC Free Legal Answers and answer one question. Then enjoy the knowledge that you have helped one single person with one issue, and in doing so, made a meaningful difference in their lives.
- How do you balance your voluntary commitment to pro bono work with your practice as a whole and your life outside of the professional realm?
It took me a long time to learn how to do this. Early in my career I was very prone to pro bono burnout – I would give and give and give until I had nothing left and have to step back. I’d rest up and jump back in again.
Then, a friend pointed out to me that volunteerism should not be a one-way street – it’s not about the volunteer acting as host and the recipient acting as parasite. Effective volunteerism is a two-way street: if you get nothing out of the act of volunteering, then you shouldn’t do it, or you should change the way you are volunteering. When I started approaching pro bono this way, not only did I become less prone to burn out, I actually started enjoying it.
I have also become more selective about the type of pro bono work I do. Early on in my pro bono career, I spent most of my time in the trenches of family court and only used my “real job” skills for paying clients. Now, I no longer appear in family court, and almost exclusively provide pro bono service via SC Free Legal Answers to people who have bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, or other consumer issues. What I love about SC Free Legal Answers is that I am able to help so many more people in a shorter amount of time, and it does not interfere with my practice or my personal life.
- Which activity do you look forward to the most at the end of the day/week?
At the risk of sounding a bit sappy and silly, I’m pretty fond of my husband, and I enjoy spending time with him. I like to cook and bake; I enjoy reading, especially old detective stories, and I love working out, particularly in the gym or cycling (I’ve gotten over my fear of traffic). But I still hate to run.
The American Bar Association has recognized the last full week in October as National Celebrate Pro Bono Week since 2009, and Gov. Henry McMaster made the week official in this proclamation. The South Carolina Bar interviewed several outstanding pro bono volunteers to showcase their good work and to encourage others to consider the impact of pro bono. Be on the lookout for more member interviews throughout October.