Staying Prepared for Success Career Services and Pro Bono help students strengthen existing or gain new professional skills as summer opportunities dry up due to the pandemic.

Transitioning to online classes at the end of the semester was just the beginning of the challenges South Carolina Law students faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer jobs are an invaluable way for students to gain work experience, strengthen the practical skills they have learned during the school year, and build professional contacts. But with summer clerkships canceled or drastically scaled back, how would they take advantage of these important opportunities?

Enter the law school’s Career Services Office and Pro Bono Program. Both quickly stepped up to the plate with new initiatives and service projects that would allow students to not only network with alumni, but also have real-world opportunities that would better prepare them to find jobs upon graduation.

Elisabeth Beal, senior associate director of Career Services, and Elizabeth Crane '16, associate director, developed the “Foundations for Professional Success Summer Series.” The series is structured to promote the development of the critical competencies identified by the Foundations for Practice Study, conducted by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

The study asked 24,000 lawyers nationwide what they believed were the most important skills graduates would need to be successful beginning on their first day of practice.

“It was striking to see the agreement on core competencies by so many of these lawyers from such a wide range of practice areas and settings,” says Beal.

The program includes six interactive seminars between the student participants and a variety of alumni, faculty, and other members of the legal community. Each seminar focuses on a competency identified by the Foundations study, such as communication and technology skills, the business of law practice, relationship building, and more.

A variety of practical and career-building components are also required. Students must prepare a career development plan, in which they outline their career goals and identify potential employers. They are conducting six informational interviews with lawyers in their field of interest, to learn more about that career path and practice and seek their advice. Participants are also working on a research assignment created by an alumnus who will also provide feedback. Finally, participants must complete at least 10 hours of community service.

“We’re in a time when so many in our communities are in need, and this is a great way for students to build real skills while working on causes important to them,” says Beal.

The ultimate goal, Beal says, is for students to include this program on their resume as proof of their continued engagement in their professional development, even if their summer positions didn’t turn out the way they hoped.

“We believe this will give them lots to talk about with future employers and will demonstrate their commitment and drive to continue learning and improving,” says Beal.

Pamela Robinson '86, director of the Pro Bono Program, similarly recognized the great need to keep students’ skills fresh while also giving them a chance to make professional contacts and help the community. With slight modifications, Robinson realized that many existing programs could be converted to online opportunities.

The first project that came to mind was VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which prepares tax returns for low income taxpayers. In consultation with Ed Palekas, Midlands VITA Coordinator at Cooperative Ministries, Robinson quickly developed a safe plan for moving to a Virtual VITA system, involving a masked and gloved in-person intake, with the rest of the paperwork being done virtually. Since March 23, the student volunteers, along with members of the SC Bar Young Lawyers Division, have prepared almost 300 returns.

The Carolina Clerks: Pro Bono Clerks for Pro Bono Lawyers was another avenue to pair students with practitioners, and the SC Bar’s Law School for Non-Lawyer course material was ready for an update. The attorneys who authored the original material were willing to work with a team of students who are in the process of reviewing, researching and recommending updates.

Moving the Friday Blitz to a remote format was easy. Once a month a team of lawyers and law students meet by Web-Ex, using the chat feature to respond to questions posted by the public on the SC Bar’s Free Legal Answers forum, and reducing the backlog of questions to zero.

When Betsy Goodale '91, the SC Bar Pro Bono Program director, set up a COVID-19 Legal Hotline it quickly became apparent that students could be a valuable part of the recovery and response mechanism. Carefully drafted step by step instructions were a start and before long the students were handling requests like a pro. Meeting the present need was the initial task, but when a future disaster hits, a successful template is already in place.

Across the state, South Carolina Law alumni have been a terrific resource and are always willing to reach back and assist students in becoming the best lawyers they can be.

If this summer is any indication, more students than ever are going to want to be engaged in pro bono service and career development. With remote limitations still in effect, alumni are encouraged to contact the School of Law to learn how students can help, while also advancing their professional goals.

If you have accepted a pro bono case or have a project sitting on a back burner that seeks to improve access to justice, reach out to South Carolina Law. We will provide the doctrinal knowledge our students need to become a lawyer, but you can add great practical value to their education. Helping our students, helping you and helping our community.

For more information or to request assistance contact Travis Tester, interim senior director of development and alumni relations at ttester@law.sc.edu or 803-777-6618.


Created with images by Javier Reyes - "Javier getting ready for his big day." • Andrew Neel - "Woman working by a window"