Volunteer Pro Bono Opportunities
Each year, the District of South Carolina receives filings from pro se litigants, including a large number filed by prison inmates. Statistically, many of these cases are dismissed on summary judgment, but occasionally, some survive summary judgment and are tried by jury. For those cases that go to trial, it is sometimes helpful to have an attorney represent the pro se plaintiff at trial. In the past, some large law firms in South Carolina have volunteered their attorneys to participate in such trials, pro bono, in order to gain jury trial experience.
The district judges would like to offer all attorneys who practice in federal court the opportunity to participate in this pro bono activity. A volunteer attorney would be appointed only after summary judgment is denied and the case is set for trial. At that point, the volunteer attorney takes over the case to prepare for and conduct the trial. In other words, in most cases, there is no discovery to be taken; all that is required is participation at a pretrial conference, jury selection, and trial. Most judges, upon request, relieve the trial attorney from any obligation to continue in the case if an appeal is taken.
Our district has a fund consisting of monies paid by attorneys seeking pro hac vice admission. The court has approved use of this fund to reimburse out-of-pocket costs of attorneys who participate in this pro bono program. This money may not be used to pay attorney’s fees. There is, of course, the possibility that if the plaintiff prevails, a motion for attorney’s fees might be available under several fee-shifting statutes. For the most part, however, pro bono attorneys should expect to recover their actual costs only, and not attorney’s fees. Actual costs include witness expenses, subpoenas, mileage, and the like.
If you or any lawyers in your firm are interested in having your name(s) added to the list of attorneys for possible volunteer pro bono work, kindly complete this Pro Bono Application Form and return it either by mail or facsimile.
Please record any restrictions on your involvement, such as willingness to become involved in cases of short duration only, within a certain division, before a certain judge, or in a limited number of cases (for example, one every two years). Placing your name on the list does not automatically commit you to accepting the potential appointment, as the presiding judge will consult with you before making the appointment. You may update this form as your circumstances change, or you may remove your name from the list at any time by completing an updated form and indicating your desired changes in the “other comments” field.
Lawyers seeking reimbursement for pro bono expenses are required to use the Pro Bono Expenses Worksheet. This form must be completed and the original mailed to the court using the following address:
The South Carolina Bar has indicated that lawyers participating in this program will receive credit for pro bono service if the appropriate form (Pro Bono Intake Form) is completed and will be covered by the Bar’s professional malpractice insurance for pro bono activity. Please note the malpractice coverage is secondary to any coverage you may already have.
If you have any questions, please contact Dianne Hillman, Judge Wooten's Judicial Assistant, at 803.765.5067.