Magazine series aims to increase visibility of study of access to justice in S.C.

In 2021, the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission launched a comprehensive assessment of the civil legal needs landscape in South Carolina. It was the first such study ever.

Few would be surprised to learn that there are access issues in our state. But this effort sought details that would make it easier and more practical to address the needs. It set out to learn about the specific legal needs of citizens of low and moderate incomes, to identify resources available to meet them, and to find ways to match resources to the need.

Recently, Executive Director Olivia Jones of the SC Bar Foundation was talking about the study with Hannah Honeycutt, executive director of the commission.

“We wondered, how are lawyers accessing this?” said Jones. “There’s been a lot of buzz” since the study came out, but were enough of the people who could address the problem seeing the study and absorbing its findings?

The two women decided to ask for space in SC Lawyer magazine to raise the study’s visibility. The editors of the Bar publication were generous, which led to a series of columns by Honeycutt and Jones addressing key findings of the study. The first two installments ran in the January and March editions.

Here’s a link to the first, and here’s the second.

Those articles address the first two of a dozen key takeaways set out by the study:

I.       There are too many people in need of civil legal services and not enough services to go around.

II.      It really makes a difference when you have a lawyer.

III.     Housing and family law are the areas of greatest need for legal services, with debt collection, access to public benefits, immigration, and domestic violence also identified as areas of need.

IV.      Lives in crisis present big challenges for legal services providers.

V.       Concern about cost is the biggest reason that people do not seek legal help, but there are  other reasons.

VI.     Legal service agencies are looking for more ways to reach out to communities in need.

VII.    South Carolina attorneys do not contribute enough pro bono services.

VIII.   Reforms that would expand the roles of paralegals and other nonlawyers haven't gained consensus among lawyers.

IX.     Where you live affects access to legal services.

X.      The caseload of South Carolina civil courts is heavy, and concentrated in counties with lower incomes, more unemployment, and higher proportions of black residents.

XI.     By quantitative and qualitative measures, legal services resources are well spent.

XII.    Support for expanded legal services is widespread in South Carolina.

The idea behind the series is to encourage attorneys who have not thoroughly absorbed the study’s findings to take a closer look.

“I’m hoping that it will help us direct our resources better,” said Jones. Among other things, it could help the Foundation determine how to best direct grants going forward.

Susan Dunn receives DuRant Award from SC Bar Foundation

Susan Dunn, longtime legal director of ACLU of South Carolina, is the 2024 DuRant Distinguished Public Service Award recipient for meritorious service to the law and community.

The South Carolina Bar Foundation announced the honor at the recent annual Bar Convention in Charleston.

“Ms. Dunn has had a long and distinguished career as a practicing lawyer, and I could spend all afternoon listing her accomplishments and honors,” said Foundation Board President John K. DeLoache. He went on to cite the praise in her commendation packet, including this passage: “She is brilliant, tenacious, and effective. She’s also a wonderful mentor. She always makes time for a call, and she freely shares her knowledge of the court system and her advice. Despite all of her work, Susan remains one of our community’s unsung heroes.”

The DuRant Distinguished Public Service Award was established in 1980 in memory of Charlton DuRant, a Manning attorney who served as state senator and special associate justice of the S.C. Supreme Court. This award is one of the most prestigious statewide honors that members of the Bar can bestow on a fellow attorney. Recipients are nominated by their professional peers and selected by the South Carolina Bar Foundation Board.

“Charlton DuRant was, without a doubt, a lawyer’s lawyer,” said Dunn in accepting the award. “He shared his talents with Manning, his hometown, and with the entire state. I am honored to receive this award, which carries on his legacy. And I am humbled to be added to the list of elite attorneys who have been chosen by the SC Bar Foundation for this award.”

Susan Dunn retired in 2021 after 12 years as legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina and more than 40 years as a civil rights lawyer in South Carolina.

Before joining the ACLU, she worked in private practice in Charleston. She was the 1998 recipient of the Jean Galloway Bissell Award, presented annually by the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association.

“Thanks to Susan, the ACLU of South Carolina has been at the forefront of the most important civil liberties fights of our time,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, upon her retirement. “Susan has made South Carolina a more just and equitable place for all.”

Sydney Gardner joins SC Bar Foundation as director of finance & development

The South Carolina Bar Foundation is pleased to welcome Sydney Gardner as its new director of finance & development.

It’s a new position at the Foundation, combining responsibility for both raising funds and managing them, according to Executive Director Olivia S. Jones.

“I’m excited about this dual role,” she said. “The most important thing that we do is manage funds and award grants to organizations making a difference in the lives of South Carolinians.” Both that and development are “very critical to our purpose and our mission.”

Gardner, who started with the foundation on Feb. 1, grew up in South Carolina, and graduated from Presbyterian College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in history in 2017. In 2021, she earned a master’s degree in public service and administration, graduating summa cum laude from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

She has worked since 2021 with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, rising through the ranks to serve as both event manager and office manager. Before graduating from the Bush School, she was a summer volunteer recruitment and training intern with Richland County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

“We’re really fortunate that we found her, because she has the background in finance, in addition to development, and has worked at nonprofits,” said Jones. “We want everyone to know what the Foundation is, and why it matters for people who are marginalized, forgotten – people who are outsiders. Sydney is the right person to help us make that happen.”