A message from the Dean

Dean Rob Wilcox

 

We are at the end of our sesquicentennial, a period of celebration that has reflected on the accomplishments of the last 150 years while keeping an eye on the many exciting opportunities that await us in the future. Not so coincidentally, the stories in this issue follow suit.

Before we close the door on this anniversary, we take one last look back at our history from the perspective of two groundbreaking individuals at the School of Law. Our cover story is a conversation between I.S. Leevy Johnson, the first African-American graduate since Reconstruction to have attended all three years of school here, and Chelsea Evans, the first African-American editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review. It was with some trepidation that Mr. Johnson decided to enroll in 1965, just one year after the school had desegregated. He spoke candidly with Ms. Evans about what it was like to be one of only three African-Americans at the school, and how things have — and have not — changed over the last 50 years.

So, what is on the horizon? In these pages, you’ll learn about one of our newest initiatives, our veterans clinic, under the command of Bennett Gore, a 2005 alumnus and U.S. Army veteran. When the clinic opens this summer, it will be unlike any of our other clinical courses, as it will operate year-round and indigent veterans will be able to contact the school directly to seek help with their legal issues.

We also spoke with John Few, Associate Justice for the Supreme Court of South Carolina and a 1988 alumnus, about a new website that is designed to make it easier for attorneys willing to do pro bono work to be paired up with South Carolinians in need of free legal services. It is a passion project for Justice Few — one that he hopes will drastically increase access to justice for those in need with help from all of you.

Finally, in addition to highlighting this year’s distinguished recipients of the 2018 Compleat Lawyer Award, we spotlight a recent grad and a student who are already making a name for themselves through their achievements and philanthropic endeavors.

There are so many good things happening at your School of Law — more than we could ever squeeze between these pages. If you don’t already, we invite you to visit our website often (law.sc.edu) to read the recent accomplishments of our faculty and students and learn about upcoming events that you can take part in. And if you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, I hope you will share our news, tag us in yours, and show your pride in being an alum of the University of South Carolina School of Law.

 

 

Summer 2018 Read & Repeat

Two School of Law alumni have received the distinguished Griffin Bell Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers. Andrew J. Savage III (’75) (pictured) will receive his award this fall. The first graduate to be so honored was Judy Clarke (’77) in 2016.

No other law school in the country has had more than one recipient.


 

 

Amount donated to the School of Law by 337 individuals on Giving Day, April 18, 2018.


The mock trial team tied for 13th in the country for 2016-2017, according to Fordham Law.


According to law.com, the class of 2017 was ranked 10th in the nation for graduates receiving state clerkships.


 

 

 

 

The School of Law’s new building won the Best Higher Education/Research Project in the Engineering News-Record Southeast’s annual awards competition. The building also received a LEED gold rating for its sustainability and environmentally friendly design.


 

 

 

Alumni and guests attended the 10 School of Law alumni events held on- and off-campus during 2017.

Building Bridges

Hazel A. Bridges always wanted to be like her grandmother, someone she considered a true public servant. Bridges says it was bittersweet to learn that she was selected to be a 2018 Dwight D. Eisenhower Graduate Fellow the same week as her grandmother’s death. Now, she says, she plans to use the opportunity to carry on her grandmother’s legacy.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Graduate Fellowship is awarded based on merit, and applications are evaluated by the Eisenhower National Selection Panel. The panel is composed of prominent national transportation professionals from academia and private and public sectors, who review, rate and rank each applicant. Bridges’ experience as a dual-degree student, seeking both a juris doctor and a master’s degree in public administration, placed her among the top tier of applicants. While her qualifications are impressive, it’s her passion and drive that stands out most.

“I have always been interested in economic and community development,” Bridges says. “Transportation, mobility, and infrastructure are crucial to any state’s economic vitality.”

Part of the application process required Bridges to propose a research topic and plan, to be completed during her tenure as a fellow. The plan she submitted stems from a policy paper she worked on during her summer 2017 clerkship at the Federal Highway Administration Office of Chief Counsel.

“My research will review transportation systems and public-private partnerships to recommend efficient collaborations for state systems,” Bridges says. “I hope my findings can provide insight as the General Assembly considers the 2018 South Carolina Multi-Modal Plan.”

The Bennettsville, South Carolina, native says the most exciting part of her fellowship has been attending the Transportation Research Board’s 97th Annual Meeting, which was held in January in Washington, D.C., and featured topics such as policy, administration, research, government regulation, industry innovations and academic developments.

“The meeting attracted more than 13,000 professionals from around the world and featured more than 5,000 presentations,” Bridges says. “It was such a great experience to meet professionals as well as other fellows from around the nation.”

Her fellowship drew attention from legislators back home in South Carolina. On Feb. 8, Bridges was surprised by an invitation to the house floor at the South Carolina House of Representatives, where she was recognized by motion by Rep. Merita A. Allison, chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, and commended for receiving the Dwight D. Eisenhower Graduate Transportation Fellowship.

It was an honor reminiscent of one her grandmother received years ago: the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s most prestigious civic awards. It’s a memory and model Bridges plans to carry with her.

“This fellowship has ignited even more my enthusiasm to continue my grandmother’s legacy by remaining engaged, going beyond the call of duty and using my abilities to better my community,” Bridges says.

Trailblazers

Law alumnus I.S. Leevy Johnson and 3L Chelsea Evans

In 1968, I.S. Leevy Johnson became the first African-American graduate since Reconstruction to complete all three years of law school at the University of South Carolina. Fifty years later, Chelsea Evans graduated after serving as the first African-American editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review. The two trailblazers recently sat down for a conversation about race and racism, the transcendence of success, and former Dean Robert Figg’s reaction to Johnson’s LSAT score.

Evans: Mr. Johnson, what made you want to go to law school and why did you choose to come to this law school?

Johnson: I did not have any intentions of attending law school. My ambition in high school was to be a mortician. I did attend mortuary science school at the University of Minnesota, but when I graduated from Benedict College in 1965, I wanted to enhance my skills as a business person. So I reflected and decided to go to law school. Because of proximity, I enrolled in the University of South Carolina because I wanted to stay home and be with my grandparents.

Evans: Proximity was definitely a factor for me, too, because I went here for undergrad. I love Columbia. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think there have been so many people, including people like yourself, that have just been so wonderful and have been willing to share their knowledge. I was just not ready to leave.

Johnson: Well, I had some reservations back in 1965 because the first African-American to attend the University of South Carolina law school was also a Benedict graduate. He enrolled in 1964. Unfortunately, he did not make it after the first year. But I overcame that reluctance, and I was very fortunate to attend the School of Law.

Evans: And we’re all better for it.

Johnson: You’re very kind. It was quite a journey. In 1960, I came to campus to take the SAT. There were about five or six of us, as I recall, and we came to the University of South Carolina National Guard Armory. We entered the double doors and one of the proctors sort of zig-zagged through the other white students and said, “you, you and you,” pointing to the African-Americans. He said, “It’s going to be crowded in here. Come with me.” He took us down to North Main Street where we had to take the exam. Five years after that, I came back on campus at the same national guard armory and I took the LSAT and they did not remove me. In a five-year period, there had been a transformation here at the University of South Carolina.

Judge Jasper Cureton, who arrived here also in 1965, transferred from South Carolina State because they were closing down the law school. The dean at that time was Robert Figg. He looked at Jasper’s LSAT score and reacted by saying, “DAMN” because Jasper’s LSAT score was so high. He had the same reaction to my LSAT score, but for different reason. Mine was so low, he said, “DAMN!”

Evans: Speaking of Jasper Cureton, how well did you know him and Johnny Lake? Did you all have a relationship, given that you were the only three African-American students here?

Johnson: I had a relationship with Jasper. My recollection is that we only took one class together my second year and his third year. Johnny Lake I had very little contact with because he was here for a short period of time. I didn’t see him much, but my relationship with Jasper is longstanding. We remain very close friends and we talk on a regular basis. He certainly has been a role model as a judge.

Evans: What was the overall environment like? Were the other students friendly to you all? Were the professors friendly?

Johnson: I didn’t know there was such a thing as a friendly professor. Do they exist?

Evans: [laughing] I think they do.

Johnson: Well, contrary to the stereotype of the expectation, I did not experience any discrimination except for on a couple of occasions. If there was racism, it was covert instead of overt. You need to understand that I had a distinguished class. Two of my classmates, Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones, became the chief justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court. One of my classmates, Bob Sheheen, became the Speaker of the House. Several of my classmates became circuit judges. One became a congress person. Patton Adams became mayor of Columbia. A lot of my classmates were veterans, so they had had some exposure to African-Americans.

And I give credit to my grandfather and my grandmother. I grew up in a culture where you had an obligation to be nice to people, and so while I was the only African-American in the class, after a while I developed lasting friendships. I also think that my classmates saw in me a serious student. It’s no exaggeration, I studied seven days a week, day and night. I didn’t want to flunk out and embarrass my grandparents so I worked hard, and I think that hard work impressed people. But I had such wonderful classmates. I give them the credit.

I just recall two instances where there were obvious instances of discrimination. Back in those days, they had two student organizations. One of the organizations did not admit people of color, and so that was overt discrimination. I also remember taking a domestic relations class where one of the issues was miscegenation, inter-racial marriage. The professor had a whole list of relationships that were prohibited, but one that was condoned was that a white male could marry a black female. When he said that, I leaned over to my desk mate and I said to him, “I’m not going to let you marry my sister.” Apparently, a lot of people heard and everybody started laughing. At the end of that school year, that same professor, who I know did not have feelings that were pro-integration, came up to me and said, “You are the best thing that ever happened to this law school.”

Evans: That’s a great compliment.

Johnson: It was, coming from him. What he meant by that was that I had successfully disabused some of the stereotypes, some of the myths and some of the misconceptions about African-Americans, and that my conduct and my performance at the law school had enhanced the race relationships at the law school.

Evans: I think that’s a great point because it gets at the heart of why diversity matters in the legal profession, in law schools and firms, and any education environment. It does have the power to break down barriers and build bridges.

Johnson: You are so right. That’s why I tell law students and younger lawyers that the practice of law is a combination of three things: what you know, who you know and who knows you. The most important of the three is what you know. The product that we sell is the knowledge of the law. We don’t sell cars, we don’t sell chairs, we don’t sell desks. We sell knowledge of the law. Who you know is also important because the practice of lawyers is based on relationships. Who knows you is very, very important.

The challenge in life is giving definition to your name, so when they hear your name, people will have positive thoughts. I used to tell people that you can tell that you have exceled as a trial lawyer by the whisper. When you walk down the hall, people say, “oh, that’s him, that’s him.”

Evans: Did you have many mentors once you started practicing?

Johnson: Oh, absolutely! That was the key. We were not competitors. I came out of the funeral business where the business was very competitive. Judge Perry, the late Lincoln C. Jenkins Jr., Hemphill Pride, Harold Boulware and Ernest Finney – all of them were mentors to me. They were of great assistance to me, in terms of giving me advice, because they were experienced and told me how to handle certain cases.

Evans: What advice would you give a soon-to-be graduate to help them be as successful as you have been?

Johnson: You’re very kind to say I’m successful. Let me say, if I’ve enjoyed any success, my success is nothing compared to your success. I am so proud of what you have achieved, becoming editor of the law review. Whatever I’ve done in my career as a lawyer is directly related to your success as editor-in-chief of the law review. I say that seriously, because they are not disconnected. There’s still an obligation in 2018 to disabuse the myth that African-American law students and African-American lawyers are inferior to their counterparts.

Evans: Well, thank you. That means a lot to hear that from you and to know that what I’ve been able to do here is important to you, because you are an inspiration to me. It really is amazing to be able to sit and talk with you and hear your perspective and your insight. I know that I speak on behalf of every other student here that we are grateful for not only what you did then, but also all the things you continue to do to help us, such as creating the I.S. Leevy Johnson Scholarship in 1997. Why did you decide to create it?

Johnson: Because law school is so expensive!

Evans: I can agree with that!

Johnson: It’s so expensive, and I wanted to enable some student who did not have the financial means but who had the skills. I consider it a real blessing that I’ve been able to make that contribution to this law school because I believe it’s an investment. I believe those students who receive that scholarship one day will graduate and pass the bar. That one day, their work, either directly or indirectly, will benefit me. It’s just like depositing money into an investment account. One day, I’m going to reap a benefit from it.


The conversation, conducted on April 5, 2018, has been edited for length and clarity.

Paying It Forward

“USC Law taught me everything about what it means to be a great lawyer,” says Alysja Carlisle. “I learned what it means to be a great professional, a true advocate and about the importance of giving back to the community that allows us to practice what we love.”

Carlisle, a 2015 alumna, was the first person in her family to go to college or attend a post-graduate professional program. She says the scholarship she received from the University of South Carolina School of Law enabled her to attend law school and was a deciding factor when choosing South Carolina Law.

Now a corporate and securities attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson’s Charlotte office, she has made a commitment to pay it forward – helping future law students like her who truly need the extra assistance to enable them to choose a career path that would otherwise be unobtainable.

In 2017, Carlisle and her husband, Jim, established the James J. and Alysja S. Carlisle Law Scholarship Fund to help recruit students to South Carolina Law. Alumni support is important now more than ever, given the competitive world of legal education. Financial contributions from alumni are a critical component to the School of Law’s continued success.

“We hope our gift helps the law school attract more bright and talented students, and that those students will feel assured that alumni remain invested and committed to helping them in their future careers,” Carlisle says.

Her financial contribution isn’t the only way Carlisle gives back to the law school. She frequently communicates with prospective students at Winthrop University, her undergraduate alma mater, or current law students looking to get into corporate law. She does it because she wants to help future students the same way the law school helped shape who she is today.

“I am truly grateful for everything I learned during my time at USC Law, and continue to appreciate the countless hours invested by their phenomenal faculty in helping me determine my path during and after law school,” she says.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Supreme Court Justice John Few launches new website to match attorneys with South Carolinians seeking pro bono services.

If you were to ask South Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice John Cannon Few where he was struck with the inspiration for his latest project, the answer might surprise you — speed dating.

The 1988 alumnus and adjunct professor at the School of Law was attending the annual Liberty Fellows collaborative conference at the Aspen Institute in the summer of 2015, when he walked into a speed dating-style event. But instead of dating for a partner, this exercise encouraged the participants to share their “big idea” with a total stranger in under a minute. And then, wait for feedback.

“I walked in and thought ‘uh oh, I better come up with something,’” Few says. “I kept coming back to this idea that lawyers crave the opportunity to help people, and the inescapable truth that plenty of people in our community need help. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll explore a way to scale up the opportunity that lawyers have to represent people who qualify for free legal services.’”

But the feedback from each of his “dates” was the same – get technology involved and automate the process. For the next two years, that’s exactly what he did.

After receiving a grant from the South Carolina Bar Foundation and teaming up with a software firm, Few created the SC Access to Justice pro bono website, a portal that matches attorneys with clients who qualify for free legal services.

“One of the challenges with pro bono work is the difficulty of matching people up,” Few says. “If it’s done manually, someone has to pick up the phone. There’s usually multiple back and forth between the facilitator and the attorney, all the while the client is sitting there waiting for help.”

Few’s solution eliminates the middle man that slows down the process. On the website, attorneys willing to take pro bono cases register and take a few easy steps to select their desired caseload, practice areas and geographic locations. Their preferences filter through a pool of cases input by South Carolina Legal Services and are paired with the best fit. Attorneys can then review the details and choose whether to take the case.

“The whole idea behind this, technology-wise, is that we can create a digital marketplace in which lawyers who want to help can be matched up with people who need help,” Few says.

He encourages all members of the South Carolina Bar to accept pro bono cases.

“It’s the right thing to do. I try to think about it in terms of how I can help someone live their life more fully. The cases that we take on can give the clients the freedom to do that, while empowering the attorneys with a sense of pride knowing they have helped,” he says.

Currently, the site only filters existing South Carolina Legal Services cases, but Few hopes in the future his website will become a tool used in shelters, rehabilitation centers or hospitals — as an intake system for new cases and an added resource for eligible clients. While the site is currently administered from Greenville, South Carolina, Few’s goal is to appoint personnel throughout the state to provide local support for lawyers and clients.

The site is a passion project for Few, aligning with the goals and expectations he’s always had of himself as an attorney. These are the same expectations he humbly instills in his students. He says he teaches the fundamentals of what it means to be a lawyer and a servant to the community.

“Justice isn’t in a decision, or in a courtroom. It’s bigger than that. It’s what this whole profession is about — giving back,” Few says.

Q & A with Bennett Gore

Clyde “Bennett” Gore, Jr., Clinical Instructor, Veterans Legal Clinic, University of South Carolina School of Law

In December 2016, the Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough Center on Professionalism at South Carolina Law hosted a national symposium on veteran access to justice. Dean Rob Wilcox heard about the dire need of veterans across the country, and he knew there had to be a way that the law school could help out on a local level. Fast forward 18 months and the new veterans legal clinic is set to open its doors, thanks in part to funding from the South Carolina Bar Foundation and the Boeing Company. U.S. Army Veteran and 2005 alumnus Clyde “Bennett” Gore Jr. was hired in February 2018 to lead the new clinic, which begins taking clients on July 2.
Tell us about your military career. When did you join, and why did you feel the call?

I officially joined the Army when I was a sophomore at Wofford College back in 1999, after taking several military science classes my freshman year. However, 9/11 occurred during my senior year, and it only galvanized me in my decision to join the military. I wanted to be able to contribute. Both my grandfathers served during World War II. Additionally, my father and uncle had both served during the Vietnam era.

After graduation, I was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant. I was accepted into the Educational Delay program, which allowed me to pursue a law degree and become an officer in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

I entered active duty as a JAG officer in January 2006. I stayed on active duty through August 2014 and was assigned to a wide variety of places including Fort Bliss, Texas; White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico; and Fort Polk, Louisiana (my wife’s personal favorite). I also was deployed to Iraq for one year (July 2010 – July 2011).

Are you still active in the military?

I am still in the military and enjoying the opportunity to serve our state. When I left active duty, I joined the South Carolina Army National Guard and was assigned as the Command Judge Advocate for 59th Troop Command. In layman’s terms, I am the lead attorney for 59th Troop Command. Our legal team there consists of two other attorneys and four paralegals. We handle all legal issues for the command in that unit, which includes all criminal law, administrative law, ethics and operational law issues that arise.

Tell us about the new Legal Veterans Clinic.

There is an ever-increasing need for such clinics due to continued ongoing global conflicts where our service members are deployed to. When they return home, they have very unique legal issues related to their service.

Through our efforts we hope to stabilize veterans and the communities they live in by resolving their legal issues, so they can continue to have positive impacts on their communities. Bottom line: These individuals volunteered to serve our nation and through their service, have come home with unique issues. They deserve our assistance with resolving those unique issues.

What types of cases will the clinic handle?

We are going to be taking cases that revolve around issues affecting their ability to obtain and retain employment. We anticipate they will involve housing issues and homelessness; debt and consumer protection issues; and domestic issues that affect both the client and others in the home.

How do veterans start the process of seeing if their legal problem is one that can be solved by the clinic?

They can start by calling 803-777-2278 and speaking with someone from our Veterans Legal Clinic team. We will take some basic information and run them through our screening process, after which we will be able to identify if we can represent them or not.

Can other South Carolina lawyers get involved with the clinic?

Yes! We are going to be hiring private practice attorneys to act as adjunct professors in the clinic. While we’ll start taking clients over the summer, we will begin teaching the clinic in the fall. It will be offered as a 6-hour clinical course in both the fall and spring semesters. Any lawyers who may be interested in helping should be on the lookout for more information.

What has been the most challenging part of setting up the clinic?

I would say the most challenging part of the clinic, and the most fun (in my opinion) has been performing the community outreach and making sure the Veterans know that we are here and that they have the information needed to access our resources. That, truly is what it is about — getting out in the community and engaging with these Veterans on a one-on-one basis.

When you’re not busy getting the clinic set up, how do you like to relax and unwind?

I enjoy spending time with my wife and our daughter. In particular, one our favorite rituals is eating breakfast at Lizard’s Thicket on Saturday mornings. Other than that, I am an avid sports fan, enjoy reading (history and politics), fishing, and being an active member of our church, Trenholm Road United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC.