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.