USC’s law school is using a $500,000 donation to buy a bus that will allow them to take its services to rural areas of South Carolina. The bus will be named Palmetto LEADER after a Richland County African-American newspaper from the 1960s.
Pamela Robinson, the law school's pro bono program director, said the editor of the newspaper was a lawyer who dealt with injustices, making the name even more meaningful. Robinson proposed the idea for a mobile bus that could travel to regions where pro bono services aren't readily available.
She said most people in these areas do not have access to the internet, so the mobile office would be a huge benefit to communities and law students.
“It kind of came up as keeping an idea on a sticky note under my keyboard, and when they asked for ideas, this is one of several that I had, and this one seemed to be the most attractive to the donor and to the dean,” Robinson said.
The bus will be a mobile office able to transport 10 people who are ready to work with potential clients. The spacious bus is 43-feet long and will have Wi-Fi, a kitchenette and a restroom readily available.
With the Palmetto LEADER, law students will be able to gain experience with law in small towns, create connections with clients and network with other law students in small towns, Robinson said.
“My primary goal was to get students away from this thinking that you only have to practice in a firm in a big city, and that you can have a really good quality of life in a more rural area, and we know it doesn't have to be far," Robinson said.
Robinson said the bus would not have been possible without James Konduros, the donor of the project's funds.
USC law professor Robert Bockman said Konduros has funded three other programs for the law school but also wanted to provide them with mobile legal services.
“He is interested in supporting programs that will help other people, particularly people who don't have the opportunity to have legal services,” Bockman said.
Robinson plans to start off slow with the program but said along with legal services, the bus will aid in anything from organizing documents to providing advice for domestic abuse victims.
Though USC law students will be working on the bus, full-time lawyers will also have the opportunity to serve on this bus as a part of their pro bono hours.
Robinson said the mobile law office is unique to USC. Law school Dean Rob Wilcox said the bus will emphasize the importance of legal services being available to people.
“Just seeing that bus driving down the interstate, you know, saying that we are going out to help people, is good for the profession," Wilcox said. "I think it will give people a little bit better understanding of the good things lawyers do."
The bus is being constructed in Ohio and will be ready for use in March.
“People have confidence in students — they trust students — so I think it will connect with communities in a way that maybe some other programs over the years have not,” Wilcox said.