South Carolina lawyer Elizabeth “Beth” Palmer of Rosen|Hagood has made her mark in business and commercial litigation and employment law, and her commitment to public service recently earned her accolades from the ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and the South Carolina Bar, which named her a Young Lawyer of the Year for 2015. I recently had the opportunity to interview her about her public service efforts and what keeps her inspired.
Beth, what inspired you to get involved in public service projects?
I have always believed that, as attorneys, we each have something to contribute and that we have a duty to do so. However, it was not until I became involved with the ABA that I had the experience of working on a national public service project. It is challenging to balance it all, but the challenges have made me a better attorney and a better person. I am grateful to the ABA for giving me these opportunities and to my firm, Rosen|Hagood, for encouraging and supporting my public service efforts.
Tell our readers about your first national public service project.
The first project that I had any involvement with was American Voter, the YLD’s 2012–2013 initiative. It was presenting that project locally in South Carolina that made me aware of all the resources the ABA provides to attorneys interested in public service. The following year, I had the pleasure of serving as the ABA YLD’s public service co-coordinator for that year’s project: Bullyproof. Bullyproof, the idea of former YLD Chair Mario Sullivan, is an anti-bullying initiative that was very successful and, following the 2013–2014 bar year, was “adopted” by IRR [YLD’s Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee, which is now called the Civil Rights and Social Justice Committee]. It is still an active initiative and continues to be presented throughout the country.
How has your membership in the ABA had an impact on your public service initiatives?
I currently serve as the ABA YLD’s public service project coordinator, charged with overseeing the implementation of this year’s national public service project, World Wise Web: Protecting Our Youth from Internet Predators, which is designed to educate youth about safe online behavior. I am also again cochairing the South Carolina Bar YLD’s Public Service Committee. My membership in the ABA has largely impacted my view on public service initiatives. It has allowed me to see that there are many, many ways to get involved and make a difference, no matter what your background or practice area may be.
What public service project are you most proud of?
I previously served as the ABA YLD’s public service director, during which I helped create and implement Project Street Youth: Young Lawyers Advocating for Homeless Youth (PSY), which organizes legal clinics and supply drives for homeless and transitional youth. Through these efforts, this project has served over 150 youths and has engaged the services of 100 volunteer attorneys. This past August, the YLD’s work on this project was recognized at the ABA Annual Meeting and the YLD was awarded the Meritorious Service Award by the ABA Section Officers Conference. The growth of PSY caught the eye of the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, which has taken over the project.
What advice do you have for young lawyers looking to find public service opportunities?
The number of public service opportunities far outweighs the number of young lawyers willing to get involved, so finding “an” opportunity is not difficult. However, you need to find theopportunity or opportunities that are a good fit for you. If you are not invested and interested in something, it makes it much more difficult to find the time to do it and do it well. Start by figuring out what you have to offer and what interests you, and go from there.
What inspires you to stay involved?
Like many others, I find hands-on public service to be incredibly rewarding, but these days, I am very interested in the bigger picture of educating and inspiring others to get involved. To that end, in conjunction with PSY, I chaired two programs—(1) The Faces of Homeless and Transitional Youth: A Call to Action, May 2015 (Tampa, YLD Spring Meeting); and (2) Combating the Criminalization of Homelessness: The Role of Young Lawyers, July 2015 (Chicago, ABA Annual Meeting)—which were designed to motivate young lawyers to get involved by giving them a very real picture of what is going on but rarely seen in our everyday lives.
On a more personal note though, I continue to be amazed and impressed by the people that I meet while working on these projects. They are often in less than ideal places in their lives, but they are brave, they are determined, and they have hope, despite having been failed and cast aside by their families, guardians, and the system itself. One of the things that really caught my attention early on was the fact that the youth we have served are hungry for knowledge and are driven to better themselves. They want to be self-sufficient, and we need to do everything we can to help them.
Michelle Molinaro Burke is counsel at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C., in Morristown, New Jersey.
Note from the author: If you wish to find out more about the pro bono opportunities in your area, you can visit the ABA's National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.