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The United Way of the Midlands Recognizes
George Cauthen with Live United Award

April 17, 2014
George B. Cauthen

To download a high-resolution photo of Mr. Cauthen, click here.

The United Way of the Midlands has recognized Columbia partner George Cauthen with a Live United Award for his service to the organization. His nomination, submitted by United Way of the Midlands President and CEO Mac Bennett, follows:

George Cauthen has a passion for service to others, and his many honors and awards are a testament to that. Some of those honors include:

  • South Carolina Order of the Palmetto
  • Sertoma Club Service to Mankind
  • American Bar Association Grassroots Advocacy Award
  • South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year
  • National Legal Aid and Defenders Association Arthur von Briesen Award
  • South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center Advocate of the Year
  • USC School of Law Compleat Lawyer Award 

What all these awards have in common is that they recognize not only George's legal mind (which is immense) but his volunteer service to others - sharing his knowledge for the benefit of those who cannot afford legal representation. The United Way of the Midlands is fortunate to be one of the beneficiaries of George's legal services.

"At many times in our lives, we have made a pledge to our flag, and closed that pledge with the phrase, '...and justice for all.' Ensuring that all people have access to the courts is crucial to that pledge, and for many of our population, it is a hollow phrase," George said in describing his pro bono legal work.

"For if one of us does not have access to the courts, then we do not have justice for all in this country," George concluded.

George was raised with a strong notion of public service from his mother who taught free swimming lessons in his hometown and her insistence that her son would do the same. At age 11, George began volunteering with the Red Cross, just like his mom. Throughout college he worked with the Alston Wilkes Society and while in law school, began offering his services through USC-sponsored legal clinics at the state's prisons.

While serving as Chief Administrative Officer for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in South Carolina, George discovered a broken system. He witnessed cases that he said "would tear your heart out, and they were getting it all wrong.I knew they'd never make it out."

So George contacted his bankruptcy colleagues and asked them to represent individuals on a pro bono basis. No one ever said no to George. Through his efforts, South Carolina now has one of the nation's premier pro bono bankruptcy programs. South Carolina's Chief Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court John Waites said about George, "He's probably the most pre-eminent  advocate of pro bono services in our state. He's had a profound impact." 

When he left the Bankruptcy Court, George joined the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and expected he'd be practicing bankruptcy law. But he quickly discovered that Nelson Mullins wanted him to develop the firm's pro bono practice. In that effort,George reached out to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, offering his firm's assistance to custodial parents who could not collect child support from dead beat parents. He became the right advocate for so many parents who felt the system had failed them. George said his payment from these clients came in the form of "hugs. I don't think I ever got a hug from a corporate lawyer," he joked. 

One of George's special pro bono cases was helping the United Way of the Midlands by creating the legal framework for Community Health Partners which provides free medical and dental care to low-income people in the UWM's service area. Community Health Partners was formed when the Family Service Center declared bankruptcy. George spent many hours guiding the United Way through this process, establishing Community Health Partners as a limited liability company and ensuring that all the legal processes were complete. If the UWM had paid for these services, it could have easily cost thousands of dollars – dollars that could best be used to provide services in our community. George didn't hesitate to help and never once asked for anything in return. 

Today, George still devotes a considerable amount of his time to pro bono work as a partner at Nelson Mullins and mentors young lawyers, especially in the value of public service. 

In an article for the South Carolina Bar newsletter, George explained that even though he has a challenging career, it is the pro bono cases that he remembers most when looking back on his career. It's the cases where he really got to help someone truly in need that makes him feel good about being a lawyer, he said.

"At the end of the day, the result is satisfaction in knowing that you have helped someone fix a problem and, hopefully, made a positive difference in his or her life." And according to George, "That is the reason for pro bono work."