Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2005

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"A Strong Tradition of Community Service"
By Lisa Muscara

When Meghan Macgill, a paralegal at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), receives a call from a client in need of legal assistance with a bankruptcy case on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, chances are she thinks first of J. Harrison Phillips, III, Esq. Phillips has volunteered for MVLS for almost 12 years, during which time he has taken 78 cases, most of them bankruptcies.

A lifelong resident of Ocean City, Phillips is very proud of his connection to the community which he has served throughout the years through his practice, the Law Office of J. Harrison Phillips, III, P.C. “I think as a professional, you have that obligation,” Phillips explains. “I think you have to give something back to the community.” And throughout the course of his 33-year legal career, he has thoroughly honored this obligation.

Phillips recalls his early years practicing law with the state’s attorney’s office, when he also maintained a partial practice through which he was able to provide some pro bono service. And Phillips’ pro bono efforts have satisfied more than what he considers his professional obligation – his practice has benefited from them, as well. “Some of the people that I’ve helped (pro bono) have come back to me with paid cases,” he notes. “You develop a reputation of being fair and nice, and they come back to you, and their families keep coming back. That’s a way to build a practice.”

Phillips’ commitment to community service and the legal profession has also led him to other volunteer activities. He has engaged in volunteer work as a criminal defense lawyer, and he serves on both the Governor’s Trial Court Judicial Nominating Commission and the Maryland State Bar Judicial Selections Committee. What’s more, in addition to these numerous pro bono activities and his private practice, Phillips also spent almost 15 years serving his community as a volunteer fire fighter.

Indeed, Phillips’ devotion to pro bono service would be hard to overlook, and his endeavors have not gone unrecognized. Phillips received an inquiry from a judge in a nearby jurisdiction in which he had been representing numerous pro bono clients in bankruptcy proceedings. Phillips was serving as counsel for so many clients that the judge called to find out why. After Phillips explained that he had taken these cases pro bono from MVLS, he received what he describes as a “beautiful letter” from the judge. “[The letter recognized that] a lot of the problem the court has with Chapter Sevens is people doing them pro se,” Phillips explains. “And so, if you volunteer to do them, you relieve the court of the problem, and it makes it a lot simpler for the court and the trustee’s office to dispose of the cases.” The letter – now framed and adorning his office wall – means a great deal to Phillips.

In 2001, MVLS recognized Phillips’ tremendous efforts by naming him their “Volunteer of the Year” – the first solo practitioner from the Eastern Shore to attain this honor. Macgill explains that when she calls on Phillips for help, he often asks for her to send him two or three cases at a time. “[His generosity] is amazing, and [he is] so helpful,” she remarks.

In addition to his work through MVLS, Phillips also has a long-established history of serving people in need that he encounters through his own practice. Calling himself as a “softie,” Phillips explains that, like many of his colleagues, if he encounters a person who needs legal assistance but cannot afford it, he will often adopt their case as a pro bono matter. Such is the case of one young woman whom Phillips is currently representing pro bono. “I just felt that she needed a lawyer, and [so I] helped her,” he says. “I’ve known this person for a number of years, knew her problems and understood, [so] I tried to help her.”

Phillips takes an admirable, matter-of-fact approach to pro bono. If he sees a need which he knows he can fill, he will take on the matter as though it were his own. He believes in giving something back to the community of which he is so proud to be a part. Indeed, each time J. Harrison Phillips extends a warm invitation to “come in and see a country lawyer’s office”, a strong tradition of community service proves to be alive and well in Ocean City, Maryland.

Lisa Muscara is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2005

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