Celebrating 15 Years of Pro Bono
~PBRC hosts gala event honoring volunteers~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
For the last 15 years,
volunteer attorney pro bono service in Maryland has been strengthened by the
efforts of the Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC), the pro bono arm of MSBA. This
unique, statewide legal services support and resource center has referred
20,000+ volunteer attorneys to pro bono provider groups, who in turn link them
to thousands of indigent clients in need of their services. Now, as PBRC
celebrates its 15th anniversary,
it is honoring the attorneys who have made it happen: the volunteers who embody
the true spirit of pro bono service by giving their time and legal talent to
help the poor.
PBRC has come a long way
in 15 years. What began as an attorney volunteer clearinghouse and recruiting
organization in 1990 has grown into a comprehensive legal support network and
resource center. Through its core activities, special projects, policy
development, systemic initiatives and special pro bono work in conjunction with
Maryland’s Judiciary, PBRC has enhanced volunteer attorney pro bono service in
the state. Along the way, it has created public awareness about the need for
indigent civil legal services in Maryland, developed a strong presence for
volunteer pro bono and generated national visibility for Maryland attorneys.
In the broader sense,
PBRC has promoted equal access to justice by coordinating and supporting
volunteer civil legal services and providing resources and support for legal
advocates for the poor. It has fostered goodwill in the legal services
community, trained and supported attorney volunteers and promoted pro bono
opportunities within the Bar. PBRC has pursued systemic change to improve the
delivery of legal services, catered to the civil legal needs of the indigent and
encouraged lawyers to give back to their communities.
On October 15, 2005,
PBRC is celebrating all of its accomplishments at a special 15th anniversary
Gala from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at Baltimore’s brand-new Reginald F. Lewis
Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. One of the highlights of
Celebrating 15 Years of Service to the Legal Profession and the Community
is a special tribute to the “Star Pro Bono Honorees.” Every living MSBA
President has designated a special pro bono volunteer attorney and/or judge who
emulates the spirit of pro bono, and these attorneys and judges will be honored
during the gala event. As PBRC celebrates 15 years, it commemorates its
milestones and thanks all of its valued volunteers.
When the Maryland Legal
Services Corporation (MLSC) conducted a comprehensive legal-needs assessment in
1988, it found that only 20 percent of the legal needs of Maryland’s poor were
being met. MLSC’s Action Plan for Legal Services to Maryland’s Poor
revealed over one million low-income Marylanders did not have access to legal
services. To address this crisis, MSBA, working with Maryland’s Bench, initiated
an all out effort to enhance volunteer pro bono service among all members of
In 1989, MSBA President
Herbert S. Garten launched the renowned “People’s Pro Bono Campaign” to recruit
volunteer attorneys for pro bono service. Amidst PR fanfare, television and
radio coverage and special events, the thrust of the campaign was a letter from
Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals appealing to all 20,000
licensed attorneys in Maryland to volunteer for pro bono service. Attorneys were
asked to complete a court survey form so they could sign up as volunteers.
The campaign was a
success, as more than 9,200 attorneys volunteered for pro bono service. In 1990,
MSBA created a new pro bono arm, then called the People’s Pro Bono Action Center
(PPBAC) to serve as Maryland’s first statewide pro bono coordinator and hired
Sharon E. Goldsmith as the Center’s Executive Director. PPBAC’s first task was
processing and integrating this cadre of volunteer attorneys into Maryland’s pro
bono delivery system.
functioned as a volunteer attorney clearinghouse linking the thousands of
attorneys who volunteered with legal services providers in need of their
services. In turn, these organizations referred the volunteer attorneys to
indigent clients with civil legal problems. In addition, it trained attorney
volunteers, promoted pro bono opportunities and raised awareness about attorney
volunteerism in Maryland.
Strides in 15 Years
Over time, PPBAC evolved
into a comprehensive resource offering an array of support services to lawyers
and the legal services community. In 1998, PPBAC changed its name to the Pro
Bono Resource Center, reflecting its expanded role in Maryland’s legal services
system. Today, the Center continues its core mission of recruiting volunteer
attorneys and referring them to legal services providers.
PBRC has made great
strides in the last 15 years. Goldsmith and PBRC’s dedicated volunteer
leadership have worked hard to establish a presence for the Center and generate
awareness about pro bono in Maryland. Developing a culture of pro bono service
has been a priority, as it has recruited, trained and placed attorney
volunteers, created pro bono opportunities for them and tackled systemic issues.
PBRC has always responded to the needs of volunteer lawyers and the legal
PBRC is now well-known
for its outstanding array of attorney pro bono educational and training programs
and its repertoire of unique pro bono opportunities. It caters to volunteers,
offering free and discounted education programs in partnership with MICPEL, free
or discounted court reporting services and consultation panels in selected
areas. PBRC also provides training seminars and specific pro bono opportunities
on its Email List and publishes its valuable, comprehensive Guide to Legal
Services in Maryland.
In recent years, PBRC
has greatly expanded its menu of pro bono options, catering to the interests and
experiences of the individual attorneys.
Many of these go far
beyond the traditional attorney/client relationship, offering attorneys new ways
to volunteer. As examples, attorneys may go to homeless shelters and engage in
counseling on Social Security, housing and employment; they can volunteer for a
hotline, helping callers with crisis-intervention; they may take impact cases,
tackling class-action causes and systemic work; or they may go to clinics like
the Tax Clinic, helping low-income people with tax and transitional work.
PBRC is also recognized
for its advances in legal service strategic planning, policy development and the
pursuit of systemic change. In 1998, PBRC staffed the newly created Maryland
Judicial Commission on Pro Bono, helping it conduct a two-year probe of pro bono
in Maryland. Its final report resulted in rule revisions to Rule 6.1 of
Maryland’s Rules of Professional Conduct in 1992 as well as several new rules
impacting the development and tracking of pro bono service.
These new rules created
a Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service and local pro bono
committees in each county, which PBRC staffs. The rules additionally mandated
annual attorney pro bono reporting, which also involves the Center. PBRC staff
resources now support this major Court initiative.
Today, PBRC offers full
staff support to the Court’s Standing Committee and travels around the state
visiting sites, providing technical assistance and supporting all of the local
pro bono committees and volunteers to help outreach efforts. PBRC has
facilitated local needs assessments, helped start-up clinics and even produced
the Maryland Lawyers Care brochure, a tailored directory of legal
services available in each local county.
“Local bar leaders and
legal service providers are taking ownership in their areas and are getting a
good handle on pro bono service,” states Goldsmith, who also reports that
attorney pro bono reporting is going very well. “We are thrilled with how much
volunteer pro bono service Maryland lawyers are engaging in.” Today, Maryland is
one of the leading states in the nation in the promotion of a pro bono culture.
Over the years, PBRC has
given its network of providers much more than volunteers. When the Women’s Law
Center wanted to get its Family Law Hotline up and running, PBRC was there to
help. When the hospice emergency services program at Mercy Hospital needed pro
bono attorneys, PBRC was there to help. When children with disabilities were
denied SSI benefits, PBRC coordinated a program, providing attorneys to handle
The Center has forged
partnerships in the legal services community, organized coalitions and now
convenes the very successful Maryland Partners for Justice statewide legal
services conference. It sponsors the annual Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards
programs at MSBA’s Annual Meeting to recognize outstanding attorney volunteers.
“We really believe we
have made a difference in the legal services community,” proclaims Goldsmith.
“Volunteer lawyers have added a new dimension to the delivery of legal services
and have provided invaluable resources where they were sorely lacking. While we
still have a long way to go in ensuring equal access to legal services, Maryland
lawyers can take pride in their demonstrated commitment to equal justice.”
For 15 years, PBRC has
consistently supported Maryland attorneys as pro bono volunteers. It has engaged
in strategic planning to better serve Marylanders, developed key policies to
improve access to justice and provided resources for legal advocates for the
poor. As PBRC looks forward to the next 15 years, it will continue to pursue
systemic change to improve the delivery of legal services, address the civil
legal needs of the indigent and encourage lawyers to give back to their