Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2007

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 PRO BONO Profile:  

When new Maryland Rule 16-902 – requiring local pro bono committees to be formed in each county – was adopted, Charles County was one of the first to take action. The goal of the local committee was to assess the legal needs of the poor and develop a plan for addressing those community needs. To accomplish that, the committee sent a survey to church groups, social and human services agencies, civic organizations and other non-profits to learn what legal problems were going unmet. The committee also conducted several town meetings throughout the county and asked the citizens to tell them what they needed to access the justice system.

What the committee discovered was that the most frequent problems revolved around domestic (topping the list), consumer, landlord/tenant and public benefits. They also learned that the general public had a lack of knowledge about available legal resources.

In terms of the lawyers’ involvement, the committee found that many attorneys were already doing pro bono work. Some pro bono service was being provided through legal services providers while a substantial amount was being donated directly to low-income clients. The size of the community and bar appeared to lend itself to people contacting lawyers directly when they were seeking assistance. The Southern Maryland County is one of the oldest in Maryland, established in 1658. Its current population is close to 138,000, with about 95 lawyers. Approximately 5.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The committee’s plan included three key steps. First, they helped expand knowledge of available services in the county by increasing publicity for existing legal service programs to the general public. Second, they boosted awareness of the need for pro bono services and heightened participation by surveying local bar association members to see if they would be willing to take on pro bono cases. They also raised the profile by instituting recognition programs for the pro bono work already being done. Finally, and most importantly, they chose to address the domestic law need directly by taking an active role.

The most significant initiative called for expanding the already successful Family Law Clinic being run out of the courthouse through the Family Services division. Around the same time, funding for the program was being threatened and the Family Law Clinic was in danger of being closed. The committee felt the services being offered were too important to the citizens of the county and voted to undertake the task of staffing the clinic.

Local attorney John Mudd initially coordinated the pro bono clinic program, which has since become institutionalized at the courthouse. Volunteer lawyers visit the courthouse on a weekly basis to provide free counsel and advice to members of the public. This is the fifth year of operation of the clinic, run solely by volunteers recruited from the membership of the Charles County Bar Association.

Over the years, the Committee has continued its commitment to address unmet legal needs. In addition to the Family Law Clinic, pro bono services have been expanded to include a Civil Law Clinic as well. Operated in a similar fashion, this clinic is also staffed completely by volunteers and gives non-family law practitioners an opportunity for pro bono work through a broad range of civil legal services.

This is just one example of how local pro bono committees around the state can and are furthering the pro bono effort. Help make a real difference in people’s lives. Contact the Pro Bono Resource Center and we can tell you how you can get involved with the work being done in your county.

Support the legal service agencies in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information about pro bono opportunities around the state, contact the PBRC at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274 or by e-mail at pbrc@probonomd.org.

Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August  2007