As we all know, Maryland is becoming an increasingly diverse state. Montgomery County has traditionally had the highest ethnic population growth rate, but between 2000 and 2005, Frederick, Carroll, Charles and Calvert Counties saw their ethnic communities grow by more than 50 percent. It is not hard to imagine that the Hispanic community in Baltimore City is growing as well.
Dennis Mclver, Director of Public Services for the Baltimore City Bar Association (BCBA), believes that getting legal assistance is difficult enough for the underprivileged without language being a barrier, too. That belief was the motivating factor behind the BCBA applying for and receiving a grant from the Pro Bono Resource Center and the Administrative Office of the Courts to initiate the Spanish Language Intake program.
It began as a natural offshoot of their Access to Justice Program. Access to Justice was started approximately four years ago in response to calls from the Legal Aid Bureau, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the Office of the Public Defender. These agencies were trying to locate services for citizens who either did not meet their income guidelines or the needed service could not be provided by the respective agency.
The Access to Justice program enables potential clients who do not qualify for assistance from other pro bono legal service providers to seek help from the private members of the Baltimore City Bar. Sometimes, lack of qualification is a question of income. Sometimes, Legal Aid cannot offer the service that client needs. Access to Justice reaches out to those individuals and attempts to get them the help they need.
All these difficulties and concerns exist for people seeking legal help. Yet for people who speak only Spanish, finding solutions is even more difficult. Whereas Legal Aid has attorneys who speak Spanish for the clients who require them, clients who do not qualify for Legal Aid assistance must also have their non-English needs met. This is where the Spanish Intake program comes in. Baltimore City residents can call the BCBA Lawyer Referral number and – through the use of Language Line Services, a company which handles live translation over the phone – speak in their own language to find the legal services they need.
This only addresses half of the problem, however. The other half of the problem is finding a Spanish-speaking attorney. That solution is less-readily available, according to Mclver. “We are using a portion of the grant to help us increase our outreach to the Hispanic Bar Association,” he explains.
The addition of the Spanish Intake program will enable more Spanish-speaking individuals in our community to find the legal help they need. “Language shouldn’t be a barrier to someone getting access to legal help,” Mclver says. Breaking through barriers is what Access to Justice is all about.
Support pro bono work in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on the legal service volunteer opportunities in Maryland, contact Jon Moseley at the Pro Bono Resource Center at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the ProBonoResourceCenter of Maryland.