Ten years ago, Barbara Jorgenson and Steve Friedman of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake in Greenbelt, Maryland, were talking casually about the way things were. Friedman told Jorgenson about a clinic, held about 15 years earlier, for attorneys taking pro bono family law cases. At this clinic, volunteer attorneys would bring their cases and other attorneys would offer guidance and the wisdom of experience.
The clinic was by then a distant memory, the attorney who had run it having moved on…but the idea intrigued Jorgenson. And so was born the second incarnation of a model of pro bono support.
Loosely based on the original idea, Barbara Jorgenson has continued for 10 years to hold the Pro Bono Family Law Clinic for attorneys taking pro bono family law cases from Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County (CLS), formerly the Prince George’s County Law Foundation. The clinic is held as a Socratic, roundtable discussion on one Saturday a month, with occasional presentations on Family Law topics. The clinic group has also embarked on group projects as well as their individual cases: they (through Jorgenson) maintain a manual for pro bono family law attorneys, which is available entirely in Microsoft Word for ease of template extraction. Anyone who has ever gone out on a limb professionally can attest to the value of a well-written manual with generally applicable writing samples.
For many of us working with attorneys who take pro bono cases, questions regarding support are commonplace. Many attorneys do pro bono work outside of their professional sphere, for reasons including conflict or personal expansion, and so they need more support, more ongoing mentorship, than is available traditionally from pro bono referral programs, the entities usually placing these cases. In a firm, an attorney moving outside of his or her comfort zone can lean on associates for assistance and draw on the intellectual resources of the firm. The pro bono world is more akin to that of the solo practitioner, and that sense of being cut loose from a foundation of support can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. The clinic can be a type of surrogate for the firm environment, and the easy availability of new and necessary materials maintained by the group can help a pro bono attorney get through the initial shock of feeling adrift.
While Jorgenson encourages the attorneys who attend to bring all pro bono family law cases, no matter where in Maryland they originated, she does ask attendees to accept a pro bono case from her partner organization, CLS, in exchange for their continuing education. The volunteers, who have kept the clinic going for the past 10 years with their steady attendance, no doubt consider it a fair trade. When asked how many cases she thinks have passed over their conference table for review, all Jorgenson can offer is “scores and scores…too many to tell.” Each of those scores representing another family whose grief was diminished, buffered by competent counsel. As difficult to quantify are all the attorneys who have attended the Family Law Clinic because, Jorgenson notes, so many have taken cases and shown up on Saturdays to learn, and then later to mentor others. The self-perpetuating nature of this mentorship clinic makes pro bono work less stressful and more fulfilling. With support programs like the Pro Bono Family Law Clinic, pro bono attorneys are finding it easier to see themselves accepting, and being successful, with their cases.
It is worth noting that Joseph, Greenwald & Laake and Barbara Jorgenson are part of other pro bono efforts beyond the monthly family law clinic. The firm has also pledged 1,000 hours of service to the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project, an ongoing effort across the state of Maryland to provide homeowners guidance and representation in foreclosure matters.
To find out how to get involved in the Pro Bono Family Law Clinic, please call Michael Udejiofur at Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County’s Clinic at (301) 952-3010. To learn more about the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project, please call Andy Hagepanos at the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland at (410) 837-9379.
Adrienne Hagepanos is Project Assistant for PBRC.