Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2011

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Children do not have the ability to steer their own lives. For many children, mom and/or dad are on top of things, concentrating on the kids’ needs, allowing the kids to concentrate on just being kids. But this is not the case for some. There are children burdened with very adult concerns of survival. Their lives are not just about homework and after school sports, but include real questions of well-being like where they will live and how their food, clothing and other basic necessities will be supplied. So the question of caring and concerned adults becomes: How can we enable these kids to let go of the greater questions of survival and focus on childhood responsibilities like school work? The answer is not simple, but can be simply put: we help their guardians.

The nationwide DLA Piper signature project, “Advancing Education’s Promise”, is dedicated to improving the quality of education for children in the many communities the firm serves. The pro bono work of the firm’s Baltimore office is a thriving component of this national effort and focuses on helping children do well in school by helping their parents and guardians stabilize home life. The premise behind the project is that by improving a student’s quality of life through legal services, that student will have a better chance of simply being able to attend school and learn at his or her full potential. The Baltimore arm of this project aims to provide parents and guardians access to top notch pro bono legal services in the hopes that those services will allow children to take full advantage of their educations.

James Mathias and Ray Earnest, attorneys in DLA Piper’s Baltimore office, lead the local arm of this worthy firm wide project. Mathias is a graduate of Georgetown Law and has been with the firm since he started working in private practice in the late 1980s.  His first pro bono experience was in law school where he served as a public defender. Earnest is a graduate of Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Law and got her first taste of pro bono work in that school’s Special Education Clinic.  Their first experiences in pro bono work introduced them to the type of communities now served by the Advancing Education’s Promise project – communities where instability is the norm and the basic needs of children are often unmet.  The continued commitment of these attorneys to serve such communities makes the legal profession a proud one.

Through a partnership with four of the city’s public charter schools, over 150 DLA attorneys have provided clinic style legal assistance and direct services to nearly 300 families in a range of areas including housing, public benefits, estate, and family law.  DLA Piper refers many more families to appropriate legal services providers and assists them in applying for services. Now in its fourth year, the project will continue to bring these valuable pro bono services to more families, and more children will succeed in school and beyond as a result.

How does one define success in a project like “Advancing Education’s Promise”? It isn’t as straightforward as winning or losing in court. Rather, winning in this project is knowing that mere access to basic legal services leads to a quality of life that gives our children an opportunity to achieve education’s promise.

For more information on volunteer legal service opportunities in Maryland, contact Sharon E. Goldsmith at PBRC at 410-837-9379, or 800-396-1274, or email sgoldsmith@probonomd.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2011

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