Pro Bono Opportunities for the Non-Litigator
David M. Richardson, Esq.
 

            As all Maryland attorneys must know by now, recently amended Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Responsibility calls on lawyers “to render at least 50 hours per year of pro bono publico legal service.”  To encourage compliance of this “aspirational” obligation, Rule 16-903 of the Maryland Rules of Procedure requires attorneys to report annually their pro bono hours to the Maryland Court of Appeals, “[a]s a condition precedent to the practice of law.” 

For business lawyers and other attorneys who practice in non-traditional areas of law, fulfilling this pro bono obligation may be exceptionally challenging.  Fortunately in Maryland, there are pro bono service providers that offer volunteer opportunities in practically all areas of law.  This article provides a sample of those opportunities in the areas of corporate law, real estate, tax, bankruptcy and consumer rights, education law, wills and elder law. 

As a rule of thumb, the Pro Bono Resource Center (“PBRC”), the pro bono division of the Maryland State Bar Association, works closely with most Maryland pro bono service providers and can serve as a valuable resource in directing prospective volunteers to programs that offer opportunities suited for any particular practice area.  Lawyers interested in pursuing pro bono service may want to contact Lisa Muscara, Director of Volunteer Services at PBRC, for more information about the variety of pro bono opportunities offered in Maryland.  Contact: Lisa Muscara at (800) 492-1964, (410) 837-9379 or pbrc@probonomd.org.


Non-Profit/Corporate Law 

            There are a few organizations in Maryland that offer programs specializing in providing pro bono legal services to non-profit organizations.  Among them are the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations and Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland. 

            The Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations (“MANO”) provides volunteer legal assistance for a variety of 501(c) non-profit groups that need, but cannot afford, legal counsel.  MANO, through its Lawyers Clearinghouse Project, assigns volunteer attorneys to work with non-profit groups in a variety of matters.  Such matters include helping new non-profits to incorporate, assisting them in applying for tax-exempt status, and drafting and revising corporate documents, such as by-laws, board resolutions and contracts.  MANO attorneys also assist non-profits with a myriad of other legal matters, such as facilitating the purchase, sale or lease of real estate, advice on tax matters and reviewing personnel policies.  Contact: Deb Jung, Counsel and Director of Legal Services, at (410) 727-1914 (Baltimore) or (301) 565-0505 (DC) or visit www.mdnonprofit.org. 

Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland (“BVU Maryland”) is another organization that provides non-profit entities with pro bono legal assistance.  BVU Maryland works closely with MANO and Volunteer Central in offering unique legal services to non-profit organizations.  BVU Maryland specializes in educating board members of non-profits about their legal responsibilities.  BVU Maryland can provide non-profit organizations with a talented pool of pro bono attorneys to train their board members, as well as serve as board members themselves.  Contact: Kelly Hodge-Williams, Executive Director of BVU Maryland, at (410) 366-0401 or kelly@volunteercentral.net.
 

Real Estate Law 

            There are several legal service providers that afford pro bono opportunities in the area of real estate.  Among them is St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center (“St. Ambrose”), a division of St. Ambrose Legal Services, which represents low-income homeowners, primarily in the Baltimore area, who are in danger of losing their homes due to foreclosure, tax sales, executions on judgments, or who have problems with home improvement contracts or mortgage lenders.  Oftentimes, low-income homeowners require legal help with simple deed changes or to review leases, contracts of sale or settlement documents.  St. Ambrose also requires the services of attorneys in the preparation of loan documents and advice on property tax exemptions.  Contact: Sharon Potocki, Pro Bono Coordinator, at (410) 366-8537. 

The Community Law Center (“CLC”) is another pro bono provider that utilizes the services of attorneys in the area of real estate.  CLC regularly engages real estate and other transactional lawyers to work with non-profit groups on a range of transactional matters, including property transfers and tax sales.  In the past, CLC has worked with the City of Baltimore and various community groups to return abandoned and vacant properties back into productive use, such as drug treatment centers, youth and senior recreation centers, community gardens, and playgrounds.  Contact: Barbara Breslau, Director of the Pro Bono Project, at (410) 366-0922 or visit www.communitylaw.org.
 

Special/General Education Law 

            The Maryland Disability Law Center (“MDLC”) is a non-profit organization that serves Maryland residents with disabilities.  Through its pro bono referral system, MDLC matches attorneys with those people whom MDLC is not able to serve.  The MDLC special education program teams attorneys with school-age children, who have physical or mental disabilities. Types of cases handled by pro bono attorneys include working with school officials to place children with disabilities in the public school system and negotiating with the school system to provide children with specifically tailored programs suited for each child’s unique needs.  MDLC provides its volunteer attorneys with free training, materials, and technical assistance.  Pro bono lawyers have the opportunity to designate geographic preferences and choose between general special education cases and/or discipline cases involving students with disabilities.  Contact: Lauren Kallins, Pro Bono Coordinator/Staff Attorney, (410) 727-6352 or laurenk@mdlcbalto.org

The Maryland Volunteers Lawyer Service (“MVLS”) also offers pro bono opportunities in education law.  The MVLS Children’s Law Project assists students in cases involving school suspensions and other discipline actions.  MVLS attorneys assist parents in negotiating with school officials and helping them to navigate the suspension appeals process.   These cases are generally straightforward and require a minimal time commitment.  Meetings with school officials are typically held in an informal setting.  MVLS advises that litigation experience is not necessary when handling a school suspension matter.  Contact: Winnie Borden, Executive Director, at (410) 539-6800 or visit www.mvlslaw.org.


Wills & Elder Law 

There are many legal service providers in Maryland that offer pro bono opportunities in the areas of wills and elder law, including MVLS.  MVLS is a great resource in obtaining cases involving the drafting of wills, advanced healthcare directives and powers of attorney.  Oftentimes, these matters are relatively straightforward, such as the drafting of a simple will for a low-income elderly person.  Other programs can be more complicated, including issues involving Social Security and other public benefits.  Contact: Winnie Borden at MVLS at (410) 539-6800 or visit www.mvlslaw.org

Another program that offers such services is the Legal Services to the Elderly Program (“LSEP”), which is operated through the Bar Association of Baltimore City.  LSEP offers several types of programs targeted to helping Baltimore’s seniors.  One program allows for volunteer attorneys to go to locations where senior citizens are likely to gather, for example, senior citizen centers, nursing homes and places of worship, and educate seniors on how to avoid certain legal problems and solve dilemmas.  Attorneys volunteering for LSEP also routinely advise senior citizens on various financial planning matters and how to evade telephone-marketing scams.  Lawyers with the LSEP also provide the elderly with various legal services, including assistance with Social Security and veterans’ benefits, as well as consumer, healthcare, housing, guardianship and credit-related problems.  Contact: Tracey Harvin, Program Coordinator, at (410) 396-1322 or traceyharvin@baltimorebar.org

The Health Education Resource Organization (“HERO”) provides pro bono assistance for persons with HIV/AIDS.  Volunteer attorneys are recruited to assist clients with obtaining government benefits, estate planning, permanency planning for children, as well as the drafting of wills, advance healthcare directives and powers of attorney.  HERO pro bono lawyers also assist clients with bankruptcy matters and negotiating disputes with creditors.  Contact: Kathleen Buckley, Managing Attorney, at (410) 685-1180 or kbuck@hero-mcrc.org.


Tax, Bankruptcy & Consumer Rights                       

MVLS refers cases to pro bono attorneys in the areas of tax, bankruptcy and consumer rights.  MVLS works with the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland in recruiting volunteers to assist low-income individuals with issues surrounding bankruptcy and consumer-related matters.  MVLS volunteer attorneys also help clients with the filing of back taxes or in dealing with the IRS on disputes.  Each February, MVLS hosts a tax clinic where volunteer attorneys and accountants help to prepare and file tax returns.  MVLS offers its volunteers training in tax-writing software and appropriate tax law.  Contact: Winnie Borden at MVLS at (410) 539-6800 or visit www.mvlslaw.org

The Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) utilizes pro bono attorneys to assist the homeless and persons who are in imminent danger of becoming homeless in a variety of ways, including in the areas of bankruptcy and consumer rights. Volunteer attorneys are often used to counsel HPRP clients in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.  Other forms of legal assistance involve the securing of government benefits and permanent and temporary housing.  Contact: Amelia Lazarus, HPRP Coordinator, at (410) 685-6589. 

LSEP and HERO also provide their clients with assistance in bankruptcy proceedings and in dealing with credit-related problems, with LSEP serving Baltimore’s elderly community and HERO focusing its resources in helping people with HIV and AIDS.  Contact: Tracey Harvin at LSEP at (410) 396-1322 and Kathleen Buckley at HERO at (410) 685-1180. 

As one can see from this sampling of pro bono programs, Maryland pro bono service providers offer attorneys a wealth of volunteer opportunities, not just in the diversity of practice areas offered but in the variety of forums where that service can be performed.  Today, an attorney need not be limited to the direct representation of an indigent client before an adjudicative body.  Pro bono service can be performed in clinics and shelters, as well as in classrooms and boardrooms.  The host of options available to Maryland lawyers is astronomical and affords attorneys who wish to fulfill their pro bono responsibility an opportunity to do so in the most convenient and personally rewarding way possible.

David M. Richardson, Esq. is an associate at Venable, Baetjer and Howard, LLP.


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