It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that we announce a new partnership between the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission (A2JC). The partnership serves to raise the profile of A2JC’s important work, and makes a bold statement about MSBA’s commitment to the cause of advancing justice for all Marylanders.
“Access to justice is a critical issue of our time and for our profession. In affiliating with the Commission, we forward our own mission to promote access to justice, while also joining other leading Bars nationally, including the ABA, that are actively promoting access to justice initiatives in their respective jurisdictions,” says MSBA President Judge Keith R. Truffer.
“A strong partnership between the Maryland Access to Justice Commission and the State Bar Association is a terrific opportunity, and has the potential to yield significant benefits for both organizations,” notes Ward Coe, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission.
What is the Maryland Access to Justice Commission?
The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is an independent entity that unites high-level leaders to drive innovations and reforms in the civil justice system to ensure it is accessible, user-friendly and fair for all Marylanders.
State-level access to justice commissions have proliferated over the last decade (there are now 40) to address the national void in access to civil legal aid. Maryland is no exception. “Maryland does not even come close to meeting the demand for civil legal services. We do not meet 80 percent of the need – 80 percent! And we have not moved the needle on that number for decades, if not a century. That is unacceptable,” says A2JC Executive Director Reena Shah.
- Over 325,000 low and middle income Marylanders do not get the civil legal aid they need;
- There is still no comprehensive right to an appointed attorney in civil cases, where housing, wages, freedom from abuse, access to public benefits, child custody or deportation may be at issue; and
- The presence of a lawyer continues to be the key determinant in the success of a case
The consequences of not receiving the legal help needed ripple out beyond the impacted individual. The lack of access to justice destabilizes communities, decreases business productivity, creates inefficiencies in the administration of justice and costs taxpayers more money on the back end.
To address these challenges, the Maryland A2JC will study the civil legal aid system, develop a statewide vision and plan to fill this void, and recommend improvements. The A2JC also pursues specific initiatives focused on areas of great need (summarized in the box below/to the left/to the right – TBD), such as immigration and eviction.
Who is the A2JC?
To spearhead these efforts, the A2JC is overseen by approximately 20 prominent leaders from different segments of the legal profession including the Deans of both Maryland law schools, the Attorney General, law firm partners, corporate counsel, legislators, leaders of legal services organizations, academics, funders and representatives from the judiciary and the MSBA.
Why is the MSBA Partnering with the Access to Justice Commission?
“Equal justice for all is a core value in our society, and it is a value that underpins A2JC’s work,” says MSBA Executive Director Victor Velazquez. “Alignment with this core value lends depth to the MSBA, adds stature to the work of individual practitioners, reinforces the highest ideals of the legal profession, increases relevance of the Bar among social-justice-minded young lawyers, has the potential to grow membership beyond traditional pools, and advances MSBA’s own mission to promote access to justice – which makes it not only the right thing to do, but a smart investment.
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Key A2JC Initiatives
- Create an Immigration Law Library so Marylanders can have access to most up-to-date, accurate and reliable legal information in one central place
- Adopt Justice Referrals to match private practitioners to immigrants who need legal help and are able to pay for representation
- Convene immigration legal services providers to ensure information sharing and facilitate collaboration
- Study ICE presence in State Courts
- Establish Statewide Legal Defense Fund
Eviction in Baltimore City
- Evaluate the effectiveness of civil legal aid interventions in reducing eviction rate in Baltimore City
Establish Critical Partnerships – Law in Public Libraries
- Partner with public librarians so they can provide legal information and referrals to patrons in local communities