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Keynotes and other high-level leaders call for access to justice at MSBA’s 2021 Legal Summit.  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. John Sarbanes joined a chorus of many others, including Ravens General Counsel, Brandon Etheridge, to emphasize that access to justice is at the core is upholding the rule of law and that justice holds no meaning, if it is not accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable among us. 

Other news from the MSBA 2021 Legal Summit

Can Paralegals Help Increase Access to Justice?

During last week’s Legal Summit, experts from the MSBA’s Paralegal Task Force explored the evolving role and untapped power of paralegals in the legal industry, in a program entitled “Stand by Me: Effective and Ethical Use of Paralegals, to Improve Productivity and Profitability.”

Paralegals are not administrative assistants and should not be used as such, the speakers argued. The specialized training that paralegals receive enable them to competently – and lawfully – provide a number of services often assigned to junior or associate attorneys, without crossing the line into practicing law without a license. Such operations range from drafting motions to conducting interviews to even appearing in court (in landlord-tenant matters). Moreover, the program stressed, paralegals are able to perform these functions at lower cost to firms and, in turn, lower fees for clients.

As the demand on legal services organizations continues to rise more rapidly than funding sources, some have pondered whether paralegals might be a reasonable solution to fill this gap. The panelists noted that the nationwide Access to Justice movement has been in the forefront of the paralegal push, advocating for expanded employment and more appropriate implementation of skilled paralegal staff.

Speakers included Christopher Jennison, Esq., Chair of the Standing Committee on Paralegals; professional paralegals Alison Pacuska, Alaina Rumbley, and Valerie Nowottnick, ACP; and Erin Gable, Director of Legal Studies Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. 

Disparate Impact: The Civil Legal System and Communities of Color

The legal system is premised to be fair and impartial. Yet, seemingly race neutral laws nonetheless lead to disparate impact on black and brown individuals and negatively impact communities of color.  

This was the topic discussed at the MSBA Legal Summit at the session entitled Disparate Impact: The Civil Legal System and Communities of Color, where the speakers discussed a myriad of instances – including tax sales, zoning and fines & fees – where race neutral laws have led to disparate impact.  

Some of the reasons for disparate impact, as discussed by the Public Rights Project include: 1. Enforcement gap; 2. Lack of resources; 3. Complaint based system of government enforcement; 4. Biases in evaluation processes by government attorneys.