Bar Bulletin

August, 2004

PRO BONO PROFILE
"Unspoken Rewards of Pro Bono Service"
By Lisa Muscara

What happens to those fragile or elderly people in our communities who have no family or friends to look after them? In many cases, they end up in nursing care facilities, and often their condition declines to the point that they are no longer able to make decisions about their own care. At this point, legal guardianship must be established, and this hurdle becomes even more challenging when funds for legal services are not available. Fortunately, in many instances the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is able to step in to place some of these guardianship cases with their talented corps of volunteer attorneys. One dedicated attorney they often call on in these situations is Chester H. Hobbs, IV, of the Towson law firm of Bodie, Nagle, Dolina, Smith & Hobbs, P.A.

Many of the guardianship cases Hobbs has accepted from MVLS have revolved around elderly people. However, MVLS has approached him with guardianship cases arising from many different circumstances, cases which have ultimately benefited from Hobbs’s pro bono efforts. He recalls one particularly memorable case in which he helped a mother retain guardianship of her adult son.

“There was a young autistic boy who had been under his mother’s care as a minor, but he was reaching or had just turned 18, so they needed a guardianship for him so that his mother could continue to make decisions and care for him in the same manner she had done up until his 18th birthday,” Hobbs explains. One detail of that experience that stands out for Hobbs is the mother’s gratitude for his work. In the guardianship cases he has completed for individuals with no known family, their thanks often remain unspoken, and his satisfaction comes from knowing that he has done whatever he could to make sure that quality decisions can be made on their behalf.

Through his affiliation with MVLS, Hobbs has also worked on Chapter 7 Bankruptcy cases on a pro bono basis. Although he works on bankruptcy cases through his private practice at the firm, Hobbs notes a distinction between the clients who come to his practice and those referred through MVLS.

“The people who are usually referred to me from MVLS are people that are very, very low-income or maybe no income (other than some program or benefit income) and typically through no fault of their own have incurred expenses, medical expenses, things like that, that they just have no ability to pay,” Hobbs says. Helping these clients sort through bankruptcy proceedings has given him a great sense of satisfaction.

Hobbs has made pro bono service a priority in his career. He estimates that he accepts between five and seven cases from MVLS each year. He points to his firm’s commitment to pro bono service as one influencing factor of his exceptional volunteer record.

“At Bodie, Nagle, we’ve always had the sense that we should do pro bono, and it’s one of those things that comes up regularly on the agenda,” he explains. “I make sure that I’m on the MVLS list, and I have found that, considering the contribution that it makes, it really is something I can fit in my practice, and it is not a burden. So if cases need to be done and it’s been rewarding and it’s not in any way adversely affected my ability to contribute as a partner in the firm, I say keep doing them!”

Hobbs’s example of incorporating pro bono cases into his practice serves as an encouragement to the associates at his firm. “When we discuss pro bono, I talk about some of the recent pro bono cases that I’ve handled,” he adds. “I think people see that I enjoy it and have found it to be a positive experience, and so I think just by that example it encourages others to continue or to make sure they are on the MVLS list to be contacted.”

Chester Hobbs conveys a very matter-of-fact sense of responsibility to providing pro bono legal services. The cases he accepts serve some of the most marginalized members of our society, those who without him might find no other advocate. Knowing he has contributed to defending these clients’ rights and provided them fair representation is reward enough for this dedicated volunteer.

Lisa Muscara is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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