Bar Bulletin

November, 2004

"A Fulfilling Cycle of Pro Bono Service"
By Lisa Muscara

According to the definition on the Office of the Maryland Attorney General’s website, the AG’s office “has general charge, supervision and direction of the legal business of the State, acting as legal advisors and representatives of the major departments, various boards, commissions, officials and institutions of State Government. The Office further represents the State in all cases pending in the Appellate Courts of the State and in the U.S. Supreme Court and lower Federal Courts.” While this definition covers the official business of the AG’s office, it does not reflect the strong pro bono culture and program the office encourages and supports.

Over 300 attorneys serve in Maryland’s Attorney General’s office, and more than one-third of them are involved in the Office’s Pro Bono Program, established 16 years ago and coordinated by Kathy Izdebski since its inception. While she must be especially vigilant to avoid adopting cases with conflicts of interest, Izdebski manages to place a wide range of pro bono civil cases with their attorneys, including divorce (in cases where there are no children involved), name changes, wills, guardianship, Chapter 7 bankruptcies, some veterans affairs, Social Security, landlord/tenant and protective orders. Some assistant AG attorneys have also helped with legal research for pro bono cases. This very committed AG’s office was awarded with the prestigious 2004 Maryland Pro Bono Service Award for their participation in a special hospice partnership project with the Homeless Person’s Representation Project. Pro bono service is such a priority to this office that even their new attorney orientation includes information about their pro bono program.

Lucy Cardwell is one of the steadfast attorneys Izdebski knows she can call on when a new pro bono case comes across her desk. In less than 10 years, Cardwell has completed 12 cases through the AG’s pro bono program and has accepted two in the past year alone. Cardwell works in the AG’s Securities Division as a Securities Regulator. This practice area does not necessarily lend itself to family law, bankruptcies and guardianships, but these are the types of cases Cardwell has generously and adeptly taken on. Although she had not worked in these areas in her own practice, Cardwell felt compelled to lend her efforts to the pro bono program. She explains this drive as a matter-of-fact, cause-and-effect scenario; the pro bono program receives requests for assistance, and she is capable of helping the clients. For Cardwell, that is all she needs to know.

Special trainings, sponsored by legal services programs, have helped prepare Cardwell to reach beyond her usual practice area. “For the bankruptcies, there was a training program that I attended,” Cardwell recalls. “I had also had some dealings with bankruptcy in connection with my work, but that was really a peripheral aspect. I’ve never done family law other than this representation of pro bono clients, but the cases that come to us are screened to make sure there are no child support issues. The cases I have handled have been simple, with no financial issues associated with them.” Cardwell also points out that she has benefited from the “resources within the Attorney General’s office where people share information and help one another.”

Rather than one pro bono case standing out in her mind, Cardwell is most impressed by a trend of genuine gratitude she has observed through a number of cases she’s successfully handled for pro bono clients. “I feel the greatest satisfaction from some bankruptcy cases where it is impressive to me that the clients are so close to the edge of financial disaster. If one little thing goes wrong, like a bounced check, that would push them over the edge, and they have no way to recover from that because of their health problems and other issues that keep them from having any cushion. Those clients have been extremely grateful for the help that I’ve been able to give them.” This cycle of lending assistance where it is greatly needed and experiencing hearty gratitude has contributed to Cardwell’s consistent efforts to provide pro bono service. As Cardwell explains, “We get requests for assistance, and I have had a good feeling about the clients: the needs that they have, the gratefulness that they express. And so having done one pro bono case, I’m willing to do more.”

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




Publications : Bar Bulletin: November, 2004

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