Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

September, 2004

Taking the Words Right Out of Their Mouths
~Through MSBA Speakers' Bureau, volunteer attorneys give community groups lessons in the law~

By Tom Breihan

The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) Speakers’ Bureau is a free service that finds qualified attorneys to speak to groups on topical subjects. Interested parties contact the MSBA looking for speakers, and the Bureau in turn calls volunteer lawyers based on location and area of specialty. Over the years, the Speakers’ Bureau has sent attorneys to speak at schools, retirement homes and many other speaking engagements.

“Usually, we’ll have a group contact us,” says Maryland State Bar Association Communications Assistant Ruth Ballard, who runs the program. “A lot of areas are covered; spokesmen will usually want attorneys to talk about something like rights of senior citizens or legal rights, things of that nature. We find out what kind of attorney they’re looking for, how many folks are going to be present, where they’re going to be located, how long they want to have them speak. I call a list of attorneys in the area.”

“[The Speakers’ Bureau] is a definite plus for everybody: for the attorney, for the community,” says attorney James Porter, who has worked with the Speakers’ Bureau many times. “Everyone should be involved in something of this nature and give back to the community. It’s an excellent program.”

Attorneys who participate in the Speakers’ Bureau do so for a number of different reasons. “For me, each speaking experience introduces me to a slightly different perspective of the law that I’m practicing,” says Randi Kopf, a nurse attorney who participates in a number of different Speakers’ Bureaus, including that of the MSBA. “For every speaking experience, I always do the research. I check the state law – I check their state law if it’s in another state – and I always learn something when I do a speaking engagement. So I always have a benefit.

“[Participation in the Speakers’ Bureau] is a method of making sure you keep up to date on the law that you’re practicing,” continues Kopf. “There’s always someone who asks you a question from a different angle that makes you stop and think about it. I find it beneficial for both parties … The other people are thrilled that they’re not paying for a speaker. It also fulfills my state pro bono encouragement. And often through a speaking engagement, if it’s a new topic or something that I have to do a lot of research for, I’ll then write an article from it.”

Attorneys also participate in the Speakers’ Bureau to share their knowledge and to increase public awareness of certain issues. “So many people come into my office to file bankruptcy because they don’t understand finances, and people take advantage of that,” says attorney Kimberly Diane Marshall, who has spoken to high school students about budget and finance. “I think that educating high school kids as to finances and what to look for hopefully prevents some of them from filing later because they know what to look for and they know how to shop alone.”

“I think that particularly in this area, there’s a lack of awareness of what may be necessary in the event of an emergency involving advance directives, living wills,” says Porter, who has spoken to elderly audiences in a number of settings. “A lot of people in this particular area don’t have wills. A couple of years ago, I was involved in the MSBA program of legal aid for the elderly, doing wills and powers of attorney. It appears to me that there’s just a lack of education in this day and age, particularly in the rural counties.”

The Speakers’ Bureau is also a great way for attorneys to get out and meet people. “I really like speaking with different people who are doing different things,” says Kopf. “You never know who’s going to show up, and I enjoy the interaction … They leave happy, I’ve learned something, and I think it’s a win-win.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September, 2004

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