Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2005

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PRO BONO PROFILE
"An Active Cyber Community for MD Public Interest Advocates"
By Lisa Muscara

We’re living in a high-tech world; either you’re wired and ready or you’re on the fast track to nowhere. Thanks to persistent efforts of the Maryland Legal Assistant Network (MLAN), public interest advocates across the state have a website where they can benefit from the power of technology to access an abundant cache of support resources.

Created in 1999 and 2000, MDJustice.org is the result of a tremendous collaborative effort coordinated and sponsored by MLAN, in partnership with the Maryland community of legal services providers, funded through a grant from the Open Society Institute and ongoing funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation. Located at www.mdjustice.org, MDJustice is a password-protected website for public interest advocates in Maryland. The site welcomes Maryland’s advocates, stating, “This site is designed as a forum for Maryland lawyers and advocates serving the poor. We welcome staff of legal services programs, the pro bono private bar and community advocates. The mission of the site sponsors is to provide a platform for increased collaboration, coordination and information-sharing among the many public interest law advocates in Maryland.”

Gaining membership to this online community is a quick, straightforward process. “New registration is really easy,” explains David Demski, MLAN’s Law and Technology Coordinator. “Advocates complete a one-page form, entering their name, e-mail address and what organizations they work for, and new members are usually approved within minutes.” Once an advocate has secured membership, they can access a number of robust online tools and resources currently being used by more than 500 registered MDJustice users.

The site contains several distinct components, each of which provides unique resource material to registered members. Different areas within the site include Resource Centers, Legal Research, Practice Tools, Directories, Referral Resources, Tech Talk, What’s New and a Statewide Events & Training Calendar.

“Resource Centers” are available for topics including Children and the Law, Consumer, Housing, Management, Multi-Lingual Advocacy, Pro Se and National Civil Rights Litigation. Each of these Resource Centers is structured to offer members a ‘Virtual Library’, ‘Legal Materials’ including motions, complaints, memos, counter claims, interrogatories, briefs, ‘Client Contact Materials’ such as model letters, forms, checklists, client and community education materials, and ‘Other Materials’, which includes relevant articles and management tools. Members of the public interest community are encouraged to contribute additional resources to the existing ones. Demski invites advocates who have created documents they believe would be useful to others in the community to post them for their colleagues’ use. He explains that once names have been redacted from sample documents, registered users can send these to be posted on the website as easily as if they were attaching a document to send through e-mail.

“Legal Research” provides a convenient collection of links to online research sites where users can continue researching their specific queries. “Practice Tools” contains materials in the areas of Custody/Visitation, Bankruptcy (Chapters 7 & 13), Child Support and Divorce, among others. These topics are each structured to provide users tangible law outlines, quick reference guides, flow charts and an index for that topic.

MDJustice maintains a number of “Directories” for its users, as well. These provide basic contact information for a number of networks relevant to the public interest community, including Maryland Civil Legal Services Providers, Public Defenders, Human Relations Commissions, State’s Attorney’s, Lawyer Referral Services, Pro Se Programs, and National Support Centers. “Referral Resources” offers MDJustice users contact information for the referrals most frequently used by the state’s legal services staff and pro bono attorneys in four areas: Government/Regulatory Agency Referrals, Community Resources, Lawyer and Mediation Referrals and Criminal Matters.

The “Tech Talk” section is explained as a place where advocates from Maryland share information and ideas related to tech issues. The standard components of this section include: “Ask A Geek!”, “Cyber Nuts and Bolts”, “Tips from the Maryland Community”, “Alert! Bugs, Viruses & Patches”, and “60 Tech Tips”. The “What’s New” portion of the MDJustice site contains information about recent developments on the website, in the Maryland community and in the national legal community. “Statewide Events & Training Calendar” is one of the site’s most popular features and serves as a community calendar, listing everything from MICPEL trainings to national conferences to meetings that involve only a few people. All participants are welcome to contribute to this calendar of events.

The depth of information available through www.mdjustice.org is astounding. The site serves not only as an online resource depot but also hosts an online community of Maryland’s public interest advocates where the breadth of information available is enhanced by the contributions of those who use the site. Next time you are serving as a public interest advocate, log on to www.mdjustice.org to find both the tools that you need and a community of colleagues available to support your efforts.


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

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2005

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