Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2005

Previous | Next

Celebrating 15 Years of Pro Bono
~PBRC hosts gala event honoring volunteers~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

For the last 15 years, volunteer attorney pro bono service in Maryland has been strengthened by the efforts of the Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC), the pro bono arm of MSBA. This unique, statewide legal services support and resource center has referred 20,000+ volunteer attorneys to pro bono provider groups, who in turn link them to thousands of indigent clients in need of their services. Now, as PBRC celebrates its 15th anniversary, it is honoring the attorneys who have made it happen: the volunteers who embody the true spirit of pro bono service by giving their time and legal talent to help the poor.

PBRC has come a long way in 15 years. What began as an attorney volunteer clearinghouse and recruiting organization in 1990 has grown into a comprehensive legal support network and resource center. Through its core activities, special projects, policy development, systemic initiatives and special pro bono work in conjunction with Maryland’s Judiciary, PBRC has enhanced volunteer attorney pro bono service in the state. Along the way, it has created public awareness about the need for indigent civil legal services in Maryland, developed a strong presence for volunteer pro bono and generated national visibility for Maryland attorneys.

In the broader sense, PBRC has promoted equal access to justice by coordinating and supporting volunteer civil legal services and providing resources and support for legal advocates for the poor. It has fostered goodwill in the legal services community, trained and supported attorney volunteers and promoted pro bono opportunities within the Bar. PBRC has pursued systemic change to improve the delivery of legal services, catered to the civil legal needs of the indigent and encouraged lawyers to give back to their communities.

On October 15, 2005, PBRC is celebrating all of its accomplishments at a special 15th anniversary Gala from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at Baltimore’s brand-new Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. One of the highlights of Celebrating 15 Years of Service to the Legal Profession and the Community is a special tribute to the “Star Pro Bono Honorees.” Every living MSBA President has designated a special pro bono volunteer attorney and/or judge who emulates the spirit of pro bono, and these attorneys and judges will be honored during the gala event. As PBRC celebrates 15 years, it commemorates its milestones and thanks all of its valued volunteers.

History

When the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) conducted a comprehensive legal-needs assessment in 1988, it found that only 20 percent of the legal needs of Maryland’s poor were being met. MLSC’s Action Plan for Legal Services to Maryland’s Poor revealed over one million low-income Marylanders did not have access to legal services. To address this crisis, MSBA, working with Maryland’s Bench, initiated an all out effort to enhance volunteer pro bono service among all members of Maryland’s Bar.

In 1989, MSBA President Herbert S. Garten launched the renowned “People’s Pro Bono Campaign” to recruit volunteer attorneys for pro bono service. Amidst PR fanfare, television and radio coverage and special events, the thrust of the campaign was a letter from Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals appealing to all 20,000 licensed attorneys in Maryland to volunteer for pro bono service. Attorneys were asked to complete a court survey form so they could sign up as volunteers.

The campaign was a success, as more than 9,200 attorneys volunteered for pro bono service. In 1990, MSBA created a new pro bono arm, then called the People’s Pro Bono Action Center (PPBAC) to serve as Maryland’s first statewide pro bono coordinator and hired Sharon E. Goldsmith as the Center’s Executive Director. PPBAC’s first task was processing and integrating this cadre of volunteer attorneys into Maryland’s pro bono delivery system.

PPBAC initially functioned as a volunteer attorney clearinghouse linking the thousands of attorneys who volunteered with legal services providers in need of their services. In turn, these organizations referred the volunteer attorneys to indigent clients with civil legal problems. In addition, it trained attorney volunteers, promoted pro bono opportunities and raised awareness about attorney volunteerism in Maryland.

Strides in 15 Years

Over time, PPBAC evolved into a comprehensive resource offering an array of support services to lawyers and the legal services community. In 1998, PPBAC changed its name to the Pro Bono Resource Center, reflecting its expanded role in Maryland’s legal services system. Today, the Center continues its core mission of recruiting volunteer attorneys and referring them to legal services providers.

PBRC has made great strides in the last 15 years. Goldsmith and PBRC’s dedicated volunteer leadership have worked hard to establish a presence for the Center and generate awareness about pro bono in Maryland. Developing a culture of pro bono service has been a priority, as it has recruited, trained and placed attorney volunteers, created pro bono opportunities for them and tackled systemic issues. PBRC has always responded to the needs of volunteer lawyers and the legal services community.

PBRC is now well-known for its outstanding array of attorney pro bono educational and training programs and its repertoire of unique pro bono opportunities. It caters to volunteers, offering free and discounted education programs in partnership with MICPEL, free or discounted court reporting services and consultation panels in selected areas. PBRC also provides training seminars and specific pro bono opportunities on its Email List and publishes its valuable, comprehensive Guide to Legal Services in Maryland.

In recent years, PBRC has greatly expanded its menu of pro bono options, catering to the interests and experiences of the individual attorneys.

Many of these go far beyond the traditional attorney/client relationship, offering attorneys new ways to volunteer. As examples, attorneys may go to homeless shelters and engage in counseling on Social Security, housing and employment; they can volunteer for a hotline, helping callers with crisis-intervention; they may take impact cases, tackling class-action causes and systemic work; or they may go to clinics like the Tax Clinic, helping low-income people with tax and transitional work.

PBRC is also recognized for its advances in legal service strategic planning, policy development and the pursuit of systemic change. In 1998, PBRC staffed the newly created Maryland Judicial Commission on Pro Bono, helping it conduct a two-year probe of pro bono in Maryland. Its final report resulted in rule revisions to Rule 6.1 of Maryland’s Rules of Professional Conduct in 1992 as well as several new rules impacting the development and tracking of pro bono service.

These new rules created a Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service and local pro bono committees in each county, which PBRC staffs. The rules additionally mandated annual attorney pro bono reporting, which also involves the Center. PBRC staff resources now support this major Court initiative.

Today, PBRC offers full staff support to the Court’s Standing Committee and travels around the state visiting sites, providing technical assistance and supporting all of the local pro bono committees and volunteers to help outreach efforts. PBRC has facilitated local needs assessments, helped start-up clinics and even produced the Maryland Lawyers Care brochure, a tailored directory of legal services available in each local county.

“Local bar leaders and legal service providers are taking ownership in their areas and are getting a good handle on pro bono service,” states Goldsmith, who also reports that attorney pro bono reporting is going very well. “We are thrilled with how much volunteer pro bono service Maryland lawyers are engaging in.” Today, Maryland is one of the leading states in the nation in the promotion of a pro bono culture.

Over the years, PBRC has given its network of providers much more than volunteers. When the Women’s Law Center wanted to get its Family Law Hotline up and running, PBRC was there to help. When the hospice emergency services program at Mercy Hospital needed pro bono attorneys, PBRC was there to help. When children with disabilities were denied SSI benefits, PBRC coordinated a program, providing attorneys to handle the appeals.

The Center has forged partnerships in the legal services community, organized coalitions and now convenes the very successful Maryland Partners for Justice statewide legal services conference. It sponsors the annual Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards programs at MSBA’s Annual Meeting to recognize outstanding attorney volunteers.

Pursuit of Furthering Justice

“We really believe we have made a difference in the legal services community,” proclaims Goldsmith. “Volunteer lawyers have added a new dimension to the delivery of legal services and have provided invaluable resources where they were sorely lacking. While we still have a long way to go in ensuring equal access to legal services, Maryland lawyers can take pride in their demonstrated commitment to equal justice.”

For 15 years, PBRC has consistently supported Maryland attorneys as pro bono volunteers. It has engaged in strategic planning to better serve Marylanders, developed key policies to improve access to justice and provided resources for legal advocates for the poor. As PBRC looks forward to the next 15 years, it will continue to pursue systemic change to improve the delivery of legal services, address the civil legal needs of the indigent and encourage lawyers to give back to their communities.

Previous previous

next Next

Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2005

Back to top