Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2006

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MSBA Speakers' Bureau Takes Law to the People

Too often people are more familiar with lawyer jokes and one-liners than with the services that lawyers provide for their communities. But the Maryland State Bar Association's (MSBA) Speakers' Bureau is one such service that has left its mark on various forums, from elementary schools to senior centers.

The Speakers' Bureau is comprised of 250 willing and able attorneys who volunteer their time to address a wide variety of community groups on more than 40 topics (see left), including Wills and Estate Laws, Identity Theft, Women and the Law, Domestic Relations, and Careers in the Legal Profession; most other topics can also be accommodated. Moreover, as new, "hot" topics, such as environmental law and animal law, find their way into the headlines, the Speakers' Bureau actively works to connect groups with an interest in the subject with the appropriate attorneys.

The Speakers' Bureau strives to give community groups access to the information that they need, and the volunteer speakers provide results. Just ask Claudia Barber of Saints Caring for Saints; University of Baltimore School of Law Professor Byron Warnken volunteered to address the faith-based group on the subjects of identity theft and Internet law.

"Professor Warnken's presentation was well-received," says Barber. "We appreciate his willingness to participate in our community-service event."

"The Speakers' Bureau serves a real need for communication within the community," notes Pat Clark of the Fieldstone Community Group following an engagement in which Kathleen Wobber spoke to the group about consumer-protection laws.

The process of finding a guest speaker is simple. First, interested groups contact the MSBA, which in turn contacts various attorneys who have expressed prior interest to the Speakers' Bureau in speaking on the respective topics sought by each group. Once an attorney is found to fill the appointment, the MSBA contacts the group to inform them of the speaker. The group then contacts the attorney to finalize the details.

MSBA contacts attorneys based on topics on which they have expressed an interest in speaking. The speaker's area of practice frequently comes into account during the selection process. In the case of Master Gregory Sampson, a speaker on juvenile law had been requested. Sampson works at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, hence, the emphasis placed on juvenile law in his position and experience made him a reasonable target speaker.

The typical speaking engagement lasts one to two hours, consisting of an informative lecture that is often followed by a question-and-answer session. The questions can be an important, informative part of the experience, helping both the speaker and the group get the most from the presentation. For example, Master Robert Bloom tried to make the audience feel comfortable when he spoke to the Sandy Springs PTA on divorce matters as they pertain to children, noting that he "enjoyed the experience."

"The MSBA has always provided excellent speakers that are well-attended," says Ben Hoffman of the Liberty Senior Center, which has hosted presentations on elder law and women and the legal system, by Michael Donnelly and Kathleen Masterton, respectively. "[The speakers are] very accommodating to our population."

If you are interested in either volunteering for the MSBA Speakers' Bureau or are in search of an attorney to address your community group, contact Jason Zeisloft at (410) 685-7878, ext. 3028, or e-mail jzeisloft@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2006