Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2007

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On May 3, more than 250 members of Maryland’s legal community gathered at Baltimore’s Convention Center for the 9th Annual Maryland Partners for Justice Conference. Hosted by the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), this event was cosponsored by numerous organizations, including the Maryland State Bar Association’s Delivery of Legal Services Section. All facets of the legal services community were represented at this gathering, which focused on building a “partnership to ensure legal and social justice for all.”

MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss offered greetings on behalf of MSBA, praising the legal services community, PBRC and the lawyers who volunteer for pro bono service. “Part of MSBA’s mission statement is to promote access to justice,” Gilliss stated. “MSBA financially supports PBRC and, as of the court’s last pro bono report, our volunteer lawyers devoted over one million hours to pro bono service.”

One of the highlights of the conference was the message delivered by the President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Helaine M. Barnett. “The focus of this conference is the importance of partnerships, with emphasis on the private bar,” she stated. “Effective collaborations in the legal services community produce quality programs that make a difference. They help secure the basic needs for the many people who are struggling.”

Barnett talked about the justice gap in this country and LSC’s efforts to reduce it through legal services partnerships and collaborations. “LSC programs are not able to address all of the unmet need because of a lack of resources,” she laments. “Only 50 percent of those who need help receive it; the other 50 percent have nowhere to turn. Millions of people are denied access to justice in this country every year.”

She announced that LSC received $22 million more in funding this year, raising the amount to $348 million. “We must use the resources we have effectively and work in collaborations with a broad range of stakeholders to stretch our dollars and resources,” Barnett proclaimed.  She recognized the state of Maryland as a leader because it successfully accomplishes this through partnerships.

The balance of the conference was devoted to special breakout sessions addressing a broad spectrum of issues of interest to legal services providers in their quest to help poor and unrepresented populations. Everything from home ownership, Medicaid denial, fighting poverty and exploitative employment practices to tips on appellate strategies, cultural competence issues and administrative hearings were highlighted during the workshops. They also addressed the special legal needs of such target populations as immigrants, veterans, substance abusers, the elderly and youth.

“The value of this conference is in learning from one another,” proclaims Sharon E. Goldsmith, PBRC’s Executive Director. “It encourages and inspires people to look beyond what they do currently and think more expansively and creatively about how they approach their work and deal with their clientele. There is tremendous energy and excitement about the possibilities to make the system more fair, open and just.”

MSBA’s Delivery of Legal Services Section’s Chair, L. Tracy Brown, one of the sponsors of the conference, adds “the conference furthers the mission of the Delivery of Legal Services Section Council because it provides a valuable training and networking opportunity for attorneys who are representing Maryland’s low-income citizens. This opportunity improves the quality of services and helps attorneys be better informed about important policy issues and legal developments.”

“To me,” Goldsmith continues, “it exemplifies what it means to collaborate, as representatives from various legal services organizations, the judiciary, academia and the bar collectively plan the event and bring the best of their skills, knowledge, insight and community resources to the table. Everyone views the conference as a place to strategize and explore partnerships to enhance the delivery of legal services with a shared vision for equal access to justice. It is neither competitive nor territorial, but rather engenders a true sense of cooperation within the legal community.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May  2007