There’s a well-known saying that one must “plan globally and act locally.” This was the guiding philosophy when the Court of Appeals’ Standing Committee on Pro Bono began its work in November 2002. From the outset, the Standing Committee was keenly aware of what was necessary to foster true growth in the number of pro bono cases undertaken each year. The lion’s share of the efforts must happen at the local level. Therefore, the Standing Committee did the work it could do best: conducting statewide surveys, initiating a reporting and analysis process, facilitating the organization of the local committees and providing assistance to those committees with materials and resources. At that point, it was then up to the individual committees to make pro bono work locally. As is usually the case, local-level planning has produced some excellent results.
The Prince George’s County Pro Bono Committee began its work by conducting local surveys in the community, to determine what the actual needs in the county were. What they discovered was not much of a surprise. Prince George’s County has a history of highly active and effective pro bono work, in addition to a well-developed system of legal services distribution. However, the Committee discovered that the demands far out-strip the available resources of the legal services agencies. Several other factors further complicated the agencies’ ability to meet the needs. Limited access to transportation, language barriers, limited resources and inadequate funding for legal services agencies were all problematic.
The Committee decided one of the solutions to the need for services which also addressed the limited transportation issue was to recommend opening a branch of Community Legal Services in the southern part of the county. The next most realistic solution was to increase the number of attorneys involved in pro bono work. They sought to do this by increasing outreach to new Bar admittees in an effort to get them involved. The Committee also began to reward the pro bono work already being done in the county through an annual recognition event. They recommended to the Administrative Judges of the District and Circuit Courts that a policy be established to give docketing preferences to pro bono cases.
Members of the Prince George’s County Bar Association have always been supportive of the pro bono efforts in the county. Bar members – like this year’s president, John Fredrickson, Esq. – have been involved members of the local Committee from its inception. This year, the Committee decided to try and increase awareness by reaching out to the local attorneys in an attempt to educate them as to the need. “I was surprised how many groups there are needing pro bono services,” Fredrickson admits. “And if I wasn’t aware of the numbers then, I’m sure a lot of my fellow Bar members aren’t aware as well.”
It was decided that the most effective way of getting the message out would be to gather people together where they could talk about pro bono, have questions answered and interested parties could sign up. According to Fredrickson, the major difficulty is getting ”a significant number of people together without it costing money, and the local Committee didn’t have any money. That’s when the local Bar Association stepped in. The Association offered to make the Pro Bono Fair the centerpiece of one of its regular membership meetings and would reduce the admission fee to entice people to come.” In addition, they recruited Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, as the keynote speaker, to give attendance extra incentive. Marriott Conference Centers, which runs the conference center, also contributed to the effort by donating the cost of the meeting room. Thanks to all these generous contributors, the Pro Bono Fair will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., October 2, 2007, at the University of Maryland – University College Center.
Be sure to save the date. “It will be a great opportunity for attorneys to find out firsthand what the pro bono needs are,” states Fredrickson.
For more information about the Pro Bono Fair, contact Georgia Perry, Executive Director of the Prince George’s County Bar Association, at email@example.com.
Support pro bono work in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on the legal service volunteer opportunities in Maryland, contact the PBRC at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.