There are numerous opportunities for lawyers to get involved in meaningful pro bono work in Maryland. Regardless of your practice area, you can find a way to give back to the community. As the pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) is equipped to help connect you with an opportunity that best suits your interests and provides the support services you need.
There are litigation and non-litigation opportunities for pro bono involvement, and the experience can be both enriching and useful. Direct client representation is most needed, but short-term work is also available. For instance, state-wide hotlines in employment and family law require volunteers for designated shifts. Pro bono lawyers can assist with courthouse pro se assistance programs in a number of jurisdictions. Shelter outreach programs in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County engage lawyers in one-on-one counseling. Dozens of foreclosure solutions workshops across the state are held where volunteers walk through road-maps with at-risk homeowners to assess their situations and determine if there homes are salvageable.
representation is most needed, but short-term work is also available.
PBRC’s primary efforts focus on the recruitment, training and support of volunteer attorneys. PBRC also acts as a catalyst to jump-start and support projects across the state. Here are just a few of the ongoing projects in which you can get involved:
- Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project. The goal of the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project is to engage volunteer lawyers in preserving homeownership and facilitating workable and sustainable solutions for homeowners in distress. PBRC was asked by the Maryland Court of Appeals to spearhead the effort and, with the state’s help, has mobilized more than 900 volunteer lawyers since the Project’s inception on July 1, 2008. PBRC serves as the central coordinator for the volunteers and the Project, arranging substantive legal training, identifying partners for direct case referrals, and assisting in coordinating community workshops with free legal consultations. Civil Justice, Inc., provides the mentoring while five pro bono referral agencies – Allegany Law, Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Mid-Shore Pro Bono and Montgomery County Lawyer Referral – refer the actual cases to the volunteer pool.
- Pro Bono Mediation Project. This mediation project focuses on family law mediation of contested cases. It is a collaboration among PBRC, the University of Baltimore School of Law Family Mediation Clinic and the Baltimore City Circuit Court. The Project engages volunteer mediators and lawyers to act as counsel for the parties strictly during the mediation session. Baltimore City Masters review docketed cases for those which could best benefit from mediation. A law student working in the Family Mediation Clinic serves as counsel for one of the parties with the director of the clinic supervising. PBRC recruits the pro bono attorney for the opposing party as well as the mediator.
- Children’s Education Project. The Children’s Education Project was piloted in Prince George’s County and to date has been replicated in Baltimore and Montgomery Counties. The purpose of the project is to help address the educational needs of the most vulnerable children. Pro bono lawyers receive free training to represent students in special education matters and school discipline cases (e.g. suspension and expulsion cases) with the goal of keeping children in school with appropriate educational services. Cases are referred from the Public Defender’s Office, Maryland Disability Law Center, courts, parents and juvenile services programs. Baltimore City hopes to initiate a similar program this fall.
- Veterans’ Pro Bono Project. Based at the Homeless Persons Representation Project, this project focuses primarily on enlisting pro bono lawyers to assist veterans (many of whom are homeless) file claims for benefits. Volunteers are trained and mentored through the process and learn how to work with the Veterans’ Administration to obtain much-needed funds and services for Maryland veterans. [A Veterans Benefits training course is currently scheduled for October 16, 2009, from noon until 5:00 p.m., in conjunction with the University of Maryland School of Law. Contact PBRC for more information and to register.]
- Debtors’ Assistance Project. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court recently launched a pro se assistance effort at the courthouses in Baltimore and Greenbelt. Experienced pro bono bankruptcy lawyers staff a help desk for several hours and provide one-on-one counseling to pro se litigants attempting to file for bankruptcy. A training seminar for new recruits is being scheduled for the fall. [A Consumer Bankruptcy training course is currently scheduled for October 9, 2009, in Greenbelt, and November 6, 2009, in Baltimore. Contact PBRC for more information and to register.]
To become acquainted with specific cases and types of volunteer opportunities available around the state, visit the PBRC website, www.probonomd.org, and sign up for the Email List. This Email List is distributed every other week and contains listings of current pro bono cases, training seminars, events and job opportunities in the legal services arena.
In support of these projects, we offer support services which include:
- Training. The training program includes full scholarships or reduced fees for most courses offered by MICPEL (the Maryland Institute for the Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers) as well as other targeted training seminars. Your commitment is to take on a pro bono case or provide a certain number of hours of pro bono legal services.
- Pro Bono and Reduced Fee Litigation Fund. This is administered by PBRC with funding from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation. The purpose of the fund is to assist attorneys with the out–of-pocket expenses incurred in pro bono cases.
- Malpractice Insurance. By referring you to a pro bono referral agency or legal services program in the state, you will be covered by the agency’s malpractice coverage for the pro bono cases you accept.
- Mentoring. Most pro bono agencies will help match you with a mentor in a given field of law for the duration of your pro bono case. If not, we can help you find a mentor to assist you during your pro bono case.
We can help you find the right pro bono match and offer the chance to truly make a difference. Support the legal service agencies in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on volunteer opportunities in Maryland, please contact Jon Moseley at the Pro Bono Resource Center office at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services for the ProBonoResourceCenter of Maryland.