Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland (right), with PBRC Executive Director Sharon E. Goldsmith (left) and PBRC Board President James Butler at the PBRC 20th Anniversary Gala, held November 13 at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.
In the last 20 years, tens of thousands of Maryland lawyers have volunteered for pro bono service through the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), MSBA’s pro bono arm, to help the state’s indigent. PBRC serves as a beacon in Maryland’s legal community, guiding volunteer attorneys to pro bono provider groups who link them to thousands of poor clients needing civil legal services. As PBRC commemorates its 20th anniversary, it is honoring and thanking Maryland attorneys – the volunteers who embody the true spirit of pro bono service by giving their time and legal talent to help the poor.
On November 13, PBRC celebrated its 20th anniversary with a Gallery of the Stars 10th Anniversary Benefit Gala at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. Over 250 members of the legal community turned out for this gala occasion. Highlights of the evening included special awards for outstanding pro bono “stars” (see page 16), a program featuring greetings from Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawling-Blake; James B. Butler, PBRC President; and Sharon E. Goldsmith, PBRC Executive Director, with Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV serving as MC, and the unveiling of a special pro bono video.
“PBRC’s 20th Anniversary Benefit Gala was incredibly successful and everyone enjoyed it,” Goldsmith declares. “Most importantly, we were able to project a strong and tangible message about the impact of pro bono in our community and on the legal profession. PBRC’s policy development and advocacy has put Maryland on the map and sustained a strong pro bono legal culture in the state.”
PBRC has come a long way in two decades. What began as an attorney volunteer clearinghouse and recruiting organization in 1990 has blossomed into a comprehensive, statewide legal support network that has channeled over 15,000 volunteer attorneys to pro bono service to help the needy. Working in conjunction with Maryland’s Judiciary, the Center has initiated special pro bono projects, studies and surveys and pursued systemic change to improve the delivery of legal services system.
The Center has made a huge difference in the legal services community by generating visibility and public awareness about the need for indigent civil legal services in the state. PBRC promotes equal access to justice, coordinates resources and support for legal advocates and fosters goodwill throughout the legal services community. It advances pro bono opportunities within Maryland’s Bar, enhances attorney pro bono service in the state and honors the volunteer attorneys who make it happen.
PBRC’s roots actually date back to 1988, when a Maryland Legal Services Corporation legal needs assessment indicated over one million low-income Marylanders did not have access to civil legal services. To address this crisis, MSBA President Herbert S. Garten launched the renowned “People’s Pro Bono Campaign,” an all-out effort to recruit volunteer attorneys. This successful campaign, which yielded over 9,200 volunteer attorneys, led to the creation of the People’s Pro Bono Action Center (PPBAC) in 1990.
The first challenge facing Sharon E. Goldsmith, PPBAC’s newly hired Executive Director, was processing all of these attorneys then integrating them into Maryland’s pro bono delivery system. Initially, PPBAC functioned as a volunteer attorney clearinghouse, linking the attorneys with legal services providers in need of their services, who referred the attorneys to indigent clients. Next, it trained the attorney volunteers, promoted pro bono opportunities and raised awareness about attorney volunteerism in Maryland.
Over the course of the ’90s, PPBAC evolved into a comprehensive resource offering an array of support services to lawyers and the legal services community. It initiated awards programs to recognize volunteer attorneys, spearheaded a coalition to oversee the SSI Children’s Project, created the Pro Bono Coordinating Council and launched its successful Maryland Partners for Justice Conference. In 1998, PPBAC changed its name to the Pro Bono Resource Center, reflecting its expanded role in Maryland’s legal services system.
In the last 10 years, PBRC began assisting the Court when Rule 6.1 mandated attorney pro bono reporting, established the pro bono mediation, children’s education, veterans’ benefits and immigrant rights projects, convened regional meetings in the state, developed a comprehensive pro bono manual and planned Maryland’s first National Pro Bono Week celebration. One of PBRC’s most significant achievements has been spearheading the massive Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project where more than 1,000 lawyers volunteered to represent distressed homeowners, saving many homes and preventing communities from collapse.
These are only a few of PBRC’s many impressive milestones in 20 years. “Our impact on the community has been profound,” exclaims Goldsmith. “Through our efforts, lawyers have prevented families from becoming homeless, obtained special education services for children, ensured safety for domestic violence victims, enhanced community economic development, provided neighborhood stability, secured veterans and medical benefits and kept families intact.”
For two decades, PBRC has diligently carried out its core mission, recruiting volunteer attorneys and referring them to legal services providers. Moreover, across 20 years it has expanded into a comprehensive, statewide legal support network which promotes a pro bono culture in Maryland. Today PBRC has a strong, visible presence, and plays a vital role in the state’s legal services community: PBRC has clearly succeeded in narrowing the justice gap in Maryland.