Over 300 attorneys, judges, legal services providers and elected officials, representing a broad cross section of Maryland's legal services community, gathered at the Baltimore Convention Center on May 27 to attend the 12th Annual Maryland Partners for Justice Conference and celebrate the successful legislative increase in funding for civil legal services to the state's indigent. Thanks to the efforts of the state's legal services community, led by Susan Erlichman, Executive Director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, the filing fee surcharge bill passed the 2010 legislative session, boosting the legal services funding shortfall by an estimated $6 million. This event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Conference's sponsor, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC).
The Conference began with an inspirational message from Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, who congratulated the audience on the "tremendous job you did in getting the Legislature to fill the gap in funding for the underprivileged. It is your victory," he proclaimed, but reminded the group that "the fight is ongoing." Bell commended PBRC and MSBA for the tremendous volunteer lawyer effort shown in the Foreclosure Project. "This is the single largest focused pro bono effort in Maryland's history."
service is fundamental to the culture of the legal profession and it should be considered a priviledge to do pro bono work, not an obligation.".
HON. ANDRE M. DAVIS
The success of the Foreclosure Project was also praised by the Honorable Andre M. Davis, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, who served as the keynote luncheon speaker. "This effort is the most effective pro bono effort on a single issue to ever occur in Maryland, with more than 1,000 attorney volunteers, and PBRC is at the forefront of it." Judge Davis saluted all of the legal services attorneys present for networking at the legal services partnership conference to fill critical needs and look for new ways to extend access to justice to the indigent.
"Pro bono service is fundamental to the culture of the legal profession and it should be considered a privilege to do pro bono work, not an obligation," asserted Davis. "Over one million Maryland residents need legal assistance and cannot afford it. They deserve justice." Davis urged the private bar to do more pro bono service and supplement the work of the legal services organizations.
In conclusion, he warned the audience that "if people lose faith in the courts, they lose faith in the Rule of Law altogether. We need to ensure that Marylanders know they are entitled to legal representation regardless of whether they have the ability to pay."
The group also attended an eclectic array of break-out sessions offering insight on everything from the foreclosure crisis, immigration, self-help for litigants and housing to fee-shifting statutes, barriers to justice and law student and paralegal support of legal services. Other sessions highlighted timely issues like "Pro Bono Assistance for Haitians," "Advocacy for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System," "Tenants in Foreclosure" and "Best Practices for Pro Bono Programs."
Conference sponsors included the Maryland State Bar Association's Delivery of Legal Services Section and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation.