Despite the recession and our harsh economic times, Maryland lawyers donated close to 2 million volunteer hours in pro bono service in 2008, helping the state's poor with their legal needs. In addition, they contributed close to $3 million in financial support to increase legal services funding for the indigent. Traditionally, Maryland volunteer lawyers strongly support legal services to the poor and, when times are tough and people need help, lawyers step up to the plate and volunteer, giving their time, expertise and money to assist the needy.
One shining example of this is the state's Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project where, in the six months this program was operational in 2008, 918 lawyers volunteered to first, undergo foreclosure training then help hundreds of Maryland homeowners in danger of losing homes to foreclosure. In 2008, these volunteers gave 13,737 hours in pro bono service to the Foreclosure Project and many accepted multiple homeowner cases.
According to the recently released 2008 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report (Report), Maryland-certified lawyers rendered 1,109,686 pro bono hours in 2008, an increase of 40,020 hours from 2007's 1,069,666 hours. It also reports that 59.7 percent of Maryland's full-time lawyers volunteered for pro bono activity in 2008. Over 22 percent gave 50 hours or more of pro bono service.
As always, lawyers hailing from rural regions like the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland rendered the most pro bono hours in the state while those in metropolitan areas tended to give the fewest. The Eastern Shore led the way with 80 percent of its attorneys giving pro bono service, followed by Western Maryland with 78 percent. The highest percentage of lawyers rendering 50+ hours also hailed from these two regions.
Somerset County captured the lead with 50 percent of its lawyers giving 50 hours or more of pro bono service, followed by Dorchester County with 45 hours and Queen Anne's and Talbot running neck and neck with respectively, 43.5 and 43.2. "We are encouraged by the participation in these counties,"states Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, "becauseaccess to legal services is especially challenging in them."
Holding with tradition, the 2008 Report indicates that practitioners in Family/Domestic Law, Trusts/Estates/Wills, Bankruptcy, Personal Injury, and Elder Law give the most pro bono service and solo and small practitioners donate the most hours. 77.7 percent of Maryland's solo practitioners, and 71.4 percent of its small firm practitioners engaged in pro bono service in 2008, and about 17 percent of these practitioners volunteered for the Foreclosure Project.
Goldsmith, who oversees the Foreclosure Project, is delighted with its success. "The initial response of Maryland lawyers to the foreclosure crisis was unprecedented,"she exclaims. "These numbers indicate more than one third of the increase in pro bono hours in 2008 can be attributed to the Foreclosure Project."
"The Foreclosure Project continues to train and utilize volunteers in efforts to modify loans and identify creative solutions for sustainable homeownership,"she continues, "so we expect an even higher number of hours dedicated to the Project in the 2009 reporting cycle."
The Court of Appeals of Maryland has tracked attorney volunteerism across the state since 2002, reporting its findings each year in the Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report. It is now in the process of compiling the 2009 results. All Maryland attorneys are required to file annual pro bono reports to the Court of Appeals. The 2009 forms were due February 15, 2010.
Attorney pro bono service is still voluntary in the state, but revisions to Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, which took effect July 1, 2002, require all Maryland attorneys to file an annual Pro Bono Service Report with the Court. The form documents the number of hours of pro bono service the attorney rendered during the previous year. This pro bono summary gives the Court of Appeals a "snapshot"of the legal services landscape in the state.
Right now that landscape is very bumpy, given the bad economy, severe legal services funding shortages, the high unemployment rate and the soaring number of foreclosures. "In our current economic climate, legal services providers are being inundated with requests for help and have fewer resources with which to respond,"reports Goldsmith. "Pro bono lawyers may be the only hope for many vulnerable or disadvantaged people throughout our state, many of whom have never before faced such dire circumstances."
Goldsmith encourages attorneys to volunteer for the Foreclosure Project and help the thousands of homeowners desperately needing legal assistance. Attorneys may volunteer by contacting PBRC at email@example.com.