Providing pro bono legal help is the ethical responsibility of all attorneys and is based on a tradition that dates back to before the Constitution. Volunteering to provide free legal help to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it also has practical benefits, especially for attorneys looking to hone their skills.
Early in my legal career, I was the judicial law clerk for The Honorable Lynne Stewart Mays. As a new lawyer fresh out of my clerkship, the world of legal practice was both thrilling and daunting to me. Once I joined the team at MVLS, I was charged with staffing the weekly consumer protection clinic at Baltimore District Court. I found that spending time at the clinic has been one of the most rewarding and beneficial ways to start my legal career; I have become a more confident and capable lawyer. Here are some benefits of spending my time at the consumer clinic:
- Enhancing Communication Skills
As we all know, efficient communication is at the core of practicing law. At the consumer protection clinic, attorneys are working closely with the people of Baltimore City, many of whom do not have a legal background. I also get the opportunity to present in front of a judge. For many new lawyers, both can be seen as daunting, but volunteering at the clinic is a significant first step that can lay the foundation for skills that will serve you well.
- Gaining Practical Legal Experience
Entering the legal profession can be a sharp learning curve, and new attorneys might feel like they are navigating uncharted waters. My time at the consumer protection clinic has allowed me to gain hands-on experience. With the aid of MVLS’ experienced Staff Attorneys, I can work on real cases, interact with clients, and apply the law to legal issues that achieve actual results through my consultations.
- Contributing to the Community
Many Marylanders are sued each year under the “Affidavit Judgment” process in which a creditor can secure a money judgment in district court without even having to show up at the courthouse. Through my time at the weekly clinic, I am providing legal aid to people who are facing financial hardship and an imbalanced legal system. Almost always without legal representation the outcome of these cases favors creditors. With legal representation, people can find hope that their voice is being heard. The people that attend the clinic for legal help report the most relief once their issue is resolved.
As a new lawyer working at our weekly consumer protection clinic, I was offered many benefits that I know can be an advantage for any new attorney. Volunteering with MVLS – at the consumer protection clinic or in any of our program areas – is an opportunity to enhance your communication skills, gain practical experience, and make a real difference in the community. As you start your legal career, consider getting a head start and volunteering with MVLS.
About the Author: Courtland Merkel is a housing and consumer attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). MVLS’ 12 staff attorneys provide expertise and support to a much-larger volunteer panel of attorneys and financial professionals across the state who work together to bridge the gap between the number of legal aid attorneys and the need for legal help. Courtland runs a weekly Consumer Protection Clinic at the Baltimore City District Court. To volunteer at this clinic, you can contact Courtland directly at firstname.lastname@example.org