What We Do

What We Do

Stabilizing Communities Through Legal Services, Community Partnership and Advocacy

MVLS directly helps Marylanders facing legal challenges, while also fighting to change systems that harm people living in or near poverty. MVLS accomplishes this through pro bono representation, community engagement, and legislative and administrative advocacy. Our volunteer attorneys and tax professionals help individual clients resolve their life changing civil issues. MVLS staff attorneys build on that impact by building meaningful community partnerships and identifying specific inequities that are borne out in our clients’ stories and in the legal system at large. We leverage this knowledge to advocate for more equitable laws.

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Consumer Issues

Case Types: Bankruptcy, Debt Collections, Contracts
  • $5,000
    typical debt amount
  • 10%
    of defendants have counsel
"After getting help from MVLS with a chapter 7 bankruptcy my life has been at ease. No more threatening phone calls. I'm resting better. I had a stroke; I owe it to MVLS for my recovery."

Overwhelming debt not only causes tremendous stress, it often leads to court action. In collections proceedings, most individuals are being sued for unpaid medical bills, credit card balances, rental charges, or other consumer debts. And despite a pattern of problematic filings by debt collectors and a slew of bad actors in the debt consolidation and credit repair space, most cases end in a default judgment against the debtor. Nearly all plaintiffs are represented by counsel. Very few defendants are. Once a judgment is entered, wage garnishment can financially ruin a family already struggling to make ends meet.


MVLS offers full legal representation to debtors to help them find a resolution and move forward with their life. Grant funding allows us to go to the Baltimore City District Court every week for a Consumer Protection Clinic to assist people who are being sued for debt collection. We meet with individuals the day of their court proceeding to review their files, assist with negotiations and/or enter a defense. In partnership with the Bankruptcy Court, MVLS also coordinates the Debtor Assistance Project to provide brief advice to clients considering bankruptcy. Our Bankruptcy Bypass Program supports older adults who may be eligible for creditor relief outside of bankruptcy. We use what we learn through our work with clients to lead educational campaigns on a variety of consumer topics and advocate for consumer relief with the Maryland General Assembly.

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Criminal Record Relief

Case Types: Expungement, Shielding, Vacatur
  • 90%
    of companies run background checks
  • In Maryland, a criminal record is acquired upon arrest, whether or not a person is ever convicted of a crime
"You have enabled me to apply for and be a potential candidate for jobs that would have overlooked me in the past. It’s a great feeling."

Having a mark on your criminal record can be an insurmountable barrier to getting a job or securing a safe place to live. Thus, a criminal record can be both a consequence and cause of poverty. To help, MVLS assists with record expungement, MVA expungement, shielding, and vacatur.

As part of this effort, we additionally target two specific groups who are frequently negatively impacted by having a criminal record – workforce development trainees and human trafficking survivors.

Through our Workforce Development Project, MVLS partners with workforce sites where we do holistic screenings for legal barriers that will harm a trainee’s ability to secure sustainable employment. While legal services often begin with expungements, this comprehensive approach also addresses other destabilizing factors including identification issues, consumer and tax matters, housing problems, and family issues.  Our success in this area led to us being selected to deliver legal services to over 300 citizens serving in the Baltimore Health Corps during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Similarly, our Human Trafficking Prevention Project, in partnership with the University of Baltimore School of Law, supports survivors and those at the highest risk of being trafficked with holistic legal support that starts with criminal record expungement or vacatur (where survivors fight to vacate convictions for actions they were prosecuted for while being trafficked) and expands to address other legal issues like identity theft, collections, unsafe housing, or the loss of their children.

In addition to the provision of legal services, MVLS’ workforce development and human trafficking prevention staff:

  • Conduct extensive community outreach
  • Facilitate community-based intake
  • Partner with case managers and other direct service staff
  • Host educational presentations
  • Distribute educational materials, and
  • Work with local and state lawmakers to improve criminal relief options in the legislature.
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Estate Planning & Administration

Case Types: Wills, Probate, Life Estate Deed, Financial Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive
  • 6 in 10
    Adults don’t have a will
  • Opening an estate takes a long time and is costly
"With my estate planning documents in place, I can now go on living knowing that my family will not be fighting over or going against my wishes."

Far too many families, particularly in disinvested communities, think they don’t need to do estate planning because they don’t have a lot of assets. That is a myth. Estate planning addresses issues beyond a will, ensures that individuals have their wishes followed, reduces family conflict and plans for financially and emotionally valuable items to be passed onto the next generation. Estate planning can be a powerful tool for generational wealth building, even in the face of systemic barriers and wealth extraction that continues to be inflicted on Black communities. Through grant funding, MVLS’ Advance Planning and My Home, My Deed, My Legacy projects conduct extensive outreach and host free legal clinics to deliver these home-saving legal services. Our staff attorneys also advocate for policies that preserve homeownership and help end wealth extraction and community destabilization.

Estate planning services include creating or updating a will, advance health care directive, and financial power of attorney.

Avoiding Probate

MVLS helps clients take proactive steps during their lifetime to help them avoid the costly process of probate. MVLS volunteer and staff attorneys can set up beneficiaries, transfer on death accounts and life estate deeds, which create a streamlined process to pass a family home and other essential assets onto the next generation.

Estate Administration

Individuals who did not do estate planning or are unable to avoid probate can get help from MVLS volunteers to open an estate and navigate probate. For most of our clients, the only asset being passed through an estate is the family home.

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Family Law

Case Types: Adoption, Custody, Divorce, Guardianship, Name Change/Birth Corrections
  • 70%
    face a family law proceeding alone
  • #1
    request for help to MVLS is child custody
"I was going through a divorce from a very abusive partner. My volunteer lawyer made a very difficult situation much easier to deal with and a huge burden was lifted once it was finalized."

When it comes to civil legal issues, there are few that are more personally important and potentially devastating than family law matters. And yet, the majority of individuals in family law proceedings – including divorce or child custody hearings – are unrepresented. Since our founding, help in these kind of cases remains among the number one reasons that someone calls MVLS for help. MVLS also assists with adoptions, guardianship, name changes and birth certificate corrections.

The Adult Public Guardianship Review Board (APGRB) is MVLS’ longest running specialty project. APGRB attorneys represent adults under public guardianship at emergency guardianship and review hearings. MVLS also operates the weekly Washington County Courthouse Clinic which provides brief advice to people facing a family law issue.

Additionally MVLS recruits experienced family law attorneys to accept contested family law cases for full representation through Judicare. These attorneys can receive a small stipend for their help.

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Case Types: Deeds, Foreclosure, Ground Rent, Landlord/Tenant, Tax Sale
  • 4,500
    Owner occupied homes at risk of tax sale in 2022
  • Top 5
    Maryland rank for states with the highest foreclosure rates
"The free legal help I received meant a lot to me and to my family. I didn't have any other options and was not in a position to defend myself against predatory practices."

Losing your house can have a devastating and long-term destabilizing effect. At MVLS, much of our efforts are focused on preserving our clients’ housing and intervening as early as possible so that people can avoid housing loss through mortgage foreclosure, tax sale or eviction.

Deeds and Tangled Titles

Many limited-income homeowners are at risk of losing their home through disrepair, property tax delinquency or falling behind on their mortgage. When your name isn’t on the deed to your home, you aren’t able to access critical financial resources, home repair grant and loan programs, or state tax credits intended to bridge this financial gap.

Frequently, MVLS encounters clients who have resided in their homes for years, faithfully paid their mortgages, and kept up with their property responsibilities, but the house passed to them without the necessary legal steps to have their name on the deed. Our clients, for all reasonable purposes, are the homeowners. But not in the eyes of the law. Our My Home, My Deed, My Legacy project ensures that a homeowner can resolve this barrier to their legal status so that they can remain in their home as the legal homeowner.

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Income Tax Law

Case Types: Audits, Collections, EITC Denial, Refund Claims, Innocent Spouse Relief
  • 5X
    Rate at which IRS audits poorest families compared to everyone else
  • $48,866
    Saved by LITC clients in corrected liabilities, penalties and interest
"The tax issues I had overwhelmed me. The free legal assistance I received provided the proper direction I needed to address the issues. Without this help, I would have remained in a very serious position."

MVLS is home to one of just three Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) in the state. MVLS volunteer attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents assist people who have a tax controversy before the IRS or the Maryland Comptroller, volunteers step in to help these taxpayers navigate complicated systems, and negotiate settlements that enable them to pay back some of their debt without facing financial ruin.

In addition to this support, our LITC conducts community presentations and onsite intake at neighborhood based sites. We work collaboratively with the Comptroller and the IRS to seek better outcomes for the taxpayers we represent.

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