Volunteer of the Month | Sara Lucas

We’re proud to recognize Sara Lucas, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Sara and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
There are many reasons why I choose to volunteer with MVLS. First, MVLS offers plenty of support and resources to help volunteers navigate their cases, and the MVLS staff are responsive and always willing to help. There are numerous trainings posted online that volunteer attorneys can watch, and if you need to, you can reach out and speak with an experienced attorney about the case on which you are working. MVLS also has a Community Advocacy Network (“CAN”) that provides additional support to the volunteers. Furthermore, MVLS offers a diverse array of cases to work on, from divorces and other family law issues, to bankruptcy, personal injury, expungements, estate planning, and much, much more. The diverse array of cases MVLS offers poses many opportunities for volunteer attorneys to become exposed to areas of law other than their practice areas, and even to build a “secondary” or “pro bono” practice, allowing the attorney to become more well-rounded and well versed. Finally, the clients are always incredibly thankful, gracious, and a joy.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
There are a few MVLS cases that I am particularly proud. The first is a guardianship case, whereby I helped a senior citizen who was on a fixed income obtain guardianship over her older sister who had severe dementia and was in a nursing home. The client and her sister had several assets together, which made it impossible for the client to dispose of those assets accordingly. This was the first guardianship case I have ever handled, and I successfully helped the client obtain guardianship over the person and the property of her sister, which included filing a petition, facilitating service on many interested parties, communicating with the appointed attorney for the sister, and ultimately appearing on my client’s behalf at a hearing. Some other cases I am particularly proud of are two name change cases. In the first name change case, I helped a minor correct her name, and because it was corrected, she is now able to get her learner’s permit, learn how to drive, and ultimately get her driver’s license. In another name change case, I helped a mother correct the name of her toddler so that the child could get baptized under the correct name, which was of the utmost importance to the client. 

From these cases, I learned that simple matters such as name changes actually have an extraordinary impact, and that it is possible to navigate a completely new (and somewhat complex) area of law such as guardianships.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS impacts me both personally and professionally. I feel very fulfilled when I help others solve problems, especially those that may not have as many resources as others. I also enjoy interacting with people outside of my practice area and feel refreshed when I do so. On a professional level, I get to expand my practice, learn a new area of law, and develop skills that will help me in my practice overall. 

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
Do it. You will have no regrets. 

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
I help clients with limited resources and less access navigate their legal issue and resolve it, free of charge. It is fulfilling for me and impactful for them!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
It may be overwhelming to take a case in an area of law an attorney is completely unfamiliar with, but I would recommend doing just that. In the practice of law, lawyers are constantly in positions of discomfort, whether it is during the course of contentious litigation, a negotiation, or dealing with a difficult client. I recommend exercising the skill of overcoming your fears or discomfort by taking a case in a completely unfamiliar area of law (when the attorney has a bit of extra time) and learn something new. The support and resources MVLS’ provide make the task much less onerous than one might think, and attorneys will gain confidence in mastering a new area of law. That confidence is especially important for new attorneys. 

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Aims to Raise $175,000 to Help Provide Free Legal Help

“A Taste for Pro Bono” Will Help Raise Funds, Recruit Volunteers and Enable Marylanders to Get Fair Legal Representation

BALTIMOREMaryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a statewide nonprofit offering full legal representation to low-income Marylanders, will host its annual fundraiser – A Taste for Pro Bono – today at the Baltimore Museum of Industry to raise much-needed funds and recruit attorneys and tax professionals to volunteer to provide free legal help. This year’s presenting sponsor is Saul Ewing LLP.

According to MVLS, studies about access to justice indicate that 3 in 4 low-income households experienced a civil legal problem in the past year, and nearly 40% experienced more than five issues. Most of these households struggle to afford necessities, let alone an attorney.

MVLS handles civil cases, including child custody, criminal record relief, divorce, estate planning and administration, foreclosure, income tax issues and consumer cases like debt collection. All services are income-based and MVLS encourages clients with legal questions to reach out for help before it’s too late. MVLS mobilizes a network of more than 1,000 volunteer attorneys and tax professionals who do pro bono work to respond to this need. MVLS offers a variety of training and webinars for its volunteers to learn more about pro bono and can match them with cases of Marylanders in need of assistance.

A Taste for Pro Bono is an opportunity for colleagues and friends to enjoy an evening of food, fun and fellowship,” said MVLS Executive Director Susan Francis. “But most importantly, this major fundraiser will empower our nonprofit to improve awareness about pro bono, recruit volunteers, answer clients’ calls for help and do the good work of ensuring justice isn’t dependent on how much money a person makes – but that low-income Marylanders also can get the legal representation they need and deserve. Our goal this year is to raise $175,000.”

This year’s event will feature exhibits at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, food and drinks from Zeffert & Gold, a DJ and more than 250 guests supporting pro bono legal services. The event is supported by more than 60 sponsors, including law firms, credit unions, healthcare organizations and generous individuals. Last year’s event raised $156,000 to support MVLS’ mission.

“We are so grateful for our generous sponsors, our fundraising committee and all of our guests who will attend to support this very worthwhile cause,” Francis added. “There are so many people across the state who are facing life-changing legal issues. We can’t respond alone and welcome the support of our partners and community.”

Persons interested in volunteering with MVLS can join its pro bono panel. Newer attorneys and tax professionals also may consider joining MVLS’ young professionals group known as the Community Action Network.

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is a nonprofit that mobilizes volunteers to provide free civil legal help. The organization serves thousands of people each year who otherwise would be unable to afford representation, focusing on six issues that have a significant impact on peoples’ everyday lives – family law, housing, finance, tax, criminal record relief and estate planning and administration. Through outreach and education, MVLS brings legal services to people who need it most. Through advocacy, MVLS fights for racial and economic justice. To learn more, visit mvlslaw.org.

Media Contact: Sandy Arnette, 410-274-5975, sandy@arnettemedia.com 

“How to Negotiate a Debt with the IRS” by MVLS LITC Director, John Hardt.

If you are looking for a way to negotiate down a tax debt with the IRS, an Offer In Compromise may be a good option. It works much like you think it would form the name; You propose a certain amount of what you owe as what you can realistically pay, and if the IRS agrees with you, it may reduce what you owe to that amount you proposed. The IRS may consider an Offer in Compromise even if there is no dispute that the taxpayer owes the money.

Keep in mind that the IRS is not required to accept an offer that you submit. The IRS has many rules and requirements for when they will consider an OIC and for what amount they will settle. There are some unscrupulous businesses known as “OIC Mills” which charge people large fees for submitting OIC offers the business knows won’t be accepted, so be wary of claims that seem too good to be true.

To check for yourself whether the IRS would consider an Offer in Compromise in your case, you can check the Offer in Compromise Qualifier tool. While this tool can’t tell you whether the IRS will accept your offer, it can tell you whether it would consider one as applied to your case. The page also gives important information on how Offers in Compromise are submitted and what the offers need to show. If you determine you want to file an offer but need advice, many reputable tax preparers and attorneys offer help with OICs. MVLS may be able to help, if you qualify.

Written by LITC Director, John Hardt.

“Maryland nonprofits to offer free legal counseling for homeowners with unpaid property taxes” Article Published by The Baltimore Fishbowl

The Baltimore Fishbowl highlights several upcoming legal clinics in partnerships with the Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC) of Maryland and the Stop Oppressive Seizures Fund (SOS). Homeowners participating in the clinics will meet one-on-one with an attorney and receive free legal advice about the tax sale process and their options going forward.

Volunteer of the Month | Rebecca Sheppard

Rebecca Sheppard

We’re proud to recognize Rebecca Sheppard, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Rebecca and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I choose to volunteer at MVLS because I am passionate about its mission statement. As a private practice tax attorney, it is difficult to help clients who cannot afford representation. To be able to help on such a large scale with MVLS through direct representation, trainings and mentorship is amazing! 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
I love working with passionate individuals who work tirelessly in their communities.  

Why should other attorneys and tax professionals do pro bono?
Attorneys should volunteer to help others, learn a new area of the law under provided mentorship, and help facilitate real solutions to problems that may be overwhelming for some, but are solvable with proper guidance.  

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years?
I hope the civil services legal community continues to thrive. 

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Receives Over $540,000 to Help Expunge Criminal Records Related to Cannabis Charges 

Grant Awarded as State’s Cannabis Legalization Bill Goes Into Effect July 1, 2023 

News of MVLS’ grant award, which coincides with the authorization of adult use and possession of cannabis in Maryland, was highlighted in The Daily Record (here), The Baltimore Business Journal (here), The Times-Tribune (here), Investors Observer (here), and covered in an article by Mike Curley in Law360 (here). You can read the full press release, below.

BALTIMOREMaryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a statewide provider of free legal services to low-income Marylanders, will receive a $542,775 grant from Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) to implement a statewide outreach, education and referral network to help expunge the criminal records of Marylanders charged with cannabis-related violations. A constitutional amendment that authorizes the adult use and possession of cannabis in Maryland goes into effect July 1, 2023.  

“Given the racial disparities in arrests and sentencing for cannabis violations, the expanded expungement laws will right a wrong that has held back thousands of people.”

Chris Sweeney, Workforce Development Manager

MVLS’ funding is part of a $2.5 million grant awarded to eight legal services providers in the state. The Maryland General Assembly appropriated the one-time funding to MLSC to distribute to its grantees to educate individuals on changes to cannabis and expungement laws and support expungement efforts between April 2023 and June 2024.  

“We welcome this change in the law that will further reduce employment barriers for many Marylanders and appreciate the General Assembly’s recognition that education, outreach and legal assistance play critical roles in stabilizing communities,” said MVLS Executive Director Susan Francis. “MVLS looks forward to working with the seven other grantees to quickly launch a unified and comprehensive initiative to remove the charges from individuals’ records and give them a second chance.”     

MVLS will work with Allegany Law Foundation; Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County; FreeState Justice; Harford County Bar Foundation; Homeless Persons Representation Project; Maryland Legal Aid; and MidShore Pro Bono to increase awareness and accessibility of expungement services starting this month. This collaboration will include public awareness and direct mailing campaigns, free legal clinics and increased staffing.  

 MVLS Attorney and Workforce Development Manager Chris Sweeney said, “Expungement is a simple legal process that can have a substantial impact on a person’s life, opening doors to stable employment and housing. Given the racial disparities in arrests and sentencing for cannabis violations, the expanded expungement laws will right a wrong that has held back thousands of people.”    

Marylanders with cannabis-related charges can visit mvlslaw.org/free-legal-help to check their eligibility and apply for services.   

 As a part of the project, MVLS will hire four community navigators to cover Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, Baltimore City and the prison population – and connect clients to MVLS attorneys and staff, or the appropriate legal services organization involved with the project. MVLS also will hire a paralegal to coordinate the navigators’ efforts and perform legal research and document requests.   

Media Contact: Sandy Arnette, 410-274-5975, sandy@arnettemedia.com