From Pro Bono Coordinator to Champion for Justice: A Donor Q&A

Below is an excerpt from our interview with MVLS volunteer and monthly donor, Dan Schmitt. Originally from Iowa, Dan came to Maryland for law school and took his first pro bono case with MVLS 30 years ago. Now, he gives every month because, in his words, “Everyone deserves to have an advocate on their side.”  

child smiling with dog and father

Q: Tell me about how you first heard about MVLS.  

I remember it clearly. I first heard of MVLS some 30 years ago. Attorney Carl Gould was the pro bono coordinator for Baltimore County at the time. He recruited me to take a pro bono case and the rest is history. I ended up becoming the MVLS volunteer pro bono coordinator for Baltimore and Harford Counties to recruit attorneys to get involved with pro bono. I volunteered for a long time and took primarily special education and guardianship type cases. Over the years I volunteered with different organizations in the disability community and became heavily involved in advocacy issues in favor of disability law reform.  

 In the beginning, my interest in getting involved with MVLS was really a personal one. My son was diagnosed with a severe disability shortly after he was born. At the time I knew nothing about special needs and disability rights laws and learned all I could to fully immerse myself in those specialty areas of law. My life changed profoundly with my son’s diagnosis. I learned firsthand through my own experiences and those of my pro bono clients how the civil justice system (and public-school systems) are set up for people to need advocates in order to have your voice heard and your rights upheld.  

Q: Do you have any standout pro bono client stories from those days? 

My client was in the first grade and at the time was in the custody of his grandmother because he had recently witnessed the brutal murder of his mother at the hands of his abusive father. The trauma he experienced led to behavioral issues at school. The school administration wanted to expel the child and started to closely monitor him making matters worse. I worked with the grandmother to put a behavior chart together to address the concerns brought forward by the school. The chart led to positive changes in my client’s behavior, but the school took little notice. In the end my client’s grandmother decided that a transfer to another school would be in the first grader’s best interest and we convinced the administration to grant it. I will never forget that overwhelming feeling of relief and gratitude when the grandmother thanked me and shared that “no one has ever fought for us before”. That feeling is better than any fee.  

I will never forget that overwhelming feeling of relief and gratitude when the grandmother thanked me and shared that “no one has ever fought for us before”. That feeling is better than any fee. 

Q: In your own words, what does MVLS do?  

MVLS gives voice to people and communities whose voices need amplification to be heard and treated fairly. That includes individuals who face barriers to meaningful employment and stable housing, minority communities, the elderly, and those who are financially disadvantaged. Not only does MVLS provide pro bono legal assistance to individual clients, but they also have the bigger picture perspective of the systemic issues that exist in our most vulnerable communities and advocate on their behalf to protect people’s rights. 

Q: Has your experience with the civil justice system changed you or your outlook? How? 

Yes. Everyone deserves to have an advocate on their side when up against a complex civil justice system that favors those who can afford legal representation. 

Q: Why do you give monthly to MVLS? 

Monthly giving makes good business sense. The more stable you can make your budget the easier you can plan. It makes sense to contribute to the stability of a cause you believe in, and I believe in MVLS. Their volunteers provide life changing legal representation to those who need it most.