“…it wouldn’t be possible for us to accomplish all that we do without the combined efforts of our volunteers, community partners, staff and board, donors, other legal services programs, and people like you.”
It is only through our combined efforts – when we work together – that we can make an impact on the justice system. When I reflect on the role that Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) plays in ensuring a fair and equitable legal system, I come back to this idea and realize that it wouldn’t be possible for us to accomplish all that we do without the combined efforts of our volunteers, community partners, staff and board, donors, other legal services programs, and people like you.
In May 2020, MVLS received an intake phone call from an individual seeking to modify his custody arrangement. He hadn’t seen his children for over six months and he wanted to establish a more consistent relationship with them. This is the kind of call MVLS’ intake legal advocates take every single day.
Thanks to a dedicated volunteer attorney, the case was placed later that year, and the client was assisted with their custody modification. Our volunteer and their colleagues provided more than 40 hours of pro bono to the MVLS client. This contribution of time and talent is at the heart of what MVLS does every day.
But what happened next speaks to both the commitment of our volunteers and the depth and breadth of our impact. When the case went to trial in Anne Arundel County in 2022, the judge granted attorney fees to the opposing party, citing as his reason that our client, who is unemployed, received pro bono services. Recognizing the terrible precedent that this kind of ruling could create, the volunteer attorney called me to share the troubling outcome.
Remarkably, they proactively committed to appealing the decision pro bono for the benefit of their client, MVLS and the entire legal services community. At the same time, I was speaking to a MVLS board member about my admiration for our volunteer’s commitment to appealing the case. On the spot, our board member offered to draft an amicus brief on behalf of MVLS raising the potentially chilling effect on pro bono if this ruling was left in place. He worked with one of MVLS’ law student interns and, once drafted, with MVLS to encourage other legal services providers to sign-on to the amicus as well. The brief was filed in December.
While we await the hearing later this spring, I am heartened by the commitment of so many to ensure that justice is provided both on an individual and systemic level.
At MVLS, we’ve continued to grow to further our impact. When I joined MVLS almost ten years ago, we were a staff of 11. Today we are a very strong 33, with one open position to fill. We’ve recently expanded by hiring a Tangled Title Paralegal to assist with our housing stabilization work, unraveling deed issues primarily to preserve Black legacy homeownership, and a Community Legal Advocate who will work to develop close community partnerships in West Baltimore to reduce barriers to legal services and knowledge.
As we begin the new year, thank you for the role that you played in helping MVLS create more justice in 2022, and I hope you will join us again this year, as we collectively bring our talents, skills and resources to create important and meaningful impact for MVLS clients and in our judicial system.