Part of our 2022 Annual Report Impact Series
Jennifer Jones went to graduate school with the goal of becoming a social worker. Going to law school wasn’t on her radar, but when a couple of professors encouraged her to consider a combined law and social degree program, she took her first law class. To her surprise she really enjoyed it, “and the rest is history.”
Practicing law has given Jones the opportunity to serve people, albeit in a different way. She started volunteering with MVLS in 2021, and has taken on 11 cases since then, most of them in family law.
Jones recently closed a particularly contentious divorce case that she took on “low bono” through MVLS’ Judicare Program, through which family law attorneys can receive modest payments for their work. She helped her client, who was navigating the process of ending an abusive marriage, fighting for financial support and, ultimately, obtaining her independence.
“The most rewarding thing for me in this case was how happy the client was. For many years she had wanted to leave, but believed that being married was the only way she could survive financially,” Jones explained. Jones’ client, who has a disability that prevents her earning an income, courageously took the step of seeking a divorce after her situation became untenable. While it was an incredibly difficult time, with the client experiencing immense anxiety, Jones shared that “she now lives the peaceful life she has wanted for so long… an outcome she never thought would be possible.”
Despite the high stakes of civil legal cases, which span from family law issues like divorce and custody, to issues that cause long term financial instability, the United States does not guarantee counsel for people navigating these problems. For Jones, it’s gratifying to know that she’s offering her clients something that they truly need.
“And if you weren’t doing it, it’s very likely an injustice could occur,” Jones added. A recent study by the Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland indicates that clients are 6.5 times more likely to succeed if they have attorney representation. MVLS matches volunteers like Jones with clients to provide free legal help for the duration of their case.
For Jones, volunteering has an additional reward.
“I really want it to be highlighted how the legal community at large is supportive of the work and is willing to be a resource. You’re not going to have a handle on every situation. If I get stuck on something, I’ve found that when I reached out to other attorneys who had that expertise, they were more than willing to give me some help.”
John Hotz provided that help to Jones during her most recent case. One of the few experts on an issue that ended up being central to her client’s case, Jones shared, “John gave generously and freely. He was so kind and so helpful. Because of his contribution, my client secured benefits that she was entitled to but otherwise wouldn’t have had the means to secure.” MVLS encourages volunteers to seek out mentors or other experts in our network as they navigate their case.
MVLS also has a Pro Bono Portal that is available online and updated daily. The portal allows potential volunteers to preview cases and select one that’s the right fit for their availability, experience, and location. Jones urged potential volunteers to view the portal and take a case: “It’s not a fair playing field when one party has an attorney and the other doesn’t because they can’t afford one.”
374 volunteers like Jones took a case with MVLS during the past fiscal year, and another 19 provided formal mentorship support, giving a combined 11,533 hours of pro bono service. If you are an attorney or tax professional, you can visit www.mvlslaw.org to join this dedicated group and sign up to take a case today.