The justice gap in the state is an unfortunate fact. More than 80%* of people and communities in poverty cannot afford a lawyer and as a result, lose their homes, children, jobs, health benefits and access to quality education. The Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, Inc. (PBRC) was founded on January 16, 1990 as an independent non-profit to help close that justice gap by encouraging volunteer lawyers to offer free legal services involving basic human needs to disadvantaged individuals, families and communities.
The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) established PBRC after recognizing that disparity and securing an agreement with the Court of Appeals of Maryland to launch a volunteer lawyer recruitment campaign in lieu of mandating pro bono work. The MSBA delegated the responsibility of implementing its pro bono plan to PBRC as its “pro bono arm.” The highly successful campaign resulted in thousands of potential volunteers being integrated into the community to offer essential legal help to those most in need. As the central pro bono coordinator and clearinghouse in the state, we have been the “go-to” organization for pro bono civil legal services ever since.
Our focus is on expanding the reach of free legal help in the state by recruiting, training, mentoring, and supporting volunteer lawyers who in turn work within their local communities and providers to represent the most vulnerable populations in our state such as the disabled, abused, homeless or working poor. We are also quite proud of our ability to “incubate” or create new project models that serve a particular emerging need in the community. These projects, which include clinics, hotlines, direct representation and mediation, offer lawyers short-term but meaningful ways to learn new areas of legal practice, gain practical, hands-on experience, and assist at-risk clients including seniors, veterans, defrauded consumers, and those at risk of losing their homes. PBRC has the unique role of facilitating partnerships and collaborating with entities to increase and enhance free or low-cost legal services, bridging the gaps in the current legal services delivery system.
Given its stature and history, PBRC further helps develop pro bono policy through its work with the courts and legislature. All of these initiatives necessitate strong collaboration. PBRC has also been instrumental in focusing on regions in the state where the resources are extremely scarce so that leveraging volunteers makes an even greater difference. The impact is tangible and vital to the economic and social stability of the clients and communities we serve. Thousands of lives have been improved because of these efforts.
In brief, PBRC has evolved from a recruitment arm of the state bar to a comprehensive pro bono clearinghouse of volunteer lawyers and resources, support center and innovator. The core focus of PBRC has not changed, however, as we strive to open the doors of justice to all. In brief, we change lives, build communities and preserve the integrity of our justice system.
*A 1988 legal needs study conducted by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation’s (MLSC) Advisory Council entitled “Action Plan for Maryland’s Poor” found that an appalling 80% of Maryland’s poor could not gain access to a lawyer in critical civil cases affecting basic human needs.