PBRC is viewed as a thought leader in the legal services and pro bono community. We work with the courts, organized legal services programs, private and government lawyers and others on developing policies that support a strong pro bono culture within the legal profession and open access to the legal system for the disenfranchised.
Leadership on Pro Bono Issues
We actively serve as the statewide advocate for pro bono service and clearinghouse for information on pro bono rules and resources. It was through PBRC’s efforts that the Judicial Commission on Pro Bono was ultimately established by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which later led to recommendations of mandatory reporting of pro bono hours, the creation of the Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service, local pro bono committees in each county, and a redefinition of pro bono legal service.
PBRC staff and board members have been active representatives on Maryland’s Access to Justice Commission (both the Court’s and the new independent ATJ), the MSBA Section Council on Delivery of Legal Services, the Professionalism Course Committee, the Maryland Judicial Commission on Pro Bono, and the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Committee. In fact, in 2013 PBRC and its Executive Director, Sharon E. Goldsmith, Esq., won a prestigious ABA Presidential Award for Service to the professional community for effective advocacy.
Statewide Standing Committee on Pro Bono, Local Pro Bono Committees and Pro Bono Reporting
Policy initiatives and advocacy frequently occur through the work of the Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Service, in which PBRC is an active participant and lends staff support. (For more information on the Standing Committee, view the link at the right). Similarly, PBRC serves as the liaison and resource for each county’s local pro bono committee and solicits input on statewide changes that would improve accessibility to free legal help. We also monitor and assist in implementing the annual pro bono reporting process required for all Maryland licensed lawyers and teach new members of the bar about their professional responsibility to do pro bono legal service for those of limited means. (For more on mandatory reporting of pro bono hours, view the link at the right).
Recent Policy Initiatives
Recent initiatives include: recommending the inclusion of clear rules allowing volunteer lawyers to secure an automatic advance waiver of the filing fees for their pro bono clients, saving both time and money for their clients; proposing a new Pro Bono Practice Rule enabling government and corporate lawyers without Maryland licenses the opportunity to engage in pro bono legal work through an organized legal services program; and crafting a government attorney pro bono policy for offices that previously prohibited volunteer legal work.
With our specific project work, we’ve seen success on substantive changes in the law and on the policy level occur. After launching the Tax Sale Prevention Pro Bono Project, we actively pursued modifying the tax sale process which successfully led to an increase in the minimum amount for a delinquent property tax or water bill that could lead to a tax sale of one’s home (from $250 or $350 respectively to $750). That change will definitively impact the number of people who may now be able to save their homes from tax sale. For unaccompanied youth, PBRC has convened a group of diverse organizations to coordinate a message about the needs and rights of the immigrant children trying to reunite with family members. In connection with our Consumer Protection Project, we filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals to alleviate overly burdensome requirements on consumer defendants in debt buyer lawsuits. Organized pro bono work on veterans’ issues was non-existent before PBRC advocated for establishing a program and helped convene a number of entities dedicated to developing a concrete program that connected veterans with lawyers for service-related benefits and other legal problems. PBRC staff frequently contributes to the discourse on changing the law or advocating on issues impacting low-income people and communities, either through Task Forces of legal and non-legal advocates and community leaders, or other community initiatives. Finally, PBRC hosts the only annual Maryland Partners for Justice Conference to galvanize individuals and entities committed to forging change and developing policies that encourage open, fair and just access to the legal system.