By Sandra Zunino
Justice may be blind, but it can also be very expensive. Attorney’s fees to settle civil cases can run into thousands of dollars. Not knowing the complexity of the law can be even more devastating – financially and otherwise.
Dedicated to providing free or reduced fee legal services to low-income families on the Mid-Shore, Mid-Shore Pro Bono Inc., is the first regional pro bono referral agency in Maryland and the only pro bono referral agency on the Eastern Shore.
Established as a pilot project in 2005 to address the need for increased pro bono legal representation in this region, Mid-Shore Pro Bono is the result of the Local Pro Bono Committees from Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties joining efforts with the Circuit Courts from these counties to effectuate each of their respective Pro Bono Plans.
“People can call us and fill out an application,” says Mid-Shore Pro Bono Executive Director Sandy Brown. “We verify income, take documents and start calling attorneys to see who will take the case for free.”
While Mid Shore Pro Bono handles cases concerning consumer debt and foreclosure, small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, wills or probate, advanced medical directives, power of attorney and tort defense; the majority of their cases are in family law including legal separation, child custody and/or visitation and divorce.
A 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Mid Shore Pro Bono receives grant monies from Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) and other government grants as well as donations from individuals, law firms, foundations and corporations. But with the tight economy, the organization is struggling.
“Grant driven funding has been cut because of the economy,” says Sandy. “However the amount of applications has increased 265 percent in the past six months.”
One way to help with costs, Mid Shore Pro Bono just started requiring a non-refundable application fee of $20. Prior to that, the application process was free, but much time went into screening applicants who never pursued the process. “We spoke to many other pro bono organizations and they all charge application fees,” says Sandy.
With the assistance of a part-time receptionist, as executive directors, Sandy is responsible for running the operations of the program – more than a full-time job. “We are always in need of volunteers,” she says, “anything from mailing and filing is appreciated.”
Additionally, Sandy is always looking for attorney volunteers. According to the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, full-time practicing attorneys should strive to provide 50 hours of pro bono service each year.
“Lawyers, because it is a good professional way of being, support our organization,” she says. “In turn, we will keep track of their pro bono hours.” Sandy is always looking for more attorneys to volunteer their time. Lawyers can also make financial contributions to the legal services organizations of their choice to offset their pro bono responsibilities.
To show her gratitude for the volunteering attorneys, Sandy is planning a reception for them in the near future. “It’s a lot of work for these attorneys,” says Sandy. “I can’t thank them enough.”
While Mid-Shore Pro Bono is a relatively new fledgling organization in this area, Sandy says she feels the program is going to grow over the next couple of years.
For more information or to make a donation, call Mid-Shore Pro Bono at 410-690-4890 or visit www.midshoreprobono.org.