To celebrate Pro Bono during the National Pro Bono Week the Anne Arundel County Local Pro Bono Committee invited Michelle Moodispaw to our monthly meeting. The Committee wanted to learn more about her unique pro bono law firm, the Law Office of Michelle Moodspaw. Not only did the Committee have a good discussion of the types of pro bono services as a result, it added Michelle as a new member.
Michelle established her law firm with a goal to provide legal services to those who otherwise would not. Some do not qualify for legal service programs but still cannot afford an attorney. Others who may meet the financial criteria may not fall within the guidelines for the types of cases that the service provider takes. The law firm provides both free and reduced fee legal services.
Service provided by the firm ranges from brief limited advice consultations to full representation. Clients are referred via a number of different organizations that include the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, Mid-Shore Pro Bono, KIND, We Care and Friends and MVLS. An article in the Sun in 2010, ” New law firm seeks clients who can’t afford a lawyer: Attorneys say they want to help fill gap for services to people of limited means,” helped get the word out as well.
Of the 180 cases taken so far, 61 of those are civil with about half of those involving family matters. Other civil case types include immigration, housing and denial of benefits. Michelle is on the Public Defender’s Panel in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and handles district court and post-conviction matters, too. At this point, Michelle is reassessing her firm’s mission based on a desire to reach more people.
With her pro bono experience Michelle was able to offer insight as to best practices for encouraging pro bono service. She mentioned that she finds it easier to handle a case through an established pro bono legal service provider. The provider will have performed the intake and can have basic case information ready. She also suggested that a local pro bono referral service might make local attorneys feel that the service was their own and would then be more inclined to volunteer. Of course, this lead to discussion of how such a service could be established. This discussion will be ongoing.
While it is true that this model of a pro bono practice will not work for most, it can act as an inspiration for attorneys to provide at least the minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service each year.