The library finally received the June 15, 2010 issue containing the article, “Ask a Lawyer” Gains Momentum by Adrienne Hagepanos in the PRO BONO Profile of the MSBA Bar Bulletin. It is now available at the MSBA website, too.
I am proud to say that I just attended my first in person Court of Appeals Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service meeting last Wednesday on June 16 as the newly appointed public member.
This was a joint meeting with the local and regional pro bono committee chairs of Maryland. All of the chairs described the pro bono activity sponsored by their committees. Dan Andrews, the AABA Pro Bono Committee Co-chair, was there to report on Anne Arundel County’s pro bono projects. He concentrated on the “Ask a Lawyer in the Library” program that has gotten underway this year. This meeting was a great source of inspiration for new ideas for the pro bono committee in Anne Arundel.
Another source of ideas for local committees can be found in the new Best Practices Manual for Local Pro Bono Committees written by Claire A. Smearman and edited by Sharon E. Goldsmith of the PBRC who staff the Standing Committee. Each meeting attendee received a copy of the new manual.
The standing committee is established by Maryland Rule 16-901. Maryland Rule 16-902 calls for the creation of local pro bono committees. The rule outlines the composition of the local committee and requires the creation of a local plan. I am not aware of the existence of any local committee in Anne Arundel County other than the bar committee chaired by Dan Andrews and Elizabeth Leight. I hope to obtain more information about the local committee and the local plan through my participation on the statewide committee.
Last night at the AABA Annual Meeting outgoing President, Hon. Danielle Mosley, mentioned the that the joint AACPLL\AABA “Ask a Lawyer in the Library Program” had received an award. It was nice to have this program recognized before the Anne Arundel County Bar.
On June 12, 2010 I received the PBRC 2010 Maryland Pro Bono Service Herbert S. Garten Special Project Award for the library’s “Ask a Lawyer in the Library” program.
(I have heard that the program was described in the June 2010 MSBA Bar Bulletin. I have not yet read the article as our issue has not yet been received and it is not yet available on the MSBA website.)
The program brings volunteer attorneys into the law library each Wednesday to provide brief, limited legal advice to the public. This program has expanded into public library branches in west and north county. The law library has also coordinated the AABA’s participation in Anne Arundel County’s Homeless Resource Day with an “Ask a Lawyer” service there.
Program participants can speak to an attorney for up to twenty minutes for legal advice and information. There is no time limit at the Homeless Day event. The law library offers back up research and reference service for the volunteer attorneys and the participants.
Since the program’s inception 303 clients have been served by 34 attorneys for a total of 144 hours. For a listing of all of the volunteers and links to program descriptions and pictures, visit the AACPLL wiki Pro Bono Stats page.
The attorneys who volunteer have been more than generous with their time. Those who have made use of the program have been appreciative of the guidance the attorneys have provided.
The number of legal self-help resources have just recently increased. The court has provided “legal information and forms to assist pro se (unrepresented) litigants in matters of divorce, custody/visitation, child support and name changes” for years now in the Self Help – Family Law Self Help Center. It is located on the second floor of the courthouse and is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. They also have telephone hours everyday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The phone number is: 410-280-5374.
The law library sees many self represented litigants (SRLs) who need assistance with many other legal issues beyond family law. The library has dedicated a section of the library as a self-help center to assist those seeking legal information or want to represent themselves without an attorney. The center has a computer with printer and a collection of legal books written for the non-attorney. Having this PC in an area away from the computer room allows library staff to provide instruction on the use of online and print materials used in legal research privately. The online Maryland’s Peoples Law Library is a great resource and used frequently in the “center.”
Still, many who visit the library want legal advice: in the form of should I or is this the right thing to do or what should I do? Many times they would love to have an attorney to represent them or provide them with advice but cannot afford to hire an attorney and do not qualify for legal services programs.
In response, the law library sought to institute a new service in the law library: Ask a Lawyer in the Law Library. Now every Wednesday a volunteer attorney is in the law library from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. to provide limited legal advice and answer legal questions for up to twenty minutes. The response has been great to the point where we often have many more than the six slots the two hours will allow. Many times the attorney of the day will stay an extra hour or more to accommodate those who did get one of the six time slots. (We now have a lottery between 10:45 and 11:00 so that time slots can be fairly assigned.) This year four different firms have agreed to provide an attorney for the same Wednesday each month: Bell, Ragland, Gauges and Paltell; David Simison; Council, Baradel; and Baldwin, Kagan and Gormley. Chis Boucher and Mary Kay Canarte have agreed to cover two of the four fifth Wednesdays in March, June, September and December.
The program has expanded to branches of the Anne Arundel Public Library this year and hopes to find a way to continue on a regular basis as these programs can be offered in the evening and on weekends.
Luckily for Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission decided that a pilot District Court Self-Help Center be located in the Glen Burnie District Court. The center is now up and running at 7500 Ritchie Highway in room 205 everyday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They can provide “limited legal services” involving such issues as landlord/tenant, small claims, and debtor/creditor. They can assist with such tasks as completing court forms and can answer legal questions or help in preparing for court.
The Ask a Lawyer in the Library program moved to North County last night. AABA attorneys, Cliff O’Connor and Bill Trevillian, Jr., provided free legal advice at the Brooklyn Park Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library. Attorney Ed Groh was there to help, too. I came along as usual to provide back-up research assistance. The afternoon began at 4:00 with clients ready at the start. There was not a large turnout as expected but Cliff O’Connor who organized the event will try again. Another north county location and different times will be considered. Other avenues for advertising the event beyond the newspaper and public library bulletin boards may be needed to reach those for whom the program is designed.
Those that took advantage of the program were grateful to get help with their legal problems which included bankruptcy and employment issues. The extra attention that the attorneys were able to give to each participant was appreciated, too.
The attorneys all agreed that they are willing to try it again.
Law Week was off to an early start with the Ask a Lawyer in the Library program returning to the Maryland City at Russett Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library on Saturday. Elizabeth Leight, co-chair of the AABA Pro Bono Committee, enlisted AABA attorney Brian Markovitz and Maryland Hispanic Bar Association attorney Patricia Chiriboga-Roby to provide free legal advice in the library. By 12:30 p.m. the attorneys had already assisted 11 clients with a total of 18 clients being seen by the end of the day. I was on hand to provide back-up reference assistance.
Issues for which consultations were sought included consumer contracts, immigration, child support and custody, legal malpractice, home construction disputes and employment.