In 2005, five Mid-Shore counties, together with state pro bono legal services groups, identified a need on the Eastern Shore for an agency that could connect attorneys willing to donate their time with low-income individuals in need of civil legal representation. Mid-Shore Pro Bono became the first regional pro bono referral agency in the state of Maryland and remains Eastern Shore’s only such agency.
The urgency of that need, and Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s unique ability to meet it, has been demonstrated by the agency’s rapid growth and expansion. Initially simply a lawyer referral agency, MSPB’s first steps in taking services to area residents were to hold civil legal services clinics on site in each county. The clinics, in turn, led staff to identify the legal services most requested and begin offering specialized services tailored to those needs.
Addressing widespread financial problems among the area’s low-income residents, MSPB began holding regular clinics and community workshops focused on foreclosure and bankruptcy, followed later by the Debtor Assistance and Consumer Protection Projects.
Family law continues to be MSPB’s largest program. To reduce some of these cases’ burden on the courts, MSPB began offering the Collaborative Practice Reduced Fee Project as an alternative domestic dispute resolution method, along with Women’s Family Law and Limited Scope Representation to allow more clients to afford legal assistance by participating in preparing their own cases.
Specialized projects evolved to serve both young and senior residents. The Community Conferencing Project began bringing victims and young offenders together to reach agreements through a powerful social justice process. The project’s Daily Rap and Youth Rap take conflict resolution and communication skills directly to students though school-based and after-school programs. The Elder Law Project integrates services from many of the other programs and tailors them to seniors’ unique needs.
The new Vulnerable Populations Assistance Project (VPAP) helps the area’s substantial immigrant population with their legal options and protects them from predatory false-documentation scams. Demand for assistance was so great that MSPB received authorization from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide immigration legal services through DOJ’s Recognition and Accreditation Program. Both Mid-Shore Pro Bono and its VPAP Manager are now accredited. This DOJ certification allows accredited non-attorney staff to practice immigration law before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the immigration courts, enabling us to handle more of these critical cases.
These programs can only help if those who need the services are aware MSPB can help. To that end, MSPB created innovative Court Liaison positions. These mobile representatives take MSPB’s services directly to the courts in each county, coordinating with the courts, clients and attorneys, and ensuring the Mid-Shore’s diverse population can take advantage of available legal resources.
In addition, MSPB has extended its original five-county, Mid-Shore service area into the three Lower Shore counties due to demand from residents of this previously underserved rural area. Now with almost 3200 square miles of service area, clients of limited resources needed to be able to reach us more easily, leading MSPB to open three satellite offices—in Queen Anne’s, Dorchester and Wicomico counties—while maintaining its centralized main office in Talbot County.
To manage this growth most effectively, MSPB streamlined its organizational structure to ensure an efficient case management approach to handling client needs. While assigning clear areas of responsibility for all staff, the structure still promotes the network of relationships among our many projects that has been a hallmark of our ability to offer the highest quality service to our clients.
2017 Annual Report