Maryland Legal Aid - Helping Those in Our Home Town

Legal Aid.web"It's about access to justice in a time of crisis," said Jennifer Leigh Rankin, Chair, Pro Bono Committee of Frederick County. "When you're about to lose your house, or your medical assistance is jeopardized, you become unemployed, you're going through a divorce with custody issues, or you are a child in the foster care system, there's an organization that partners with many people and entities in the community to make sure justice is there for those who don't have the resources to afford a private attorney."

Jennifer is referring to Maryland Legal Aid, and specifically, the office located in downtown Frederick which serves Frederick, Washington, and Carroll Counties. It provides a broad range of assistance to individuals and families who do not have the ability to pay, including legal advice, referrals, representation in litigation, and clinics to teach individuals to represent their own case. Between late December 2013 and late June 2014, the Pro Bono (legal representation free of charge) and Pro Se (self-representation) clinics served 220 clients, and 68 clients were placed with an attorney. These numbers represent just the tip of the iceberg compared to the number of inquiries the office receives.
Nearly 100 attorneys work with the Legal Aid office, providing thousands of hours of pro bono support. This is one-third of the Bar Association of Frederick County membership, an impressive percentage. The Legal Aid office did significant outreach in 2014 to increase the number of participating attorneys, doubling the number from prior years. "It makes my job so much easier," said Nina Shore, Legal Aid's Chief Attorney in the Frederick office. "When someone contacts our office, it's frustrating if you don't have the resources to help them. The private attorneys in Frederick County are generous in saying 'I'll take that case.' With the help of the Pro Bono Committee, we've been able streamline the intake process, so that the pro bono attorney has all the information they need to get started, and as a result, are more likely to say they will help." It was noted there are attorneys in Frederick County who provide reduced fee and pro bono work that never funnels through the Legal Aid office. "I know you can't pay me, but I'll take your case," Jennifer said of these attorneys. "This happens because Frederick County is the kind of community that does that, and a lot of other counties don't."
Grants from The Bar Association of Frederick County Justice for All Fund, The Gordon M. and Teresa Warfield Cooley Charitable Gift Fund, and Community Foundation unrestricted funds have provided support exceeding $50,000 since 2004, with $10,438 granted in FY2014. Grants have helped to make possible the Pro Bono and Pro Se clinics, as well provide paralegal staff.
According to Alecia Frisby, Staff Attorney in Legal Aid's Frederick office, their mission is to protect basic human rights. "People have the right to housing, the right to unemployment insurance and those types of safety nets. The programs are incredibly difficult to navigate on your own, and that's why the work Legal Aid does is so important. It shields people from losing the most basic necessities they need for survival."
Ian Bartman, a private local attorney and current president of The Bar Association of Frederick County, as well as member of the Pro Bono Committee, says "Legal Aid is about trying to provide everyone with quality legal service, and the right to an attorney for people who can't afford it. It helps to level the playing field, giving someone a chance that might not otherwise have one."

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