AFFORDABLE LAW TASK FORCE

 

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The Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission Join Forces to Launch an Affordable Law Task Force

 

The Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission are partnering to launch an Affordable Law Task Force to identify solutions to address this gaping need.  The Task Force will focus its efforts on surveying the national and international landscape for best practices and innovations to help Marylanders of modest means; analyze the viability for adoption in Maryland; and make recommendations on how the state and local bars can incorporate efforts to meet the access to justice needs of modest means Marylanders.

 

Many access to justice efforts rightfully focus on providing free legal services to the most vulnerable among us. However, there are many Marylanders who face legal issues and need legal help, yet fall above the income threshold to qualify for free legal services. Indeed, while approximately 9% of Marylanders fall below the federal poverty line (FPL), an additional 30% of Marylanders fall below the United Way’s Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) threshold. These households earned above the FPL, but not enough to afford basic household necessities, let alone an attorney. 

 

These Marylanders of modest means still lack access to justice and require a different set of interventions that focus on making the provision of legal services more affordable for them, while still economically viable for the attorneys providing these services. These issues pre-date the pandemic, but COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated the demand for affordable legal services.

 

The Task Force will launch in November, 2021 and deliver its final report and recommendations in June, 2022.

 

Members of the Task Force:

 

M. Natalie McSherry, President, MSBA

Reena Shah, Executive Director, Maryland Access to Justice Commission

Sarah Coffey Bowes, Executive Director, Civil Justice, Inc.

Meredith Girard, Executive Director, Mid-Shore Pro Bono

Joanna Shapiro, Esq.

Erin Gable, Director, Legal Services Institute, Anne Arundel Community College

Syma Siddiqui, Associate General Counsel, Johns Hopkins University

Lawrence Coppel, Esq.

 

Here's what people are saying: 

 

M. Natalie McSherry, President of the MSBA

 

"The MSBA is constantly looking for ways to better serve its members and the people of Maryland. We believe this Task Force will provide invaluable guidance in both those efforts, by making recommendations for programs and best practices that will assist lawyers in Maryland in making legal services available on an affordable basis to people of modest or middle incomes.  It is well established that the legal system functions better when parties have the benefit of legal counsel. The needs of this population have long been recognized and our task is to find a way for lawyers to meet that need on an economic basis that is acceptable to the professionals while affordable to the clients."

 

Ward B. Coe, Chair of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission

 

"COVID-19 manifested a health, economic and civil justice crisis. Many more Marylanders - of low and modest means - needed to interact with the civil justice system than ever before. At the same time, many Maryland attorneys faced upheaval and uncertainty with their law practice. The area of Affordable Law was identified as important during our work with the Attorney General on the COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force. More in-depth analysis through this joint Task Force will serve as the pathway to getting to win-win solutions that are smart business and a positive for access to justice."

 

Sarah Bowes, Chair of the Affordable Law Task Force

 

"For those Marylanders who can neither access free services nor afford the fees traditionally charged by attorneys, legal representation is simply out of reach. They have no option but to navigate life-altering legal matters alone, and often unsuccessfully. Through this Task Force, we hope to identify concrete ways that the legal community can increase the availability of affordable representation and reduce the negative impacts felt by those caught in this service gap."