As we begin a new year, I wanted to pause for a moment to reflect upon the important work that MVLS has undertaken through the support of our volunteers, donors, funders, and community partners, and to look at where MVLS is heading.

Our FY19 Annual Report  has just been released. Be on the lookout for postcards with report highlights that were mailed out this week.
MVLS was created in 1981 to be a connector between volunteer attorneys and low-income clients, who would otherwise face a complicated legal system on their own. I’m pleased to report that 38 years later, that remains at the core of what we do every day. With a hard-working staff dedicated to helping every single person that reaches out to us and supporting our volunteers at every step through their pro bono cases, MVLS excels at our connector role.

The numbers continue to be impressive: 5,642 clients helped in FY19 - impacting 10,058 family members. 675 volunteers provided legal services and 155 new volunteers joined MVLS in FY19. And MVLS clients received legal assistance with family, consumer, housing, tax, foreclosure and tax sale, estate planning and administration, and expungements.
I encourage you to pause for a moment and take those numbers in. I know it’s easy to roll right over a number like 5,642. To put it in perspective, if you spent one second thinking about each individual that was helped, it would take you over 90 minutes to get through the list. And for each second, that’s another person that received assistance in critically important legal areas.

As the annual report highlights, MVLS has also expanded our role in the past few years, as we’ve looked for opportunities to have further impact for the clients that we assist while maximizing the opportunities for volunteer attorneys. As a result, we have influenced broader changes around issues like removing water bills from tax sale in Baltimore City, requiring filing fee waivers in probate cases, and reducing the statute of limitations for leases from 12 years to 3 years.  
In the annual report, we highlight the My Home, My Deed, My Legacy campaign, which focuses on housing stabilization through advance planning, deed transfers, and estate administration to ensure that families have access to wealth building and keeping the family home in their family for generations. I’m pleased to announce that the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development continued to recognize the critical role this project has for housing preservation and community stabilization. With their continued funding, we will continue our public awareness campaign, we will be scheduling multiple community clinics throughout Baltimore, and we’ve hired a new staff attorney, Timothy Chance, to work on tangled title issues. Timothy will be working closely with volunteer attorneys to help navigate estate administration issues, and support volunteers in pursuing alternative remedies including quiet title and partition. Our comprehensive work in this area garnered a recent Innovation Award from the Community Development Network.

Being in the communities where our clients live has become a vital part of our work. Our community partners are essential to helping us understand the evolving need of their neighborhoods. MVLS works closely with more than 50 community organizations, hospitals, libraries, public agencies and many others. Additionally MVLS participated in over 200 educational presentations, tabling events, and other activities to engage with our neighbors in fiscal year 2019. 
In 2020, we will continue our lofty goal to connect   with every attorney, CPA, and enrolled agent in the state to partner and work with MVLS to right the wrong of individuals being denied access to justice simply because they can’t afford an attorney. MVLS is actively recruiting volunteers to join our panel . Please refer a colleague who can help us increase access to civil legal aid in Maryland.

I invite you to continue to play a critical role in our success. With your support, more than 85,000 individuals have been helped since MVLS’ inception, and we could not do this vital work without you. I invite you to review our annual report and stay connected as we continue to maximize every opportunity to provide free civil legal assistance for all, not just those who can afford it. 

Susan Francis
Executive Director

January 10 | 9 am - 1 pm
Bernard Brown Center – Community Room
629 N Market St, Frederick, MD

This free training will provide attorneys and advocates with an overview of Maryland’s human trafficking laws and unpack the collateral consequences that result from a survivor’s involvement in the criminal legal system. Attendees will receive guidance on criminal record relief options in Maryland, including filing motions to vacate prostitution convictions for trafficking survivors and expungement of other criminal records.

January 16 | 12 pm - 1 pm | Webinar

This webinar will focus on the issues tenants in Baltimore face with water bills. Currently, tenants cannot be account holders, so they have no access to their water bills or water bill history, and they cannot dispute bills or request adjustments themselves. These barriers open the door to wide potential for abuse by landlords, which manifests in eviction proceedings and post move-out collection actions. Advocates from the Public Justice Center and the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland will join MVLS to discuss this important issue, strategies for helping tenants, and what we can do to make positive change in this area.

February 11 | 12 pm - 1 pm | Webinar

When love is in the air, one never thinks about the tax ramifications of splitting up. Please join us as Cheri Wendt-Taczak, Private Tax Practitioner and Instructor of the MVLS Tax Controversy Training, discusses what happens when love goes wrong.

February 20 | 12 pm - 1 pm | Webinar

The webinar will focus on the basics of handling an uncontested independent adoption case in Maryland. The webinar will cover the legal effects of adoption, drafting the adoption petition, the adoption hearing, and when to seek adoption v. guardianship v. custody. Learn tips related to working with pro bono clients and ask questions of Shannon Kowitz of the Mulinazzi Law Firm.