As the executive director of the Maryland Professionalism Center, I was drawn to The Sun's June 10th op-ed- piece titled "Justice delayed in Maryland," which promised a commentary on the potential prejudice to litigants caused by the Maryland Court of Appeals' delay in deciding the cases before it. I was puzzled, however, by the writers' charge of an "aggressive semi-political agenda" on the part of the Court of Appeals with regard to the Maryland Professionalism Center.
To promote professional ideals, the court established the Maryland Professionalism Center (formerly the Maryland Professionalism Commission). The center's work is far from controversial. The Professionalism Center is governed by a volunteer board of directors, chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Lynne Battaglia, and has two full time employees: me, and my administrative assistant. Sustained by a modest yearly assessment of $5 to all Maryland lawyers which will go into effect on July 1, 2013, the center has trained over 3,500 new lawyers during the professionalism course. As these new lawyers enter practice, the center offers a mentoring program that has matched hundreds of new attorneys with experienced practitioners, including one of the op-ed's authors. Feedback from these initiatives is overwhelmingly positive.
Next year the center will host a symposium on emerging issues in the legal profession, including the approaching retirement of a generation of baby boomer lawyers and mandatory continuing legal education, a requirement adopted by 46 states in order to keep lawyers current in a fast moving legal environment. By stressing professionalism at the outset of legal careers and monitoring it throughout, the court, through the Professionalism Center, has enhanced the culture of lawyering and promoted continuing civility among practitioners.
The Professionalism Center strives to identify and address a litany of concerns shared by the American legal community. For example, the court's encouragement of pro bono legal services ("for the public good") reflects the Bar's commitment to providing representation to indigent persons at no cost. Pro bono work does often involve representation of unpopular clients. Diligently representing such controversial clients, however, stands to the highest ideals of the legal profession. Likewise, the "civil Gideon" movement seeks to provide counsel to low-income citizens in civil cases at public expense where a litigant's basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving health, safety, shelter or child custody. Access to justice is and should always be a core concern of the court.
At a time when the public's impression of lawyers is often negative, the Professionalism Center is committed to ensuring that the practice of law remains a high calling, focused on serving clients and promoting the administration of justice, as well as the public good.
Monise A. Brown, Annapolis
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Professionalism Center.