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Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals, speaks at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Celebrate Pro Bono Awards Program in 2018.
Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals, speaks at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Celebrate Pro Bono Awards Program in 2018. (Photo Courtesy of MVLS)

Leading up to this week’s National Pro Bono Celebration, the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service recognized 13 Carroll County attorneys for their recent pro bono work.

Over the past year, the 13 lawyers provided free services to help Maryland residents overcome their civil challenges, according to the release. Legal work offered on a pro bono basis is free of charge.

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The lawyers were recognized at MVLS’s annual Celebrate Pro Bono awards program last week. National Pro Bono Celebration began on Sunday, Oct. 20 to and runs through Saturday, Oct. 26.

“MVLS’s volunteer attorneys deliver life-changing services to Carroll County residents who may not have the resources to pay attorney fees. They are helping to keep families together, people in their homes and creating new futures for many residents," Susan Francis, MVLS executive director, said in an email. "They should be recognized for their dedication to helping the Carroll County community, and we hope their stories inspire other attorneys to donate their time and expertise, so we can help more Marylanders.”

According to a news release from the service, MVLS is the largest provider of pro bono civil legal service to low-income Marylanders.

For Michael Clevenger, one of the 13 lawyers recognized, joining the MVLS board about eight years ago jump-started his pro bono work.

“One of the first things I wanted to do when I first got on the board was to see what they did," said Clevenger, an attorney for a BB&T branch in Westminster. "So, I started volunteering at some of their clinics and it really enabled me to figure out what they really did on the inside. So that really got me going, and ever since I’ve tried to do a little bit every year to try to give back and try to do a bit of pro bono stuff for them.”

Zoa Barnes, another one of the 13 lawyers recognized, has been practicing law for more than 20 years and said she believes it’s important for those who need lawyers to be represented so they are heard.

“I have represented people who had tried to go in alone and just got so beaten down by that process but once they have representation, they get to be heard, they actually get to participate. When you don’t have representation, a lot of times you don’t really get to participate," said Barnes, of Westminster-based Hill, Barnes and McInerney LLC. “The only way you can give true access to justice is to provide representation in that court process, that’s the difference. That way it is so critically important that every attorney participate in some level because not everybody can do that, just lawyers can do that.”

According to the release, Clevenger and Barnes each took on two pro bono cases through MVLS in the past 12 months.

Both Clevenger and Barnes find pro bono work most rewarding because they get to help people.

“I’m helping people that still need wills and still need powers of attorneys and things like that, even though they may not have a huge income,” Clevenger said. “Even some of the low-income earners need real estate planning.”

“The thing I always say is that I’m very lucky to have a profession that can benefit, kind of, the community,” Barnes said. “It’s not very often that you have a job that’s a specific skill that you can reach out to other areas to help, and I just like that aspect of it.”

Last year, 18 Carroll County lawyers were recognized by MVLS, according to Francis.

The work that these lawyers do isn’t just recognized on one night. According to Francis, they are recognized in nominations for community and legal services awards and profiles on the MVLS website.

“Pro bono is essential because too many individuals are left having to navigate a complicated legal system," Francis said. "Having a lawyer dramatically impacts the outcome of a case, and these are the kinds of cases where the outcomes are critically important, including obtaining custody of a child, maintaining a roof over your head or removing employment barriers. Each client that a pro bono attorney assists is one more Marylander who is receiving the quality legal assistance that all individuals need, not just the ones that can afford it.”

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