By Joshua Wade, CFCC Student Fellow, Fall 2020
A license to practice law is a tool possessed by few. According to the American Bar Association’s National Lawyer Population Survey, as of 2020 there are approximately 41,000 active attorneys in the state of Maryland. While on its face that number may seem high, when considered in proportion to the total population of Marylanders at just over 6 million residents as of 2019, and more pertinently, the number of self-represented litigants that rely on Maryland courts, that number of attorneys does not satisfy the need for civil litigation representation.
There is no right to counsel in civil cases in the state of Maryland. In Maryland, 83% of family law cases are adjudicated with one or more self-represented litigants. Low income Marylanders rely on Maryland Legal Aid, various legal services programs, pro bono lawyers, or, more often than not, themselves, to adjudicate their own rights. In the District Courts they face issues pertaining to traffic, small claims, consumer debt, landlord-tenant disputes, and domestic violence. In Circuit Courts issues involve their own rights, and often the rights of their children, or child custody, in family law cases.
LEGAL AID & PRO BONO LAWYERING
Maryland Legal Aid is a stalwart, intentional, and dedicated resource in the State, providing representation to indigent, impoverished, and otherwise unrepresented parties. Maryland Legal Aid, however, can only meet the legal needs of 20% of low income Marylanders. Maryland lawyers can give back to their communities by offering pro bono services to address the needs of the thousands of otherwise self-represented litigants in Maryland. It stands to reason that, given their education and training, a licensed attorney is better able to adjudicate the rights of a client than a self-represented litigant, who may have the will to fight for their own interests but may not, through no fault of their own, know how to navigate the turbulent waters of the legal system. The skills and training required for lawyers to attain their license are tools that lawyers should share with those who, without this support, risk losing their residences, financial resources, property, and/or rights to custody of children and loved ones, without ever having a fighting chance.
A license to practice law is a tool best served when made accessible to others who need it —through lawyers offering pro bono services to their fellow Marylanders.