PLATINUM2024

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc.

"Justice for all"

aka MVLS   |   Baltimore, MD   |  https://www.mvlslaw.org

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Mission

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. Our vision is for a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. Visit www.mvlslaw.org to learn more.

Ruling year info

1981

Executive Director

Susan Francis Esq.

Main address

201 North Charles Street Ste 1400

Baltimore, MD 21201 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

52-1225979

NTEE code info

Human Service Organizations (P20)

Legal Services (I80)

Human Service Organizations (P20)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Sign in or create an account to view Form(s) 990 for 2023, 2022 and 2021.
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Communication

Blog

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Stabilizing Communities Through Legal Services, Community Partnership and Advocacy MVLS directly helps Marylanders facing legal challenges, while also fighting to change systems that harm people living in or near poverty. MVLS accomplishes this through pro bono representation, community engagement, and legislative and administrative advocacy. Our volunteer attorneys and tax professionals help individual clients resolve their life changing civil issues. MVLS staff attorneys build on that impact by building meaningful community partnerships and identifying specific inequities that are borne out in our clients’ stories and in the legal system at large. We leverage this knowledge to advocate for more equitable laws.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Consumer Issues

Overwhelming debt not only causes tremendous stress, it often leads to court action. In collections proceedings, most individuals are being sued for unpaid medical bills, credit card balances, rental charges, or other consumer debts. And despite a pattern of problematic filings by debt collectors and a slew of bad actors in the debt consolidation and credit repair space, most cases end in a default judgment against the debtor. Nearly all plaintiffs are represented by counsel. Very few defendants are. Once a judgment is entered, wage garnishment can financially ruin a family already struggling to make ends meet. MVLS offers full legal representation to debtors to help them find a resolution and move forward with their life. Additionally, MVLS provides day of court assistance in the Baltimore City District Court, leads educational campaigns on a variety of consumer topics and advocates for consumer relief with the Maryland General Assembly.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Unemployed people

Having a mark on your criminal record can be an insurmountable barrier to getting a job or securing a safe place to live. Thus, a criminal record can be both a consequence and cause of poverty. To help, MVLS assists with record expungement, MVA expungement, shielding, and vacatur.

As part of this effort, we additionally target two specific groups who are frequently negatively impacted by having a criminal record – workforce development trainees and human trafficking survivors.

Through our Workforce Development Project, MVLS partners with workforce sites where we do holistic screenings for legal barriers that will harm a trainee’s ability to secure sustainable employment. Similarly, our Human Trafficking Prevention Project supports survivors and those at the highest risk of being trafficked with holistic legal support that starts with criminal record help and expands to address other legal issues like identity theft, collections, unsafe housing, or the loss of their children.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Families
Unemployed people
Sex workers

Far too many families, particularly in disinvested communities, think they don’t need to do estate planning because they don’t have a lot of assets. That is a myth. Estate planning addresses issues beyond a will, ensures that individuals have their wishes followed, reduces family conflict and plans for financially and emotionally valuable items to be passed onto the next generation. Estate planning can be a powerful tool for generational wealth building, even in the face of systemic barriers and wealth extraction that continues to be inflicted on Black communities. Through grant funding, MVLS’ Advance Planning and My Home, My Deed, My Legacy projects conduct extensive outreach and host free legal clinics to deliver these home-saving legal services. Our staff attorneys also advocate for policies that preserve homeownership and help end wealth extraction and community destabilization.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Adults
Families
Parents
Caregivers

When it comes to civil legal issues, there are few that are more personally important and potentially devastating than family law matters. And yet, the majority of individuals in family law proceedings including divorce or child custody hearings are unrepresented. Since our founding, help in these kind of cases remains among the number one reasons that someone calls MVLS for help. We also assist with more complicated cases, such as third party custody. MVLS also assists with adoptions, guardianship, name changes and birth certificate corrections.
When people call MVLS for help, they are often confused and scared about what to expect in court. MVLS provides these clients with guidance and support on their next steps and then matches them with an attorney to represent them in court.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Families
Parents
Economically disadvantaged people

Losing your house can have a devastating and long-term destabilizing effect. At MVLS, much of our efforts are focused on preserving our clients housing and intervening as early as possible so that people can avoid housing loss through mortgage foreclosure, tax sale or eviction. MVLS also assists with ground rent delinquency and redemption cases.

MVLS also addresses deed issues and tangled titles. Many limited-income homeowners are at risk of losing their home through disrepair, property tax delinquency or falling behind on their mortgage. When your name isnt on the deed to your home, you arent able to access critical financial resources, home repair grant and loan programs, or state tax credits intended to bridge this financial gap. Our My Home, My Deed, My Legacy project ensures that a homeowner can resolve this barrier to their legal status so that they can remain in their home as the legal homeowner.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Economically disadvantaged people
Families

MVLS is home to one of just three Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) in the state. MVLS volunteer attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents assist people who have a tax controversy before the IRS or the Maryland Comptroller, volunteers step in to help these taxpayers navigate complicated systems, and negotiate settlements that enable them to pay back some of their debt without facing financial ruin.

In addition to this support, our LITC conducts community presentations and onsite intake at neighborhood based sites. We work collaboratively with the Comptroller and the IRS to seek better outcomes for the taxpayers we represent.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Adults
Families

Where we work

Accreditations


Since 2004

Standards for Excellence - Initial Accreditation 2004

Standards for Excellence - Most Current Renewal 2019

Affiliations & memberships

Association of Fundraising Professionals - Members 2023

Maryland Access to Justice Commission 2024

Maryland Standing Committee on Pro Bono 2024

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of clients served

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Adults, Economically disadvantaged people

Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

MVLS captures all client and case related data in our cloud-based database, LegalServer. We track demographic information about the client, case type, case milestones and case outcomes.

Number of volunteers

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Adults, Economically disadvantaged people

Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

Year after year, MVLS volunteer attorneys and tax professionals step up to the challenge and help thousands of low-income Marylanders resolve critical legal issues.

Total number of volunteer hours contributed to the organization

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Adults, Economically disadvantaged people

Type of Metric

Input - describing resources we use

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

FY23 volunteer time is valued at $2.3 million.

Number of overall donors

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Low-income people

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of first-time donors

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Input - describing resources we use

Direction of Success

Increasing

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Our vision is for a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. MVLS removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws.

1) Free Civil Legal Help. Unlike criminal cases, there is no right to counsel in civil cases. For more than 40 years, MVLS has been the leader of pro bono engagement across the state. We connect individuals who would otherwise have to navigate complex legal issues on their own with volunteer attorneys and tax professionals to help them resolve their legal problem. A key differentiator of MVLS’ work is that we focus on full representation, meaning that our clients receive help at every step in the legal process. This results in successful outcomes for our clients.
MVLS focuses on are (1) family law (e.g., divorce, custody, guardianship, adoption, name change), (2) consumer finance (e.g., individual debtors’ rights, bankruptcy), (3) housing (e.g., landlord/tenant disputes, foreclosure & tax sale, deed changes), (4) estate planning/administration, (5) criminal record relief (expungement, shielding, vacatur) and (6) tax controversy.
While our staff remains relatively small, our real impact comes from our volunteers all around the state. As a result, MVLS has a strong focus on volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention through extensive outreach and the provision of trainings, mentorship and malpractice insurance.
2) Community Engagement. Community partners are an essential component of connecting individuals in need of help with MVLS. Far too many Marylanders are struggling without realizing they have a legal issue, or if they do, where to turn. It is trusted and valued neighborhood programs that can help community members identify a legal problem and refer these individuals to MVLS for help. Community partners also help inform and guide MVLS’ work, ensuring that the scope of our services represent the needs of our potential clients. Because of this, all staff members understand the value of developing community partners. We invest significant time to attend community events, share knowledge and experience with community partners, and build trusted partnerships over an extended period of time.
3) Advocacy for Equitable Laws. While legal representation has a profound impact on each individual client, it does not address systemic barriers within the legal system that place far too many Marylanders at risk of housing loss, unemployment, inescapable debt, and other negative outcomes. With expertise developed through our relationships with community partners, our staff are able to identify problematic policies, practices and laws that destabilize and harm communities. Many policies and laws seem neutral on the surface, but in practice have a disproportionate, negative impact on communities of color. With this knowledge, MVLS educates and advocates by highlighting inequities and seeks opportunities to change systems that have a non-neutral impact. MVLS focuses on wealth extraction in Black communities, legacy homeownership, tax sale and foreclosure reform, and criminal record relief to reduce barriers to sustainable employment.

MVLS was founded in 1981 to create a linkage between individuals experiencing financial hardship with volunteer attorneys to address their legal problem. Over the past 40+ years, MVLS has grown into a well-respected statewide organization that has deep knowledge and institutional structures in place to recruit and support close to 1,000 volunteers annually.

MVLS has transitioned to become a robust client-facing organization that reduces barriers to justice by being active in the communities that our clients live, and personally connecting with people who need our help. Instead of being another office in downtown Baltimore, community partners and clients know us on a first name basis and can easily reach us for questions and guidance at the many outreach events we host and attend. We acknowledge the history of far too many entities marching into communities overpromising and underdelivering and then disappearing. We build our partnership with the understanding that harm has been done by these practices and by making a different, long term commitment to working together to reduce barriers to justice. Respectful and committed community engagement is an MVLS core value and is undertaken by all staff, with two staff members focused exclusively on outreach and communications.

MVLS has continued to be fully operational throughout the COVID pandemic. Every day, we continue to focus on our mission – providing free civil legal help, building community engagement and advocating for equitable laws.
MVLS has managed to sustain and foster numerous community partnerships despite the challenges of COVID. We have continued our commitment to being adaptable to the needs of communities and made our outreach flexible so that it includes virtual presentations, delivery of printed materials to community sites for distribution, and mostly recently we were able to re-establish in-person events. Most of our community partners are Black-led, and much like the other harms of COVID, Black-led community organizations have been hit hardest in the non-profit arena. We continue to look for opportunities to not just partner with these programs, but also identify ways that we can share our knowledge and resources to support their efforts.
While much more progress is needed when it comes to addressing inequitable laws, MVLS has continued to make substantial improvements in several areas. Two highlights are tax sale and expungement. When MVLS began paying attention to tax sale in 2013, it was a little understood practice flying below the radar for everyone except the homeowners it was harming. At that time, a homeowner could lose their home for as little as $250 in delinquent property tax and $350 in water bills. Over the next eight years, with much advocacy at the local and state level, we have successfully advocated for dramatic improvements including removing water bills from tax sale, increasing the property tax threshold amount, creating credits for homeowners at risk of tax sale, and most recently in Baltimore City where tax sale is most prevalent, serving on a working group formed by the Mayor to consider an entire overhaul of the tax sale system.
In 2015, when a dramatic change occurred in the law, MVLS undertook a substantial commitment to expungement relief. Between 2014 and 2015, MVLS grew from serving 7 clients with expungement needs to serving more than 700. With our deep engagement with workforce development sites, we see firsthand how a criminal record, even when an individual wasn’t found guilty of any crimes, can prevent sustainable employment. Since 2015, we have worked closely with other advocates to make improvements in expungement law to both maintain public safety while removing unnecessary employment barriers. We have helped advocate for dramatic changes in the law that ensure more individuals can leave their past behind them. We also have worked to expand what criminal records can be vacated for human trafficking survivors.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We look for patterns in feedback based on demographics (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, It is difficult to find the ongoing funding to support feedback collection

Financials

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc.
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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lock

Connect with nonprofit leaders

Subscribe

Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 01/18/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Ms. Alexandra Montanio

Gordon Feinblatt LLC

Term: 2022 - 2023

Penny J. Minna, Esq.

DLA Piper

David G. Sommer, Esq.

Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP

Alexandra K. Montanio, Esq.

Gordon Feinblatt, LLC

James Tansey, Esq.

Maryland Office of the Attorney General

Richard L. Costella, Esq.

Tydings Law

Jhonell Campbell, Esq.

T. Rowe Price

Reba Letsa, Esq.

Baker Donelson

Shereefat O. Balogun, Esq.

State Employees Credit Union of Maryland (SECU)

Brian Gordon, Esq.

Brown Advisory

Marc E. Shach, Esq.

Coon & Cole, LLC

Ann Irvine, PhD

Resilience Cyber Insurance Solutions

Tyree Ayers

Erickson Senior Living

Robin Leone

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

La'Tika Howard

Womble Bond Dickinson

Saad Malik

Gordon Feinblatt, LLC

Sheila Stewart

Amazon

D'Sean Willams-Brown

Venable

Anthony May

Brown Goldstein & Levy

Chelsea Ortega

Santoni, Vocci & Ortega

Susan DuMont

Miles & Stockbridge

Michelle McGeogh

Ballard Spahr

Emily Wilson

Venable

Brent Bolea

BGE

Lydia Lawless

Kramon & Graham

Syma Siddiqui

Johns Hopkins University

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 7/12/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
White/Caucasian/European
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender
Sexual orientation
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or other sexual orientations in the LGBTQIA+ community
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

Transgender Identity

Sexual orientation

Disability

Equity strategies

Last updated: 10/23/2019

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.