Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc.

"Justice for all"

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

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.

Ruling year info

1981

Executive Director

Ms. 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.

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Communication

Blog

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

In the United States, only people charged with a criminal offense have a constitutional right to a lawyer. There are no free Public Defenders for low-income Marylanders defending critical civil cases, like home foreclosure, child custody, consumer debt or tax disputes. Low-income individuals who can't afford a private lawyer's hourly rate must rely on an underfunded and overburdened legal aid system that currently meets just 20% of the need (according to the Legal Services Corporation's Documenting the Justice Gap in America). The remaining 80%, who can't get a lawyer, are at a severe disadvantage when they face sophisticated creditors or skilled opposing counsel in court. Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for 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?

Core Pro Bono Program

Annually serving about 5,500 individuals, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) staff and volunteer lawyers, CPA's, and enrolled agents provide free civil legal representation to Maryland families who can't afford to hire an attorney in critical civil legal cases. MVLS advocates for racial equality, equity, and fairness in Maryland’s legal system and provides direct legal services at no cost to under resourced families because we believe it's a grave injustice that Marylanders do not have a civil right to legal counsel in most civil cases. Our services and programs are designed to create a level playing field where all people – regardless of income level or race – can have a voice in their legal process and in their futures. MVLS leverages professional volunteers to provide pro bono representation across the state of Maryland in civil cases such as foreclosure, name changes, deed changes, divorce, custody, consumer disputes, including Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Unemployed people

MVLS coordinates a weekly clinic offering free legal advice to consumers who are facing debt collection cases in Baltimore City District Court. Volunteer attorneys provide assistance with credit card cases, auto loans, landlord/tenant matters, and more at the clinic and with ongoing representation. They also provide information on the court process, settlement options and what may happen to the debtor post judgment.

Similarly, the Debtor Assistance Project provides pro se debtors a half-hour free consultation with an experienced bankruptcy attorney at the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in Baltimore and Greenbelt. Volunteer attorneys answer questions about eligibility, court procedures and whether bankruptcy may be used to help prevent foreclosure.

MVLS assists approximately 800 clients a year with legal representation for bankruptcy and debt collection relief.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Families

MVLS volunteer tax professionals and lawyers provide legal assistance to low-income taxpayers with IRS and State of Maryland Comptroller tax controversies, including denial of the Earned Income Tax Credit, audits, innocent spouse relief, filing back taxes, and setting up payment plans.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Adults

Family law reduced-fee program that authorizes MVLS payment to experienced family law attorneys who represent low-income clients in highly contested family law cases ($120 an hour up to $4,200 per case). MVLS operates its Judicare Project in 13 Maryland counties and Baltimore City.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Families

MVLS volunteers provide legal services to distressed homeowners across Maryland. Eligible homeowners facing mortgage foreclosure or tax sale are matched with trained volunteer lawyers who represent them during foreclosure mediations, lien purchaser negotiations, or at trial.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Economically disadvantaged people

Through support from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, MVLS’ Workforce Development Project provides legal services to job trainees. A continuation of the One Baltimore for Jobs demonstration grant, this project aims to remove barriers to employment for Baltimore’s vulnerable populations. Our project staff provide legal consultations and full representation, as well as know your rights presentations at these community workforce sites: Biotechnical Institute of Maryland, Bon Secours Community Works, Caroline Center, Civic Works Center for Sustainable Careers, Jane Addams Resource Center, and Jobs Opportunity Task Force.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Adults

MVLS operates our Human Trafficking Prevention Project in partnership with the University of Baltimore School of Law (UB Law). The project focuses on reducing the collateral consequences of criminal legal involvement for survivors of human trafficking and those populations made most vulnerable to exploitation. MVLS volunteer attorneys represent survivors of sex trafficking seeking to vacate, or, set aside, their prostitution and trafficking-related convictions, as well as provide representation to survivors and populations at risk of future exploitation in expungement and shielding cases. MVLS also provides clients with additional free civil legal services to address family law, housing, consumer debt, tax, and other legal matters.

Population(s) Served
Sex workers
Adults

Project Household. MVLS, in collaboration with other legal services partners, is providing legal services to older adult homeowners in Baltimore City to assist them in maintaining home ownership, by avoiding tax sale and taking advantage of the City's property tax credits, water bill credits, and home repair programs.
Advance Planning. MVLS leads an extensive community based project focused on overcoming barriers for low-income individuals to complete their estate planning, with the goals of reducing family conflict, honoring the wishes of individuals, and creating paths for wealth transfer particularly in communities of color.

Population(s) Served
Seniors
Families

MVLS provides homeowner clinics to help Baltimore City residents stabilize their homes and secure critically important resources for their long-term ability to remain in their homes. The Program focuses on creating paths for wealth building primarily in communities of color by helping families pass their most important asset, their home, to the next generation. It also entails significant community outreach and public awareness about the need to ensure the homeowner’s name is on the deed to their home so they can secure benefits like the Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit, water credits and access to home repair programs.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Families

The Elder Justice Program, funded through Equal Justice Works, provides free civil legal services and resources to older adults who have been the victims of elder abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.

Population(s) Served
Seniors
Victims and oppressed people

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 2022

Maryland Access to Justice Commission 2022

Maryland Standing Committee on Pro Bono 2022

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

Related Program

Core Pro Bono Program

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

Related Program

Core Pro Bono Program

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

Related Program

Core Pro Bono Program

Type of Metric

Input - describing resources we use

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

FY20 volunteer attorney time is valued at over $6 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 more than 1,700 volunteers annually.

Over the past six years, 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 continues to be fully operational throughout the COVID pandemic. Our office remained open and our intake lines were never down, even though, we, like many, had to transition to remote work over a weekend. 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. With the shutdown of in-person community events, we shifted much of our communications to virtual presentations, complemented by delivering printed materials to community sites for distribution. Over the past six months, MVLS has been able to participate in numerous, resumed community outreach events, and we all look forward to being back physically in our communities, attending events in the future. 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.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    Our target population includes Marylanders experiencing financial hardship, disabled adults, veterans, older adults, domestic violence and human trafficking survivors, LGBTQ+ community members, the homeless and those that are financially unstable, who are facing navigating a civil legal problem on their own.

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Paper surveys,

  • 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,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    Our work is driven by the lived experiences of our clients. For example, our focus on removing barriers to wealth generation and wealth transfer in Black communities in Baltimore City was directly informed by working with Black clients in Baltimore City, who were facing devastating losses of their family home. In response, we launched new programs, sought policy and legislative changes, and elevated the urgency of resolving this problem. Our Advance Planning Project and My Home, My Deed, My Legacy Project were created to address the actual barriers to those we serve. The two projects provide direct legal assistance to ensure wealth passes onto next generations and stabilizes legacy homeowners, while also continuing to seek changes in policies that further harm disinvested communities.

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    Community partnerships is key to MVLS. We amended our mission to include community engagement, because working with and beside our community partners informs everything about how and why we provide legal services. Building trust over time, proving that we are committed to the long-term effort of addressing an inequitable legal system, creates space for our partners to be real with us. They help us dig deeply into issues that are harming the community, we can creatively work together to find solutions and each offer our knowledge and resources for problem solving, and they can alert us when we're getting it wrong and how to try to repair any damage we may have created. It has also made us value their role more deeply and to look for funding opportunities that supports their work.

  • 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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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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

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Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 4/1/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Anthony Ashton

NAACP

Anthony Ashton, Esq.

NAACP

Charles Morton Jr., Esq.

Venable LLP

Dana McKee, Esq.

Brown Goldstein Levy

Penny Minna, Esq.

DLA Piper

David Sommer, Esq.

Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP

Alexandra Montanio, Esq.

Gordon Feinblatt, LLC

James Tansey, Esq.

Maryland Office of the Attorney General

Amy McClain, Esq.

Ballard Spahr

Michael March, Esq.

Crepeau Mourges

Matthew Bryant, Esq.

Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, PA

Richard Costella, Esq.

Tydings Law

Dennis Shaffer, Esq.

Whiteford Taylor Preston

Derek Roussillon, Esq.

Miles Stockbridge

Jhonell Campbell, Esq.

T. Rowe Price

Reba Letsa, Esq.

Baker Donelson

Shereefat Balogun, Esq.

State Employees Credit Union of Maryland (SECU)

Brian Gordon, Esq.

Brown Advisory

Marc 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

Shapiro Sher

Sheila Stewart

Amazon

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 7/8/2021,

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

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

Race & ethnicity

Gender 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.