To Professor Brenda Bratton Blom, Director of the School of Law's Clinical Law Program, a person's access to justice is often as simple – or as difficult – to attain as access to a lawyer. In her work on community justice, Blom realized that despite the number of legal service organizations in Baltimore, there is still a tremendous unmet legal need among the city's residents.
Some make too much to qualify for legal aid, but still can't afford a lawyer. Others are too intimidated to approach a lawyer, or are simply uncertain of how to secure representation.
To help meet that need, she has created "The Legal Grind," a weekly session where, for $10, Maryland Law students and pro bono lawyers from Civil Justice, Inc. provide Baltimore citizens who don't know where to find legal representation with a cup of coffee and consultation in a convenient, affordable, informal way.
"This is a way to find and connect people with lawyers who might be able to help them," says Prof. Blom.
Civil Justice Inc., a public interest legal service, provides lawyers to The Legal Grind who consult with people in search of legal advice. In sessions that last up to 30 minutes, the attorneys listen to their issues and suggest follow-up steps that the person can take to address their problems. The attorneys don't typically take the cases themselves, but instead provide direction and advice so that people can find ways to resolve the problems themselves or find another attorney who may be able to provide an economical solution.
There is no further commitment for the person seeking advice. "You don't become somebody's client in 30 minutes," said Blom.
School of Law students help set up and promote the clinics in various Baltimore communities, assist with intake at the clinics, and provide follow-up services. They sit in on the counseling sessions if the customers give permission, but don't provide any legal advice. Still, the students learn plenty from the experience.
"It makes people's legal issues real," says Blom, "and shows why it matters." Leigh Maddox, JD, a clinical law instructor who works on The Legal Grind project, says that for students, "It's a great way to get exposed to legal issues." So far more than 40 people have used the service.
Almost any legal topic is fair game in the initial consultations. There are questions about criminal law, landlord/tenant issues, child support and other family law matters, protective orders, and even business law questions. Blom notes that many fledgling entrepreneurs may not be able to afford an attorney, but need their legal issues addressed as well.
Neighborhoods served by The Legal Grind clinics include Brooklyn, Washington Village, and Cherry Hill. The School of Law's Community Justice Office at 55 N. Paca St. also holds clinics, as does the Hollywood Diner at 400 E. Saratoga St. People interested in getting further information or making an appointment for a Legal Grind session may call 410-706-4273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.