Attorneys, law students offer ‘just’ advice

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Carol Sorgen

Stanley Rhoad has made good use of his legal skills since graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1966.

Over a period of 41 years, his legal career took him from a federal court clerkship, to several leading Baltimore law firms, to solo practice. Rhoad retired from practice three years ago.

Now 70, he keeps active in the legal profession by volunteering in a program called JustAdvice, sponsored by his alma mater.

The JustAdvice Project was created, and is run, by UM law school students. It began in the summer of 2009, offering legal assistance to working poor and middle-class adults who cannot afford to hire private attorneys but who earn too much to qualify for free Legal Aid services.

The program has already served nearly 500 customers, according to Professor Leigh M. Maddox, who oversees it.

Advice is nearly free

JustAdvice holds legal clinics throughout the year. There, those in need of advice can sit down with a lawyer to discuss their legal questions and get brief advice for the nominal fee of $10.

Clients come in with questions in any number of legal areas, according to Rhoad, including domestic issues, housing disputes, criminal actions, employment problems, elder care questions and more.

If additional legal counsel is needed, the lawyers can refer the customers to private attorneys who have agreed to represent them at below-market rates.

“This is a wonderful program, not only for the customers, but also for the students,” Rhoad said.

The law students who run the program are the customers’ initial contact. The soon-to-be attorneys also get valuable experience working with real clients with real problems, preparing summary reports to bring to the consulting attorney, and sitting in on the consultations.

For Rhoad, part of the joy of volunteering with JustAdvice is the opportunity it provides him to work with and train the students. “Throughout my career, I got great pleasure from being a mentor to young attorneys,” he said.

Staffed by volunteer attorneys

Rhoad, one of six volunteer attorneys with the project, enjoys the public service aspect of the program.

“Customers come in with normal ordinary legal problems that confront folks all the time, and they just don’t know how to deal with them,” said Rhoad. “We try to answer their questions as well as encourage them to engage an experienced lawyer to help them.”

Volunteer attorneys such as Rhoad have been a “godsend,” said Maddox. “They have been invaluable in helping to give effective counsel to clients, as well as in helping prepare students for their legal careers,” she said.

“With the efforts of the law students and the volunteer attorneys, the JustAdvice Project is meeting the unmet legal needs of Baltimore residents,” Maddox said.

So far, the project has served customers at a number of different locations in Baltimore, including the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay Coalition, Cherry Hill Senior Manor, Cherry Hill Town Center, Dee’s Place, Hollywood Diner, University of Maryland School of Law, and Washington Village Neighborhood Planning Council.

In the coming months, clinics will be offered at the following locations:

  • Jan. 18 and 25 from noon to 3 p.m. at University of Maryland School of Law, 500 W. Baltimore St., Suite 360
  • Jan. 20, Feb. 3 and Feb. 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. at University of Maryland Medical Center, Patient Resource Center Assembly Room S1D03, 22 S. Greene St.
  • Jan. 20, Feb. 3 and Feb. 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Center for Urban Families, 2201 N. Monroe St.

For more information on volunteering with JustAdvice or to take advantage of the services it offers, call (410) 929-4809 or e-mail justadvice@law.maryland.edu.