This week we had the opportunity to speak with Sandy Brown, Executive Director of Mid-Shore Pro Bono in Easton, MD. Mid-Shore Pro Bono serves 5 rural counties in Maryland and serves as an excellent example of how to grow a small undeveloped pro bono program into a successful organization making real change in the lives of people in their community.
You do not have a legal background, what led you to become a pro bono program coordinator?
I was in the student loan industry for 10-12 years and had varied experience working in both financial aid and the student loan guarantee sector. Through this position I was able to really hone my skills in business, networking and sales management but I was living on the eastern shore of Maryland and there were not many positions available. I learned about the Executive Director position at Mid-Shore Pro Bono and decided it made sense to apply. The previous executive directors had been lawyers and I was not sure how a non-attorney would be received. Fortunately, my skills from business seemed like a good fit for the position and I was offered the job.
How did Mid-Shore Pro Bono develop from a small start-up pro bono program to what we see today?
Mid-Shore Pro Bono was created after Chief Judge Robert M. Bell issued Maryland Rule of Procedure 16-902 which required all counties to have a local pro bono committee. Compliance was unlikely under the existing bar association structure at that time. Based on 16-902, two attorneys in the area, along with the assistance of a few judges, came together to create one program for five rural counties on the eastern shore of Maryland. From that, Mid-Shore Pro Bono was born. Unfortunately our board was initially created with both judges and lawyers as members. This was a gift and a curse because, although they were wonderful board members who were excited and invested in the program, the judges were not allowed to fundraise, which is an important aspect of non-profit board membership, and most of the lawyers were also members of our very small volunteer panel.
When I started at Mid-Shore Pro Bono it was as if we were a brand new organization. Even though the 501(c)(3) had been in place since 2005 there were no established policies and procedures or best practices in place. The first two calls I made were to our two major funders because the program reporting needed work. I was also put in contact with Sharon Goldsmith of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) who opened my eyes to the pro bono world.
My first six to eight months was completely operational. Of the many things we needed to improve, our program did not have adequate case tracking, letter head or marketing materials. For me the work was similar to my previous experience in the student lending and the financial aid field, in that the work empowers people who need assistance gaining access to a necessary resource. In lending it was access to funds for education and in pro bono it is access to justice. So I used my skills to develop the business aspect of our program and get us up to speed and ready to handle more cases.
When it came to improving the quality of our services, the first thing I did was call the ABA Center for Pro Bono to request a Peer Consulting visit. Thankfully we were approved and through that visit were able to establish a strong framework for growing the program. I also hired a consultant who was able to offer a lot of help. Many of the judges agreed to serve on our Advisory Board to make room for board members from a more diverse background. I visited other pro bono programs, I went to conferences, went to trainings, I educated myself on everything I could to better understand how pro bono works. Finally, I relied heavily upon the ABA Standards for Programs Providing Pro Bono Civil Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means and the PBRC. We have grown into a very vibrant program that I am certainly proud of but it did not come without hard work and my tenacious commitment to become organized and connected to the lawyers and judges in our legal community.
~ Come back Wednesday June 13th for part two of our interview with Sandy Brown.