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Towson law firm encourages pro bono work

Erika Alsid Short has volunteered hundreds of hours in the last six years on a death penalty case that has wound its way through the state and federal courts. So when she interviewed three years ago at newly formed Chason, Rosner, Leary & Marshall LLC in Towson, one of her main questions was whether she would still be able to work on the case.

“Even though they were just starting and had all of the complications and worries that come with that, from the get-go it was, ‘Of course. That’s not even a question,’” Short recalled this month. “I think that demonstrates for a brand-new firm, but also for the attorneys working here, what everyone’s committed to.”

Chason Rosner’s commitment to pro bono work was recognized in October by the Baltimore County Bar Association as its pro bono firm of the year.

“[Y]our firm has demonstrated its sincere belief in the importance and value in helping to serve those members of our community that are in need of legal assistance,” wrote Michael L. Jeffers, chairman of the county bar’s pro bono committee, in a letter announcing the award. “Your firm’s willingness to go above and beyond the minimum 50-hour level of service provided in the Rules of Professional Conduct sets an excellent example for other attorneys.”

Pro bono work is nothing new to the firm’s founders: James F. Rosner is a former president of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland and Raymond Marshall is on the board of the Maryland Disability Law Center, for example. Still, they wanted to ensure volunteer work figured prominently in their practice.

“We believe every lawyer has an obligation to do pro bono work, to give back. Every firm has an obligation or duty to do the same,” Rosner said. “We wanted to put into practice what we believed.”

“Our mindset was pro bono was entirely consistent with having a well-functioning, lucrative practice,” added James C. Chason. “We think we have put that into play.”

The firm’s pro bono activities are numerous and varied. They have worked with The Arc of Maryland and The Arc of Baltimore, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the Legal Aid Bureau, among other organizations. They take on a variety of cases, including applications for asylum and individualized education plans for special needs students.

Francis X. Leary had never put together an individualized education plan before taking a case pro bono. Now he has a binder full of materials in his office on the subject.

“In today’s practice, a lot of attorneys feel pigeonholed. You don’t feel comfortable going outside the box,” he said.

Pro bono work “actually broadens your ability to practice,” Leary added. “You just kind of have to put your foot in.”

Rosner agreed.

“Those of us who practice long enough have learned there is so much you can gain from a broader practice that helps us in everything we do day-to-day,” he said. “If you have that exposure, which pro bono does, it will make you a better lawyer.”

Jessica P. Butkera, the firm’s newest member, came across Rosner’s biography as she was searching for a job two years ago and was struck by his extensive pro bono work. It helped her see the big picture of practicing law.

“I was really just overwhelmed and excited about the opportunity here because it gave me not only the sense that, here’s someone who focuses on giving back, but here are really good people.”

Leary and others were proud to receive recognition from the county bar but do not see it having any effect on their pro bono efforts.

“We’ve just been quietly doing our work and will quietly continue doing our work,” Rosner said.