Pro Bono Program
Thousands of Marylanders with disabilities contact DRM each year seeking legal assistance. Although our dedicated staff does its best to meet the demand, our partnerships with the private bar are critical to augmenting scarce resources and allowing us to serve more people who need help. Our pro bono referrals benefit low-income individuals with disabilities and all cases are screened for merit. Clients come from throughout the state and we attempt to match attorneys with cases they find most convenient and interesting. DRM provides excellent training, materials and ongoing technical assistance. Please consider joining us in this gratifying and important work!
Helping Children with Disabilities Access Education
Maryland has over 100,000 students with disabilities, and federal and state laws guarantee every one of them a “free and appropriate public education.” Unfortunately, school systems do not always fulfill their obligations and many families are unaware of their rights or overwhelmed by the special education process. Children with disabilities often do not receive services to which they are entitled, are socially promoted without the opportunity to develop the skills they need to live as independently as possible, are suspended at disproportionate rates, and/or drop out of school. DRM receives hundreds of calls every year on behalf students with disabilities in need of legal assistance. With a small staff and limited resources, DRM cannot possibly meet the demands of so many families, but our collaboration with the private bar enables us to serve students whom we would otherwise be forced to turn away.
Pro bono attorneys need neither prior experience in special education nor litigation experience to be effective advocates in this area. DRM provides a comprehensive, three hour training (in person or online) with materials. In addition, DRM staff attorneys are available at all times to provide support and assistance to pro bono attorneys. DRM encourages its pro bono volunteers to reach out for the support they need to have confidence in their representation.
Cases vary in length and amount of time required to achieve results, but on average, most special education cases resolve after a few months. Some cases can be resolved after a few phone calls or letters. Others may require attendance at one or more meetings at school, while others may result in mediation and/or a due process hearing before an administrative law judge. The substantive matter of each case is unique and may present at a different point in the process. The children of some families who contact DRM have not yet been identified by the school system as having a disability or qualifying for services. Other cases involve a school system that is not implementing its own individualized education program (IEP) for the student or lacks the current capacity to do so. Many families also contact us regarding their children with disabilities who have been improperly suspended or expelled from school. Although the pro bono attorney’s involvement in a case typically does not last for longer than a few months, the results can have a significant and long-lasting impact in the life of a child.
Helping Adults and Children with Disabilities Access Health Care Services
Many Maryland residents with disabilities are denied the health care services they are entitled to receive as Medicaid recipients under the Maryland Medical Assistance Program that is governed by both federal and state law. Adults and children have the right to receive medically necessary services recommended by their treating health care professionals that are covered by Medical Assistance. Many individuals with disabilities are not aware of this entitlement and are denied medically necessary services by their Managed Care Organization and/or the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, such as in-home nursing care or medical equipment. Such denials can be appealed, but without financial resources, individuals are not able to hire an attorney essential to a successful appeal.
Most Medicaid recipients who contact DRM when they have been denied medically necessary services have strong legal cases. This is because the treating health care professional has made a recommendation and documented the need for specific health care services. In most of the cases, the sole issue for appeal is whether the service is “medically necessary” under the state’s definition of that term.
DRM has the resources to handle only a small fraction of the cases that are brought to our attention. Too few families or recipients request formal Medicaid fair hearings when they cannot obtain the specific recommended health care services, and for those who do appeal, most are pro se. Without an attorney, their appeal is unlikely to have a successful outcome. DRM provides comprehensive training and materials (in person or online) about how to successfully handle these cases. Litigation experience is beneficial but not necessary to provide representation. DRM attorneys are available to provide ongoing technical assistance for the duration of the cases. As with our special education cases, the Medicaid cases vary in terms of length of time and amount of work needed, but most will involve preparation for a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings. A high percentage of the cases settle before the hearing. These cases involve desperately needed health care services that can prevent people with disabilities from having to be institutionalized, and can even be matters of life and death.