Can you tell me a little about your private practice?
I am a federal employee, and my legal career centers around transactional matters, primarily contract drafting and procurement. In my spare time, I tend to pursue pro bono opportunities that allow me to engage directly with clients and develop litigation-related skills. Admittedly, as someone whose work has little to no direct client engagement, pro bono work that allows me to connect directly with clients makes me nervous. However, my goal is to become a well-round practitioner that can meet the needs of my community.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted your own practice?
It’s been great to see the courts fully embrace electronic filing and teleconference technology to streamline certain aspects of the litigation process.
Which of PBRC’s projects do you volunteer with, and what do you do there?
I volunteered with the Home Preservation Project’s Utility Bills Clinic which allows volunteers to counsel clients with billing and service disputes.
What do you find interesting about this work?
With the challenges created by a global pandemic and this awful year known as “2020”, it’s easy to see the overwhelming needs within our community and get paralyzed trying to figure out how to help. For me, the Utility Bills Clinic presented a direct way to help individuals impacted by COVID-19 because it provided immediate solutions.
What are your observations about volunteering remotely?
The most surprising part of volunteering for me was discovering how receptive most clients were to the concept of remote consultations for non-transactional matters. I assumed it would take a long time to build trust and rapport with clients since we cannot meet in person. However, if you’re prepared, the meetings tend to be personable and productive.
The combination of comprehensive training guides, a clear client roadmap, and real-time feedback from a mentor via Google Chat made the entire volunteer experience extremely easy.
Tell me about a client you met through the remote clinic?
I met a client whose wages were adversely impacted by the statewide shutdown due to COVID-19, even as they were responsible for caring for several family members who contracted COVID-19. As a result of these circumstances, the client was having difficulty paying their utility bills. At the beginning of our call, the client was overwhelmed by their circumstances and felt unsure whether anything could be done about their situation. However, after fifteen minutes of conversation and walking them through the client roadmap, the client informed me that they felt hopeful and believed that we were able to take something off their plate.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
I enjoyed talking to one client about the pies that they were planning to bake.
How did you get involved with PBRC?
I got involved through my involvement with the PBRC Professional Skills Academy. (www.probonomd.org/academy)
What interested you in the Academy?
I wanted community, mentorship, and an opportunity to learn new skills. I also wanted a way to reduce that “nervous feeling” whenever I took on a pro bono case. For me, the Academy was the best way to achieve these goals with the bonus of being able to serve those in need. My experience over the past few months since the start of the program has been everything I hoped it would be.
What do you think other people should know about PBRC?
The PBRC staff is really helpful. They do an amazing job supporting attorneys, and the resources they provide make pro bono easier.
What message would you give to attorneys thinking about volunteering?
Do it. Take the leap. There are a variety of opportunities to serve, and PBRC can help you find the opportunity that fits your skill set or the amount of time you can commit.
For more information about volunteering in Maryland, contact:
Dave Pantzer, PBRC Director of Education, Outreach and Technology