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Muriel Tinkler, Esq., MSBA Member, PBRC Volunteer

Can you tell me a little about your own legal work? I started an Elder Law firm in January of 2020 (Tinkler Law LLC).  We work with clients who need estate planning and administration, Medicaid crisis planning, Medicare planning, long-term care planning, and guardianship.

How has COVID-19 outbreak impacted your work? The impact on my firm was two-fold.  First, COVID-19 threw a wrench in the typical estate planning and administration process. With the court buildings closed for most of the year, the process for recording wills and probate had to be re-invented. Second, the process for starting a law firm used to be more straightforward. Now, the learning curve includes significant technical issues.

Which of PBRC’s projects do you volunteer with, and what do you do there? I worked with the PBRC’s Consumer Protection clinic.  I have volunteered both in-person and remotely.

The clinic was eye-opening and changed my view of consumer protection law.  I assumed the process would be contentious, but I was surprised to see how much the debt-collectors were willing to work with us and the client.

Remote volunteering was easier than I thought it would be.  By using video conferencing, the clinic allows for a personal connection with the client.

What was the experience of volunteering like? Consumer protection is not my area of expertise, but there were experienced PBRC attorneys present to assist me.  It was like having co-counsel right by my side. PBRC provided training ahead of time, and at the clinic they gave me a checklist, a client questionnaire, and an overview of the process.

The PBRC attorneys gave me advice before I with my client, and later discussed with me the strategy of the case and the advice I would give the client.  It was amazing! I had room to independently represent my client, but I felt very supported.

Have you experienced a particularly memorable client interaction? My most memorable client this year was “Mrs. D.”  I felt a connection to her because she reminded me of my mother.  She was tiny, soft spoken, and seemed like a very sincere person.

Mrs. D was an elderly lady with a physical disability, which had prevented her from working for nearly 6 years.  She came into the Consumer Protection Clinic with hopes of negotiating a lower payment for a debt she incurred over 7 years prior.  She had continued to try to make payments all these years, which while honorable, also allowed her debt to stay current.

The original debt was small, but with late payment fees and court costs, it had ballooned to over $1,000.  This amount may not seem huge to some people, but it was insurmountable to Mrs. D. She was in survival mode with no government benefits, an incapacitated spouse, and no income or assets to her name.

What was great about being in-person was that as I read her in-take questionnaire, I was able to occasionally glance over at her.  While she outwardly appeared to be very reserved, I still saw mixed and varying expressions of hope and desperation, shame and resolve, and panic.

Seeing Mrs. D look towards us as if we were her last hope stripped me of my insecurities and allowed me to focus instead on helping her.

I worked with the debt collector to dismiss her debt entirely and represented her in Court later that same day to close the case.

When she realized the case has been completely resolved, it was like a shroud was lifted. She kept repeating that she couldn’t believe it was over.

It was a life-changing experience for me! Now, instead of dwelling on my own insecurities, I focus on what I can do and how I can use my abilities to help.

What do you think other people should know about volunteering with PBRC? PBRC helps alleviate the biggest concerns about volunteering:  it feels risky to try something new; and there is always the question of how much time volunteering will take.

PBRC seems to understand these concerns.  They have created a process that makes it easy to find opportunities, and they provide training and support along the way.

PBRC’s featured service opportunity

Learn more about PBRC’s Consumer Protection Project:

probonomd.org/projects/debt-defense

For more information about volunteering in Maryland, contact:

Dave Pantzer, PBRC Director of Education: dpantzer@probonomd.org, (443) 977-6721