Can you tell me a little about your private practice?
I retired full-time in 2015 after 45 years involved in business enterprises. I never practiced law full-time. At retirement I was fortunate to join the Law Firm of Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White, as Of Counsel, intending to work in part-time capacity. It has been a great relationship of taking on various legal assignments as well as allowing me the opportunity to devote time to pro bono work.
Which of PBRC’s projects do you volunteer with, and what do you do there?
I first started doing work with PBRC in 2008 and have taken assignments in foreclosure, non-profit work, immigration clinics and most recently in PBRC's rent court volunteer assistance program in Baltimore City.
What is the problem this project addresses?
At rent court, we provide consultation and assistance to individuals who are facing eviction from their residence due to landlord claims of delinquent rent. The assistance is literally on the day of the hearing and our clients have come to court for an assigned hearing without legal representation. Our legal volunteers explain options for the client including defenses that our client is not aware of that could help stave off an eviction proceeding. This project is directed at landlord/tenant problems for which landlords have more resources than our clients in reaching a just outcome.
What do you find interesting about this work?
First, the legal avenues available to help clients has evolved over time, and especially with the financial trauma created by COVID-19. It is reassuring to see jurisdictions, like Baltimore City, very quickly create legal statutes that truly marginalized residents from losing their residence through no fault of their own. Second, rent court is a quick proceeding and literally in a matter of less than an hour the PBRC volunteers can reverse direction of a client's path from eviction to remain in their home—talk about immediate gratification for a legal volunteer.
Do you find that this work can lead to creative solutions?
When a landlord understands that a client is represented by PBRC it immediately opens the door for negotiations that can be worked outside the courtroom. PBRC is well known by landlords and property managers in Baltimore City. Landlords become more amenable once they realize that their tenant understands their options for defense.
What did you find helpful/interesting about PBRC’s process? Were there difficulties?
PBRC's education training programs are very helpful in bringing volunteers up to speed in areas of the law that a volunteer has not practiced. The online programs allow you to work at your own schedule and remain a good reference tool. In actual practice PBRC also provides summary handouts to get a volunteer more comfortable with the major legal principles to use in actual practice. But like anything, the devil is in the details and you just have to be patient in digesting concepts and the actual application. Difficulty really does rest with managing your time and being patient with yourself.
Tell me about a client you have met while working with PBRC.
I first got involved with PBRC in 2008 when foreclosure of homes by lending institutions were occurring at a rapid pace as the economic recession started to gain traction. My client was an elderly woman who ran a day care center in her neighborhood for many years and was well known in the community. She fell victim to aggressive marketing practices of a large lending institution and was cajoled into borrowing more than she should have by a greedy mortgage agent. Unfortunately, she was too trusting and borrowed more than she should have. As she was being dragged in by the bank to foreclosure proceedings she had practically given up. The paperwork alone was suffocating for her. At that time Maryland was just starting to change foreclosure legal proceedings to help distressed homeowners but much of that was still pending in Annapolis. PBRC stepped in. Through their guidance we pushed back on the lending institution by good old-fashioned explanation of our client's rights. The opposing counsel from a large firm quickly became contrite in his dealings, understanding very well that our client was mistreated. Settlement ensued and the loan was renegotiated. A few weeks later the client sent me a picture of herself on a typical day at the day care center—surrounded by smiling faces of children.
How has doing pro bono work changed you?
We all typically fall into specialized areas of law. PBRC allows you to be involved in new areas. The very best form of continuing education. And it is refreshing to realize you are gaining an understanding of an area of law that you might only be generally familiar with.
Furthermore, you work with the PBRC staff that are so focused on helping others that you get swept up in their vocation, all to the benefit of those who need legal advice. It is an Atticus Finch type of feeling.
What message would you give to attorneys thinking about volunteering?
The community needs you. Simple as that.
For more information about volunteering in Maryland, contact:
Dave Pantzer, PBRC Director of Education, Outreach and Technology