Can you tell me a little about your private practice?
Overall, my legal practice is fairly evenly divided between business litigation and labor and employment work. I have been working in the litigation arena since I graduated law school in 2008, first in New York and now in Baltimore. Labor and employment is a newer practice area for me which I picked up when I joined Thomas & Libowitz, P.A. in October 2015. My clients tend to be business owners, though I do occasionally take employee-side cases on a pro bono basis. My overarching philosophy is that the client is generally best served when we can find a business solution to the problem, though there are times when litigation is unavoidable.
How did you first get involved with PBRC?
I got involved with PBRC after I attended a breakfast information session 6 or 7 years ago. I had just moved back to Baltimore after 5 years of practice in New York and was curious about the organization and its programs. At the breakfast I met Jack Condliffe [a Past President] and he talked me into applying for a board member position. I had never served on a board before but given that I was coming from a strong pro bono legal background, I felt that joining the PBRC board was a good way to get involved in the community, meet people, and give back at the same time.
Can you talk a little about your history with PBRC, as a board member, as a volunteer, and now as the president?
When I joined the PBRC board, I knew little about the organization. For that matter, I hadn’t yet volunteered for any of the organization’s programs. After 6-7 years, I have a much better understanding of the amazing work that PBRC performs in our communities. I have volunteered with nearly all PBRC’s programs. I have represented tenants and consumers in District Court, prepared estate planning documents for the elderly, and assisted and advised Baltimore City residents with tax and water bills. While I consider my role as board president important, truly, the most important organizational role lies in PBRC’s volunteers. Without attorneys, notaries, and translators to work with the clients, PBRC would not exist.
What do you find unique or distinctive about PBRC within Maryland’s legal landscape?
PBRC is a special organization. It is not just a pro bono service provider, but also a statewide pro bono clearinghouse, support center, and innovator. While having volunteers for its own projects is important to the organization’s success, PBRC really seeks to inspire lawyers all over Maryland to perform pro bono legal service in their communities. And, recognizing that equal justice is the endgame, PBRC frequently provides support to other pro bono legal services organizations. For example, when the courts closed due to COVID-19 in 2020, PBRC’s staff spent countless hours figuring out how to continue working with clients and shared that knowledge with the other pro bono legal service organizations.
What developments within PBRC have you found most exciting or promising during your time on the board?
Though it was time-consuming and occasionally tedious, I found the recent strategic planning process to be quite exciting. The board and staff worked together over multiple sessions to brainstorm PBRC’s vision and future, and then to come up with a comprehensive strategic plan. While COVID-19 has definitely postponed implementation of much of the strategic plan, PBRC now has a roadmap for its future.
Why do you, personally, donate to PBRC?
I donate to PBRC each year not just because I’m a board member, but because I am able. I was taught at an early age that those of us who can, should support the good work of worthy organizations such as PBRC. And I have seen firsthand how hard PBRC’s staff works to deliver on the organization’s mission. They need the community’s financial support and I’m lucky to be able to answer that call.
As you look at the legal and justice landscape, what do you find exciting or promising?
There has been a lot of talk recently about a right to counsel in civil cases for people who are unable to afford lawyers. I think this is a step in the right direction. For example, tenants appearing in rent court are almost always unrepresented and are generally unaware of their rights as renters (for example, the right to a safe, habitable home). PBRC has found through its work that even when a tenant has a clear defense to the landlord’s claim for rent, the mere presence of an attorney representing that tenant increases their likelihood of prevailing on that defense.
What message would you give to people thinking about supporting PBRC?
Because of the hard work and commitment of PBRC’s leadership and staff, every dollar donated to PBRC is used judiciously. While the organization does receive certain grant support, grants are for finite periods of time and come with many restrictions. What PBRC really needs is unrestricted donations to fill in the funding gaps. Without your financial support, PBRC simply cannot continue to provide all its current services. We need your support not only to survive, but to thrive.
For more information about volunteering in Maryland, contact:
Dave Pantzer, PBRC Director of Education, Outreach and Technology