Volunteer of the Month | Dan Guy

We’re proud to recognize Dan Guy as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Dan and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I volunteer with MVLS because I’m recently retired and I am in a position to use the expertise that I gained over many years in Federal service to help resolve tax issues for those who find it difficult to navigate through complex administrative systems.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.   
The matters that I have taken on as a volunteer over the past year all involve tax collection procedures and taxpayers who are unable to pay. Along the way I have experienced mixed results and learned some of the nuances and challenges inherent in the tax collection process. One client achieved significant relief from Federal and State tax debts through an offer in compromise, while another client’s offer was rejected and we are now moving in the direction of an installment payment plan.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?   
I feel really fortunate to have been a member of the Maryland Bar and to have had the opportunity to be part of a profession that makes a real difference in people’s lives by providing access to justice that might otherwise be out of reach.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?
From my experience, MVLS is well managed and organized and is very deserving of volunteer and financial support. As a volunteer, you control your level of involvement, mentors are available to provide guidance and assistance, and odds are good that you will learn something useful to your practice along the way.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS?  
What I have seen in the MVLS clients that I have worked with is a sense of frustration, distrust, fear, and hopelessness in interacting with Federal and State tax authorities. To the extent that Federal and State laws and policies are intended to provide tax relief to low-income taxpayers, the unfortunate reality is that the administrative system is too complex. Lending a hand as an MVLS volunteer bridges the gap.

Volunteer of the Month | Kate Cook

Kate Cook spent more than 20 years as an FDA lawyer, working toward the goal of doing what was good for society, people, and public health. She left the agency in 2016 and now has her own practice, but it was those same goals combined with the opportunity to help individuals that motivated her to volunteer with MVLS.   

In her time as an MVLS volunteer, Kate has taken more than 50 cases, assisting clients with expungements, housing stability, and advance planning. She recently dedicated 100 hours to a deed change case, working with her client to save a five-generation family home.  

Today, MVLS is proud to recognize Kate Cook as Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about why she volunteers and donates, and why she ends each pro bono case by asking her clients if they’re ready to make a will.  

What made you pursue a career in law? I’m a third-generation lawyer. My mother was a federal government lawyer, and my grandfather was a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago.  

What inspired you to get involved in pro bono?  My work was always done with the goal of trying to do what’s good for society, for people, and for public health. But I had not had a practice that was one-on-one, where I could do something that would have a specific benefit for a client – something seen, perceived, or enjoyed. I saw MVLS’ pro bono work as an opportunity to make those differences in individual peoples’ lives.  

What have you enjoyed about your volunteer experience?  I’ve valued the opportunity to learn a new area of law while enjoying the assistance and oversight of mentors. I’ve really learned a lot in my MVLS practice, and I’ve had the chance to work with good lawyers like Alice Young who has been a mentor to me.  

You also give to MVLS. What inspired you to give?  Knowing it makes such a difference for people. I’ve worked at some of the clinics and know the value of having decent equipment – I really wanted to support that.  

How does volunteering and donating impact you? I feel part of a bigger effort. Donating for me is all about the personal satisfaction of supporting the organization. 

Could you tell me about some of the cases you’ve worked on? I recently worked on a case that wasn’t complicated in a legal sense but was complicated by poverty. I was working to get my client’s name on the deed to her family home. My client was the third generation of her family to live in the house, and two more generations were living with her. This was a house that needed to stay in the family. But there was an almost $9,000 water bill. It’s such a chicken and egg situation. You can’t transfer the deed to a home when there’s an outstanding bill.  And the person who is entitled to own the property can’t get assistance from any of the community programs because the house is not in her name. And that makes it even harder. 

What happened?  My client is a really remarkable woman. She devoted every penny to this in order to get it transferred. We ended up setting up a GoFundMe. It didn’t cover all of it, but what she did get put her over the top so that she was able to pay off the bill. It really was satisfying at the end of the case to say, “Here is your deed. It has been recorded. You can now look it up here.”  

Is there anything else you would add?  Whenever I do an estates case like this I say to my clients when we’re done, “Can I do a will for you now?” Most or all of the people I work with are seeking help from MVLS because the person who owned the property died without a will, which really complicates things. And that’s not what the homeowner would have intended. Last year, I worked with a widow whose husband had owned their house outright but hadn’t put her name on the title. We were able to wrap up that case appropriately and fairly. She died a few months ago, but we had made arrangements for her. We’d titled the house in her and her daughter’s name. So now, her daughter owns the home, which is what my client wanted. 

How do you explain the impact of pro bono?  For the estate work, the impact is clear – suddenly a client owns their home! It’s in their name. For expungements, just imagine being able to put someone in a better position to get a job. I also think it really makes people feel valued – that someone is willing to do this for them. It’s a great thing.  

What would you say to people who are considering volunteering or donating?  Do it. As I mentioned it’s a chance not only to connect individually with clients. It’s also a chance to learn a new area and work with good lawyers. 

*Interview edited for length and clarity.  

Volunteer of the Month | Cindy Motsko

Cindy Motsko

We’re proud to recognize Cindy Motsko as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Cindy and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
As a retired, but still licensed attorney, I wanted to see if I could use my skills to help people who need legal help and to give back to the community.  I have supported MVLS financially (but modestly) for many years.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Professionally, I had to adjust to a completely new system of dealing with the Court – everything had to be filed online in pdf format. This was a big learning curve for me.  Because of the sensitive nature of the cases, (protecting victims of human trafficking) I also had to learn the process of sealing the case files and making sure that access to the information was restricted. As a former commercial real estate and business attorney, this was a very different world.  So, the short answer is that I have increased my skills, although not without difficulty. But the clients have been so appreciative that I am pleased to have helped them in my small way.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
Of course, I would encourage volunteering and support for MVLS.  But they should be prepared for the challenges, and growth opportunities if they deal with subject matter outside of their areas of expertise.  That said, the MVLS staff is so helpful and supportive of volunteers’ efforts and that assistance is crucial to successful outcomes for the clients.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
Although a person may not be familiar with MVLS, they certainly can understand the value of volunteering to work for people in need of legal assistance. 

Volunteer of the Month | Sarah Nadolny

We’re proud to recognize Sarah Nadolny as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Sarah and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I choose to volunteer with MVLS for a few reasons. I started my career in non-profits and never really thought I’d leave them; I like the work and the people. MVLS cases offer me a sense of balance in my career. Mulinazzi Law Office is very dedicated to volunteering with MVLS and encourages a similar commitment in me. I strongly believe that if you can help, then you should. 

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
I helped a woman with a very straightforward divorce. She was terrified of her husband, she was dealing with two family emergencies, and still trying to remain calm and professional. I was able to empower her, validate her, give her the opportunity to see someone say no to her husband, and get her divorced months earlier than expected.  

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS gives me purpose.  

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
MVLS does incredible work and provides an invaluable service to our communities. Volunteering with MVLS will make you feel like a better human. It is very easy to help, and there is a wonderful built-in support system to help with your questions and case issues. If you do not have time to take on extra cases, they have other ways you can support their mission. Supporting this work helps to protect the rights and well-being of those who are most in need of assistance.    

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
Working with MVLS gives you the ability to impact people in many ways, at the very core you give people a better chance to accomplish their legal goals, and in other cases to stand up to their bullies and their financial resources. In addition to case outcomes, you have the opportunity to help people find peace, relief, security, support, and validation.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
You should volunteer with MVLS. In addition to helping people, volunteering can be a continuous learning experience. You may encounter unique cases and legal challenges that provide valuable insights and broaden your understanding of the law while at the same time making a difference in the life of a person who may not have the funds to pay for legal representation. It helps them as well as the community they live in. 

Volunteer of the Month | Monica Basche

We’re proud to recognize Monica Basche as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Monica and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I volunteer with the Consumer Protection Project Clinic in the Baltimore City District Court, which provides legal services to those who need assistance with defending, negotiating, settling common debt collection cases, including debt buyers, medical debt, and auto loans. I chose to volunteer with the CPP because I didn’t have the capacity to take on an individual case, but I still wanted to find a way to help those in need of legal services. Debt collection cases are common, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are often an individual’s first interaction with the court. Volunteering with the CPP allows me to help people understand the process and their options and how to make an informed decision on how they want to proceed.  

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
We help lots of people in the CPP clinic, so it’s really hard to pick just one. However, I distinctly remember one of my first cases, which involved a mother who had cosigned on her son’s credit card that he got through his veterinarian to pay for his dog’s cancer treatment. It was her first time in court, and she was very nervous about the process. I explained her options to her, and then negotiated a workable payment plan with the debt buyer. Although I wasn’t able to get rid of her debt, I was able to help her find a way to make it manageable and to alleviate some of the stress of the situation.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Personally, I think it’s important to use my legal knowledge and skill to minimize the potentially harmful impact that the legal system can have on those who come in contact with it, and MVLS is a way of doing just that because it offers assistance to those who are most vulnerable. On a professional level, volunteering has helped me to understand a new area of the law, learn client interviewing and listening skills, and speak with confidence when I’m before the court.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
Just do it! MVLS has so many different ways for you to get involved. Not only will you get personal satisfaction out of helping those in need of legal services, but you will grow professionally by taking on cases in new and different areas of the law.     

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
You really just have to do pro bono work to understand how impactful it is. The clients are so appreciative for your time and assistance. It’s like you can see a weight being lifted off their shoulders.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
If you’re looking for a way to volunteer with MVLS but don’t have the capacity to take on an individual case, please consider volunteering for the CPP clinic.

Volunteer of the Month | Chester Hobbs

Chester Hobbs

We’re proud to recognize Chester Hobbs, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Chester and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
When I was admitted to the Maryland Bar Association in 1987, I worked for Thomas G. Bodie. As my mentor, Tom Bodie highly prioritized pro bono service. He thought it was an integral part of any law practice and an integral part of our firm that was then known as Power & Moser.

With his influence, pro bono has always been a part of my practice. I appreciate the referrals for pro bono clients from MVLS, because they have pre-screened the clients and I know that each client genuinely needs pro bono services. There are so many people in need, but certainly having MVLS screen and qualify persons as genuinely in need of pro bono representation is a big help in not having to independently assess a client’s financial ability to pay for services.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
There are numerous cases that I am proud of, but for many years I have been primarily taking chapter 7 bankruptcy referrals from MVLS. Often, the clients who are referred to me are under severe emotional distress due to creditor harassment and stress related to their inability to pay their bills. It gives great satisfaction to see the mental state of the client improve once they have gone through the bankruptcy process and are relieved of these debt obligations.

People don’t often think of bankruptcy practice as emotionally satisfying, but until you have represented a client who wishes they could pay their bills, but be unable to do so, relieved of the stress, you don’t appreciate the impact of bankruptcy discharge on a client’s mental wellbeing.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Again, as stated above, it gives me personal satisfaction to see the vast improvement in the mental health of clients who have received a bankruptcy discharge of debts they have no ability to pay, despite their best efforts.

From a professional standpoint, I am able to render significant representation on a pro bono basis because I have a wonderful staff who can handle much of what is required to administer a successful bankruptcy case. As such, we are able to take pro bono cases and manage them efficiently within the infrastructure of a well-established bankruptcy practice. It allows us to take more MVLS referrals than if we were taking referrals in an area of law that I don’t regularly practice.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
MVLS is a wonderful organization and well-needed in the State of Maryland to assure that persons of modest means have access to legal representation in critical areas. If a practitioner has an area of practice that can benefit MVLS clients, that attorney should certainly consider volunteering, at least in their areas of practice, because volunteers in all areas of the law are needed.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
MVLS is a non-profit organization designed to connect persons of modest means in the State of Maryland with lawyers qualified to handle the much needed legal work on their behalf, and that handling these matters is of vital importance to both the clients and the communities where they live.

Volunteer of the Month | Thomas Mulinazzi

Thomas Mulinazzi

We’re proud to recognize Thomas Mulinazzi, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Thomas and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
To help. Period. We are all very lucky to have the ability/education/training to help others. I feel I am wasting my talents if I am not helping people who need it most and there is no better agency to partner with to do that than MVLS. The staff does a great job with the clients prepping them. They are friendly, helpful, very appreciative (which is ironic because we should be (and I am) so appreciate of them, and they always support us.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
A recent case that I am proud involves a young wife and mother who was already involved in an active case.  She was being pushed around by her spouse who was represented.  She didn’t speak English well, she had nothing, she wasn’t working, and yet husband’s attorney was pressing her for discovery filing Motions and even served her with Admissions – all in an effort to divest of ownership of the family home (in his name) and her share of his 401k, etc. The client was also a domestic violence victim, and I couldn’t let her be victimized more by a system that she did not understand. So, we got into the case right after the PL, worked hard to clean up the discovery mess, fought to enforce the PL support order (the husband was ignoring it), fought to get her a final custody order, then worked on getting her the marital share of the property. Once our client started to get child support and alimony, she was able to get a part-time job and an apartment. She began to find her identity again. 

Then our Office won a few Motions which resulted in an attorney fee award and the other side was forced to deal with our client and our office on equal terms. We compelled them to produce information and compelled them to settle giving our client ½ of the 401k and ½ of the house equity – both were items that the husband insisted were his sole property; and before she met us, she believed that too.  Now she bought a reliable car and has a small savings account and a real path forward to get a certification program where she can earn a good living doing what she wants to do. At the end of the case, she wrote me a note that I display prominently in my Office, “Gracias, Estoy muy feliz con usted por su trabajo. 😊” it’s short and simple but that’s the beauty of it.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS gives me a sense of pride that I am a lawyer because I am using my skill for something important.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
There is no greater satisfaction than helping someone who truly needs you.  Besides, if you are not helping people who could not otherwise afford your services you are wasting your talent and you are wasting your gift.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
See above.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
I really appreciate that MVLS helps me to be part of the change they are making in our community. Thank you to MVLS.

Volunteer of the Month | Robert McGarrah, Jr.

We’re proud to recognize Robert McGarrah, Jr., as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Robert and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
MVLS is one of the best pro bono opportunities for Maryland lawyers. Not only does it offer free legal services to needy Marylanders, but it offers excellent support with experienced staff who know the law and procedure as well as the key administrative agency people in state government.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
I took an MVLS consumer debt collection case for an elderly woman who lived alone in Prince George’s County. The client was ashamed that she’d incurred a large credit card debt. As I interviewed her, I learned she’d been the victim of elder financial abuse, both with the MVLS collections case in District Court for credit card purchases and with student loan debt–a Plus Loan at one of Corinthian Colleges for-profit, training programs for one of her children. She felt so badly about what she’d done, she’d actually made payments from her small Social Security checks.

As I came to understand her plight and learned more about the growing problem of elder financial abuse in America, I explained to her how many elderly people are victimized each year. The client then began to describe other problems and citing Maryland statutory requirements on elder financial abuse for financial institutions, I convinced the debt collector’s attorney to dismiss the case. The US Department of Education also forgave the balance due on her Plus Loan.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
I get great satisfaction applying the law for people in need. While they don’t know the law and have frequently been victimized, their gratitude and prayers is excellent compensation.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
I highly recommend MVLS to all Maryland lawyers. It has excellent resources and support and it more than meets the professional obligation we all have to serve our fellow citizens.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
MVLS pro bono work pays dividends to Maryland attorneys. It has a wealth of challenging cases from some of Maryland’s neediest citizens, who are often in dire straits. Helping people in our community builds trust in the legal profession and makes a big difference in the lives of people who rarely have the opportunities we have as attorneys.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
Just keep up the good work at MVLS!

Volunteer of the Month | Sara Lucas

We’re proud to recognize Sara Lucas, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Sara and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
There are many reasons why I choose to volunteer with MVLS. First, MVLS offers plenty of support and resources to help volunteers navigate their cases, and the MVLS staff are responsive and always willing to help. There are numerous trainings posted online that volunteer attorneys can watch, and if you need to, you can reach out and speak with an experienced attorney about the case on which you are working. MVLS also has a Community Advocacy Network (“CAN”) that provides additional support to the volunteers. Furthermore, MVLS offers a diverse array of cases to work on, from divorces and other family law issues, to bankruptcy, personal injury, expungements, estate planning, and much, much more. The diverse array of cases MVLS offers poses many opportunities for volunteer attorneys to become exposed to areas of law other than their practice areas, and even to build a “secondary” or “pro bono” practice, allowing the attorney to become more well-rounded and well versed. Finally, the clients are always incredibly thankful, gracious, and a joy.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
There are a few MVLS cases that I am particularly proud. The first is a guardianship case, whereby I helped a senior citizen who was on a fixed income obtain guardianship over her older sister who had severe dementia and was in a nursing home. The client and her sister had several assets together, which made it impossible for the client to dispose of those assets accordingly. This was the first guardianship case I have ever handled, and I successfully helped the client obtain guardianship over the person and the property of her sister, which included filing a petition, facilitating service on many interested parties, communicating with the appointed attorney for the sister, and ultimately appearing on my client’s behalf at a hearing. Some other cases I am particularly proud of are two name change cases. In the first name change case, I helped a minor correct her name, and because it was corrected, she is now able to get her learner’s permit, learn how to drive, and ultimately get her driver’s license. In another name change case, I helped a mother correct the name of her toddler so that the child could get baptized under the correct name, which was of the utmost importance to the client. 

From these cases, I learned that simple matters such as name changes actually have an extraordinary impact, and that it is possible to navigate a completely new (and somewhat complex) area of law such as guardianships.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS impacts me both personally and professionally. I feel very fulfilled when I help others solve problems, especially those that may not have as many resources as others. I also enjoy interacting with people outside of my practice area and feel refreshed when I do so. On a professional level, I get to expand my practice, learn a new area of law, and develop skills that will help me in my practice overall. 

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
Do it. You will have no regrets. 

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
I help clients with limited resources and less access navigate their legal issue and resolve it, free of charge. It is fulfilling for me and impactful for them!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
It may be overwhelming to take a case in an area of law an attorney is completely unfamiliar with, but I would recommend doing just that. In the practice of law, lawyers are constantly in positions of discomfort, whether it is during the course of contentious litigation, a negotiation, or dealing with a difficult client. I recommend exercising the skill of overcoming your fears or discomfort by taking a case in a completely unfamiliar area of law (when the attorney has a bit of extra time) and learn something new. The support and resources MVLS’ provide make the task much less onerous than one might think, and attorneys will gain confidence in mastering a new area of law. That confidence is especially important for new attorneys.