Bar Bulletin

September, 2003

Pro Bono Profile

The Desire To Assist
By Lisa Muscara

Many corporate tax attorneys are stymied when they think about providing pro bono service; they don’t know how their expertise could be applied to serve the needs of low-income citizens. That query hasn’t kept Stephanie Ketchum from jumping right in. Ketchum, an associate in the Corporate Section of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston (WTP), has found numerous ways to parlay her corporate tax experience into the realm of pro bono service.

 “I have had my hands in a lot of pro bono work, but my main emphasis is on tax-exempt organizations,” Ketchum explains. “That’s what I work with in my practice, and I’ve received a lot of referrals from that. There are lots of people who have really good ideas about what they want to do but don’t know how to go about being recognized as a tax-exempt organization. I can help them.”

From her work with tax-exempt organizations, Ketchum developed additional transactional law skills, enabling her to assist with basic real estate matters for new homebuyers. “I did want to diversify, and I’m interested in flipping cases, so I’ve taken a training to help with the (Civil Justice Network’s) First Time Homebuyers Project,” she says. This program helps first-time home buyers in Baltimore avoid the perils of flipping (buying an incompletely renovated property at an inflated price) and predatory lending. Since her training, Ketchum has handled one case through the Project and is prepared to assist other first time home buyers as well.

Ketchum has also worked through WTP’s Adopt-A-Shelter program in which WTP attorneys provide monthly outreach to two homeless shelters in the area. This program is coordinated through the Homeless Persons Representation Project. In Ketchum’s experience, these shelter visits have not resulted in strenuous legal cases. “I go about twice a year to visit the shelters,” she says. “Oftentimes, the clients just want to talk with someone to make them feel like their case is important. I’ve done a few name changes and dealt with some Social Security issues, but most often they just want to talk.”

The Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) has also benefited from Ketchum’s pro bono efforts. She has participated in the MVLS Low Income Tax Credit Clinic since 1999 and served on their fundraising committee in 2002.

Ketchum is committed to pro bono service and has been influenced by strong examples of volunteerism. She explains that volunteering is not only a part of her family’s culture (she proudly shares that her mother volunteers at the National Aquarium as a diver), but it is also a long-standing tradition at WTP. “I’m fortunate that Whiteford encourages and recognizes the value of pro bono work,” she admits. “Most of the casework and follow up is done during business hours. I am able to work with the partners here, and if I have questions, they make themselves available to help.”

Ketchum has noticed that she has developed a different rapport with her pro bono clients. In fact, she has been “caught off-guard” by some of the kind gestures her pro bono clients have offered. “They send letters and thank you notes, things you don’t get from other clients.”

Ketchum was nominated by her colleague Patrick Reardon for this year’s Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards. Reardon is surrounded by a community of attorneys contributing pro bono service, but he elected to nominate Ketchum because “she’s primarily a tax attorney, and yet she’s very active in pro bono. She has said that she wanted to try something different from her normal practice, and pro bono service has given her the opportunity to do that. That impressed me.”

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