Serving the community is a fundamental component of Tara K. Shoemaker and Associates, LLC, a small three-person firm based in Frederick. Shoemaker, a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law and lifelong resident of Frederick, founded the firm in 2012 and since its inception has emphasized pro bono work to provide access to justice to those in her community who need help.
The firm’s commitment to pro bono is evident in the sheer number of cases that they absorb, roughly 75 in 2013 alone. Cases are screened and referred through Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) and Heartly House, a domestic violence resource center serving Frederick County. Citing Family Law as the greatest legal community need, a typical Shoemaker and Associates’ pro bono client is the economically dependent spouse in a divorce or custody case.
Oftentimes, such cases can be complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged. Shoemaker comments on the initial fragility of the firm’s pro bono clients stating, “Frequently, clients going through a divorce present the same kind of emotions as someone going through the grieving process. They are often in ‘survival mode’ when they first come in.”
However, regardless of its outcome, the impact of providing civil legal services to those who otherwise could not afford it goes beyond a case’s result. Shoemaker affirms, “After the case is completed, it isn’t unusual for a client to come in and say that they have moved on and are in a better place.”
The firm represented one such client, a victim of domestic violence, through a protracted and bitter divorce involving identity theft, insurance fraud, and subsequent credit and tax issues. This particular client was so satisfied with the pro bono representation provided by the firm that she provided testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Maryland General Assembly in support of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation Filing Fee Bill (SB 640) in 2013. Due in part to the client’s testimony, the bill ultimately passed, extending the filing fee surcharge that generates revenue to fund legal service programs for Maryland’s poor.
Shoemaker also acknowledges an alternate benefit to pro bono work that has influenced the sustainment of her firm during these harsh economic times. She recognizes that giving back through the use of one’s professional skills can provide more than the personal satisfaction of helping others, citing pro bono service as a means of professional development. Shoemaker asserts, “Pro bono is a great way to get mentorship and learn about an area of law in which you would like to gain more experience. MVLS is a great way to get matched with clients and set up with a mentor or two if you have any questions.”
Through fostering a culture of pro bono where the spirit of volunteerism is both valued and encouraged, Shoemaker and Associates validate that the size of a firm does not dictate its positive impact on the community or even the entire state.
MVLS Executive Director Bonnie Sullivan comments on the value of the firm’s commitment to pro bono stating, “MVLS relies on Tara K. Shoemaker and Associates to represent our Family Law clients in Frederick and Carroll counties. This small but incredibly effective law firm provides zealous representation of pro bono clients.”
The small firm includes attorneys Tara Shoemaker, Michael Perkins, and David Cahn and is the recipient of the Small Law Firm Pro Bono Service Award in 2013.
Carey Moore is the Communications Manager of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.