INTERVIEW: JANICE SHIH (JHU ’88), MANAGING ATTORNEY, LOW INCOME TAX PAYER CLINIC FOR MARYLAND VOLUNTEER LAWYERS SERVICE (MVLS)

Janice Shih is originally from Northern Virginia, outside of Washington DC. Her path to becoming a lawyer was anything but straightforward.

Attending Hopkins as a typical neurotic pre-med, Janice graduated with a degree in biology. She worked in a lab in Mudd Hall, participated in the “Mole Cell Run” and suffered through organic chemistry. Janice was rewarded with admission to medical school, after which she completed a residency in Obstetrics/Gynecology. After practicing for several years, Janice realized that she no longer enjoyed medicine. She then decided to attend culinary school, with a focus on pastry. After graduating, Janice worked first as a pastry chef for a restaurant, but then opened up her own shop, specializing in gluten-free cakes and pastries.

As a business owner, Janice focused on employing ex-convicts who were re-entering society. She got to see firsthand the challenges these individuals had in “navigating the system.” It was here that Janice got firsthand exposure to law and social justice, which led her to apply to law school.

Even though Janice had graduated from Hopkins many years before, Pre-Law Advisor Ana Droscoski was kind enough to meet with Janice and give her valuable information and direction about applying to law school. Janice attended the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she stumbled into the world of tax. She currently works as Managing Attorney of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, where she gets to see on a daily basis how the US tax system can be a powerful anti-poverty tool.

Describe a day in the life of a Managing Attorney at the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is the largest pro bono provider of civil legal services in Maryland. We match volunteer attorneys and clients in a variety of areas, from consumer issues such as foreclosure and bankruptcy, to family law (like adoption or divorce), to expungement.

My program, the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, assists low income taxpayers in disputes or controversy with the IRS or the Maryland Comptroller. This includes assisting the Taxpayer with negotiations with the IRS, and representing clients in Tax Court.

My role as Managing Attorney is largely administrative, as opposed to actual “lawyering.” Although I do have a few clients of my own, most of my time is spent managing and growing the program, and focusing on the grant which funds the program.

What initially attracted you to this field? What are some of the rewards of this area of law and the legal profession?

Although I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do when I went to law school, I knew that I wanted to do something in public interest. There are so many individuals out there who need help in so many ways; the need is so great and it is so fulfilling to do something which can impact someone so much.
The great thing about a law degree is that you can do so much with it. Even if you find later that you don’t enjoy traditional “lawyering,” you can apply the skills you learned in law school to a variety of other areas.

What are some of the downsides of this area of law? How would you compare the reality of your profession to the picture you had of it while in school?

The downside of public interest law is that there is so much need. It can often be difficult to separate yourself from the needs of the clients, especially when you want to help everyone. You have to realize that that isn’t always possible, but you do the best you can.

Do you have any advice for an undergraduate interested in pursuing this body of law and the legal profession?

Get out there and talk to people. The legal community, especially in Baltimore, is very small – but everyone is willing and eager to help. Networking is very important, and is often how you will find jobs in the future.

Stay open to any and all possibilities. You never know where life is going to take you – and sometimes you just have to trust that things will work out. It usually does!
Contact Information:

Janice Shih is happy to answer any further questions from students. You can email her at jshih@mvlslaw.org. Please note that MVLS is offering internship opportunities to pre-law students, especially those with language skills other than in English.

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