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Thank you, Zafar!

Reflections from housing attorney Zafar Shah

December 12, 2022

For the past 11 years, Zafar Shah has served as an attorney in the Public Justice Center’s Human Right to Housing Project. We are grateful for his dedicated advocacy for housing justice and wish him all the best as he departs for a new role at Maryland Legal Aid. Zafar reflects on his time at the PJC:

It has been my habit to explain to the uninitiated that PJC is the perfect setting for a public interest lawyer. Virtually every tool is at your disposal. You have freedom to test limits. You are surrounded by comrades who share your single-minded focus on systemic change. I have also said more than once that to survive in this job, you have to accept being despised, on a daily basis. Landlords detest you. Opposing attorneys think you’re a fool. Judges see you as a hindrance (or at least an amusement). Invariably, you have a client who would prefer “a real attorney.” And your colleagues, busy as they are, might hardly notice you. You’d better have some fire in you if you want to last very long.

Somewhere between the pride and the self-loathing that adhere to this job, I figured out how to last, or in other words, how to be myself as an attorney – for 11 years. PJC has given me the opportunities I wanted and the ones I never saw coming. I have represented hundreds of tenants in Baltimore City and around the state. But I also had to try out different modes of lawyering: community lawyer, “rent court” expert, lobbyist, coalition leader.

At PJC, it is easy to forget your success – we move on quickly to the next challenge, but the Development team here asked me to recap my personal highlights over the past decade: 

But the take-away is not that there’s something special about all this. Public Justice Center makes great advocates out of all of us. When I came aboard Public Justice Center in 2011, I had never had an attorney job. About once a week on average, I have wondered whether I deserved it. Can I pull this off? was question that bounced around my head whenever I prepped an argument or sped down the freeway to Annapolis. What I learned in this PJC community is that when we collectively share the commitment to build a just society, any one of us can take on that challenge and, win or lose, achieve something beyond what we perceived as within our individual ability. 

I thank my comrades for their teachings, acceptance, and resolve. And our clients and supporters, I thank you for continuing to make this amazing and necessary place possible.