Sandra Gohn (Baltimore) focuses her practice on domestic and international tax and estate planning for high-net-worth individuals, especially cross-generational transfers of start-up or family enterprises. She has extensive experience in estate and tax planning, drafting wills and trust documents, administering estates and trusts, and in will construction and other estate-related litigation.
Sandra’s pro bono work is very much in tune with her daily work. She believes lawyers should find pro bono projects that play to their strengths and allow them to contribute something based on their particular skills.
"It's what makes you a human being – giving back. Especially when we have so many blessings."
Q: What pro bono experience has been the most meaningful to you and why?
A: A woman came to me almost 25 years ago – shortly after I joined the firm – about a dispute regarding something called the Marjorie Cook Foundation. This woman was the second woman to be admitted to the Maryland Bar. Her closest friend had created a foundation in the 60s, to enhance women’s equality under the law, but it ran into some trouble with the IRS because she had given some money to a lobbying organization instead of a qualified charity. (She was 90 years old and somewhat isolated and did not have access to good counsel.) She had been running the foundation for 30 years, but the IRS said she needed to appoint another trustee, so she appointed a man recommended by a court clerk. This was a terrible decision for the foundation, as the man viewed the foundation as an annuity for himself. We sued to have him removed, which turned into horrible, vicious litigation but worked out well in the end. The judge removed him and appointed three other women and me to be the trustees. We have shifted the focus of the foundation to policy organizations instead of just relief for victims of domestic violence and have, I think, contributed to preserving women’s rights on a much broader basis. This has been an extremely rewarding process.
Q: What skills have you learned from your pro bono work that have been invaluable in your professional development?
A: A lot of leadership skills.
Q: How is pro bono important to our firm’s culture and values?
A: I try and live by these words of Hillel, a medieval Hebrew scholar: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’ ‘If I am for myself only, what am I?’ and ‘If not now, when?’
It is our job as lawyers and human beings to be for others as well. We have all been blessed in many ways, and we have an obligation to advocate for those who cannot take care of themselves.