DUNDALK — Everyone in town knows Alex Montanio. She’s active in the community, sits on the board of the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation and can be seen at many community events.
What you might not know about her is that she’s a lawyer with a robust pro bono practice.
Montanio is an attorney with Gordon Feinblatt LLC, where she is an associate for the firm’s litigation and healthcare practice groups. She also serves as the firm’s social responsibility administrator.
She’s busy enough, but in addition to her litigation career she also serves on the board for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a nonprofit organization that provides pro bono legal representation for low-income clients.
Montanio also serves as board president at Dundalk Renaissance Corporation.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Montanio said she moved to Dundalk with her family when she was in high school. Her parents own a business called Coveside Crabs.
She eventually moved back to Virginia to attend college at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she majored in English and Psychology.
“When I decided I wanted to go to law school, I realized I wanted to move back here,” Montanio said.
“When thinking about where I wanted to live, my parents had found such a great community here in Dundalk. I decided to live here, too, and bought a house five minutes away from them.”
Montanio said her inspiration to become an attorney comes from a colleague named Todd Chason, who also works at Gordon Feinblatt.
Montanio said her sister, who is nonverbal, dealt with accusations of abuse at her school. She wasn’t able to express the trauma from those accusations. Chason offered pro bono services and represented Montanio’s sister.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was his first pro bono case,” Montanio said.
“He was just so confident. He just walked into a very complicated situation. Obviously, everybody on all sides was pretty tense about it, and he just figured out how to methodically diffuse that and made sure that everyone felt heard. He advocated for my sister and she was able to go to a different school and get the support that she needed, which turned her life around.”
Montanio said it took her sister a long time to recover, but it would not have been possible if a lawyer had not stepped in and helped her family. Montanio now proudly works alongside him.
“He is so humble, and really is a model of the kind of lawyer that I want to be,” Montanio said.
“I think that there’s sometimes an association with lawyers wanting to be flashy and it’s about winning. For him, it’s about doing what’s right and helping people. He’s absolutely an inspiration. I work with him now, and I learn from him every day about how to advocate for people and to be a better listener. That’s really the trick to good lawyering — being a good listener.”
Montanio said her firm’s clients primarily are from Maryland, but they also serve people from all over the Mid-Atlantic. She does her pro bono work through two different organizations – MVLS and Disability Rights Maryland.
“I partner with Disability Rights Maryland to get cases from different jurisdictions,” Montanio said. “I have some here in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County and all over the area.”
Montanio said that as soon as she became a lawyer, offering pro bono services was important to her. Her family would not have been able to afford an attorney to advocate for her sister. She said she feels lucky to work at a firm where pro bono work is encouraged and supported.
“A lot of my colleagues there have volunteered for MVLS for a really long time,” Montanio said. “They say it’s an easy way to get started, because MVLS provides mentorship on certain types of cases. They make it really easy to do.”
Montanio said it starts with taking one case, then another, and then it goes from there. There are always cases that need lawyers and people that need help, she said.
“Alex is really a superstar,” said Susan Francis, a deputy director at MVLS who will soon be promoted to executive director. “The nice thing about her is that there are a couple of different ways that she connects with our program. The first is as a pro bono attorney. She took her first case in June 2017, and she organized an expungement clinic. That’s how she started volunteering with us. She’s so grounded into the Dundalk community that she organized on her own an expungement clinic.”
Francis said that for the first year-and-a-half, Montanio asked MVLS to be a partner while she did all the work on her own. She recruited attorneys from her firm, and did all the work, like reducing employment barriers for individuals, Francis said.
“That’s where she started, and then just continued to plug in, in so many different ways with our program and finding more ways to help our program and help so many clients throughout the state,” Francis said.
Francis said Montanio joined the MVLS Board last year, which consists of 21 members. MVLS has a variety of attorneys who are at different stages in their careers and in different places, she said.
“We really want them to represent our volunteer base,” Francis said. “Alex was just an obvious choice. We were thrilled to snatch her up before too many other folks got to her, because she’s so deeply committed to her work. She can work so passionately and can really understand, in her own life, how important pro bono is and how important overall representation is.”
As board president at DRC, Montanio promotes the work done by the organization. She said that DRC has a “fantastic staff” of people who attack a lot of different issues, such as housing stability initiatives and small business development.
DRC will host its annual Fall Fest next month, and Montanio said that MVLS will have a table at the event for the first time. MVLS serves clients all over the state, she said, but it tends to be very Baltimore City-heavy. MVLS didn’t know how to get into Dundalk, but Montanio set up a meeting between the organization’s executive director and DRC.
“We were able to start thinking about creative ways to work together and to support the mission together,” she said. “I think it’s really exciting.”
Montanio said she also serves on the board of the Community College of Baltimore County’s Dundalk Foundation, and serves on the committee of the Business Volunteers Maryland’s GIVE program, which is the organization’s young professionals fellowship, she said. She also volunteers with Special Olympics Maryland.