Ms. Maydanich's Neighborhood
The business lit lawyer owes much to Owings Mills
Published in 2021 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine
on December 14, 2020
Updated on December 23, 2020
Zhanna Maydanich got her first clients in elementary school: her parents.
The family had immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union when Maydanich was 6. She quickly picked up English, making her the family’s business broker.
“My parents would bring me to places to speak for them,” Maydanich says. “Or if the telephone bill would come and they’d have questions, I’d get on the phone with the company and do business on their behalf.”
That desire to help guided her to her business law practice, which includes work as in-house counsel for more than 60 small, local businesses, many of which are owned by immigrants or newly sworn-in citizens.
“I always felt that I could help people by using my voice, my heart and my brain,” says Maydanich, founder of ZM Law Group in Owings Mills. “I can level the playing field for my clients. I bring my legal knowledge, but I also bring an understanding of where they are in the world.”
In Ukraine, Maydanich’s father was a mechanical engineer and her mother worked in computer science. Both were highly skilled, but because they were Jewish, Soviet mandates limited their job options and future advancement.
“We moved here for a better life, better opportunities, religious freedom, the American dream,” she says. “The same reasons that have brought immigrants here for generations.”
Maydanich’s father’s first job in the U.S. was washing dishes. Both parents worked during the day and studied English at night. Maydanich says she was a “latchkey kid” who honed her language skills with the help of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But it was her own neighborhood that made things easier—there was a large concentration of Russian Jews in the Owings Mills area. Maydanich would speak for many of them. “We were all in it together,” she says.
Maydanich’s father eventually opened a company that makes food-packaging machines, which became the family business. Maydanich would write the company’s letters, call delinquent bill-payers, and listen to her parents discuss financial ups and downs. That experience informs her work. “Small businesses become another member of the family,” she says. “I understand that.”
Maydanich worked for a few private firms before deciding to go out on her own in 2004. She wanted to get to know her clients intimately and better feel the impact of her work.
“I felt I could help people one-on-one, be a neighborhood lawyer,” she says. “I wanted to run a firm and treat people the way I’d want them to treat me.”
Many of her clients talk about “the American dream … that with hard work, perseverance; with sweat and tears, your future is in your hands,” Maydanich says. “If you put the work in and do what you have to, there are no limitations. And if that does not work, try different avenues. It’s not just one bite at the apple.”
She says many of her immigrant clients don’t know the additional barriers they face. One client from Ukraine was interested in buying and leasing property. Upon hearing his accent, “the seller and landlord had mistaken it for a weakness and were attempting to take advantage of him,” Maydanich says. When she was retained, she renegotiated the sale price and the lease agreement while getting important concessions from the seller.
In addition to serving as in-house counsel for dozens of small business, Maydanich also handles family law matters. It’s not unusual for the two areas to overlap.
In one case, a client was getting divorced, and the restaurant that had supported the couple was at issue. Instead of using a traditional division-of-marital-property model, Maydanich negotiated a creative, mutually beneficial solution—her client would continue to run the business and his ex-partner would share in the profits via a secure partnership agreement. Seven years later, she’s still the restaurant’s in-house counsel.
“My talent lies in the tailor-made approach I take,” Maydanich says. “My clients know they can say to me, ’I don’t know what this means’ or ‘I don’t understand these words.’ And they know I get it. They tell me, with me, they don’t feel like immigrants. They feel like businesspeople.”
Ukranian words that aren’t in the legal lexicon—but maybe should be:
Khalepa – A sudden misfortune
Zabahanka – A whim
Khutko – Very quickly
Telepen – A foolish person; a blockhead