Millions of Americans today face difficult financial times. Total household debt is at or near record levels. A large share of credit card and home loan accounts are delinquent, and Florida’s foreclosure rate is at an all-time high. Personal bankruptcies exceeded 40,000 in the Middle District in 2013. Nearly 16% of those cases were filed pro se. Low income families, the elderly and individuals with limited English proficiency often have difficulty navigating the complex bankruptcy system. With the privilege of law practice, comes the obligation to ensure that quality legal counsel is accessible to the most vulnerable among us.
When a family faces a financial crisis, the implications are huge: a wage garnishment can send a worker back to dependency on public benefits – or back to homelessness; an illness or job loss can mean eviction or home foreclosure. Because the stakes are so much higher for the poorest debtors, the Clinic strives to ensure that struggling low-income debtors can get the bankruptcy relief they need.
It (the Pro Se Clinic) is the most important thing we are doing as a Court and a profession.
Honorable Arthur B. Briskman, United States Bankruptcy Judge, Middle District of Florida
Providing pro bono legal services is a lawyer’s professional obligation. The Bankruptcy Pro Se Assistance Clinic brings together various segments of the legal community, including: local bankruptcy bar associations, the county bar associations, law schools and law school students, volunteer attorneys, and the Bankruptcy Court. This cooperative effort has resulted in increased interaction between law students, local attorneys and Bankruptcy Court personnel and expanded hands-on experience for students, pro bono opportunities for attorneys, and most importantly, desperately needed relief for the residents of Florida
Participating as a volunteer at the Bankruptcy Pro Se Assistance Clinic gives the young and/or new lawyer practical bankruptcy legal experience that they may not otherwise have. It gives them the opportunity to develop and build lawyering skills needed to be successful in the legal profession. Volunteers make connections with and learn from more experienced and well respected members of the bankruptcy law community. Providing pro bono legal services enhances the reputation of all lawyers, improves morale and strengthens the lawyer’s professional image.
Pro bono work serves the administration of justice by ensuring meaningful access to legal services for those that need assistance but cannot afford it. By making these services available, we improve public perception of the legal profession and the court system. We help the Court operate more efficiently and effectively by helping unrepresented parties in a bankruptcy case navigate the complex system, reduce the amount of unnecessary filings and increase the probability of an individual’s likelihood for a positive outcome of their case.
Thank you all for these tremendous efforts. I cannot tell you enough how much this helps the Court and the debtors. I do not know what I would do without the Clinic. Thank you so much!
Honorable Cynthia C. Jackson , United States Bankruptcy Judge, Middle District of Florida
Doing public interest work is who we are as lawyers. It gives the lawyer great satisfaction when he or she is not simply a billable machine, but a contributor to the public good. Assisting those in need with important legal matters gives lawyers a sense of connectedness and purpose, assuring them that their efforts matter and that they make a difference in the community.
You can see in others what they don’t see in themselves and what the world doesn’t see in them. We all have that possibility, that potential and that promise of seeing beyond the seeming.