"In the 12-month period ending in June 2011, almost a third of debtors
who without legal counsel sought the relief and the discharge of debts available
in chapter 7 failed. For those who failed, there is no
relief. For those who failed, there is no fresh start." - Chief Judge
Frank J. Bailey, US Bankruptcy Court, District of Massachusetts
On Tuesday, November 15th, the Boston Bar Association will host Chapter
7 Bankruptcy Pro Bono Volunteer Lawyer Training: Representing a Pro Bono
Debtor. To better understand the scope of the program and why volunteers are
needed, we turned to the Chief Judge of the Bankruptcy Court Frank J. Bailey,
who provided us with the following:
"As our communities, our state and the country continues to struggle with
unemployment, cost of living, and the challenging economy as whole, many of our
most vulnerable and most desperate citizens are turning to bankruptcy for
protection and relief. And more and more of our experienced attorneys are
struggling with not only this increased need, but also the unique and special
circumstances that bankruptcy debtors face. The number of capable and
experienced bankruptcy attorneys who can assist indigent debtors is outweighed
by the demand of our most indigent citizens.
Many debtors are faced with painful decisions that affect their homes and
their families. Some of the biggest mistakes made by debtors who choose to
file without an attorney is to assume that obtaining bankruptcy protection is as
simple as completing a few forms. While correctly completing these forms
is essential to the process, there are many considerations that a debtor must
undertake before they put pen to paper. Not appreciating those
considerations or being unaware of them can lead a debtor into a legal process
that could be riddled with regret. What might have been viewed as an
innocent transfer of property may later be claimed as a fraudulent
transfer. A misunderstanding of the scope of available exemptions may
cause a debtor to lose property that they can least afford to lose. And
debtors who do not understand the consequences of pre-bankruptcy conduct may
expose themselves to a host of potentially avoidable consequences.
In the 12-month period ending in June 2011, almost a third of debtors who
without legal counsel sought the relief and the discharge of debts available in
chapter 7 failed. For those who failed, there is no relief. For
those who failed, there is no fresh start.
The Bankruptcy Court believes that access to the relief, the protections and
the fresh start afforded by the United States Bankruptcy Code should be
available to all citizens regardless of their income and their ability to afford
expert advice from an attorney.
The Pro Bono Volunteer Training by the Boston Bar Association is an excellent
opportunity for attorneys to hone their bankruptcy skills, and an opportunity
for those attorneys interested in bankruptcy to learn the basic and most
important steps in advising and representing a debtor in Chapter 7.
Attorneys from all practice areas should consider this training as an
opportunity to learn about the process, and learn more about how they can assist
those who are most in need."