Over the past ten years I have represented about a dozen debtors pro bono in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases referred to me through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. The cases have ranged from the simplest of no asset cases to more complicated matters involving the threat of liens on a debtor’s residence or failed business. With the help of the Boston Bar Association Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Pro Bono Volunteer Lawyer Training, you could take on these cases too.
A VLP referral is an excellent way for a lawyer just starting out to gain the experience of handling a bankruptcy case from start to finish. The trustees know from statements filed by the attorney that the representation is pro bono (and I usually state specifically that it is a VLP referral), and they try to be accommodating. The first three § 341 meetings I did (where a debtor is examined by the Chapter 7 trustee) were all pro bono cases. It was eye opening to watch the trustees question debtors as they go through the fifty cases they can be assigned in one five hour day (yes, that is an average of six minutes per § 341 meeting).
Once I had a debtor who got sick soon after the bankruptcy filing. The trustee agreed to conduct the § 341 meeting by telephone, from the debtor’s hospital bed. I went to the hospital with a notary who could administer the oath to the debtor, and we proceeded. I am sure the nurses and others around us were puzzled as to what was going on.
Most of all, though, I have found pro bono debtors to be the most grateful and appreciative of clients I have had. I have often received thank you notes or small gifts, something that doesn’t seem to happen much with my paying clients. I still remember the thank you note from one of my first clients, which in addition to expressing how pleased he was told me that he had made arrangements for a special novena to be said in church on my behalf.
Adam Ruttenberg is a Partner at Looney & Grossman, LLP. Adam is a Co-chair of the Boston Bar Association Bankruptcy Public Service Committee.