In these tough economic times, bankruptcy has become the only realistic financial option for many Maryland citizens.
The Honorable Robert A. Gordon was sworn in as a judge in the Maryland District Bankruptcy Court in 2006, and shortly thereafter he got involved with the court’s strategic planning process. The goal of the process was to discover ways to improve the quality of service and justice that the court was providing to the community.
The Bankruptcy Court was plagued with a backlog of cases being brought by pro se litigants trying to facilitate the procedure alone. “It is tough to know what is going on with a case when the petition is not properly prepared,” says Gordon. Deciphering the paperwork and attempting to figure out what was going on with the pro se cases took time the court needed to hear other cases.
The Ceremony offers a simple yet effective way to publicly acknowledge pro bono work being done by colleagues from around the state.
Research showed that other districts around the nation were having success with short-term, brief legal advice-type scenarios where pro se litigants met with bankruptcy attorneys before submitting their applications. Giving people an opportunity to go over their paperwork with an attorney during this period of consultation eliminated some of the administrative back-and-forth, and increased the chances of getting their initial filings in order. This sent them into court with a more precise application.
Jessica Vollmer, Esq., who had worked with the Bankruptcy Court as an intern, became the point person to develop a program based on available research and the goals of the strategic planning process. Studying the pro se filing statistics revealed what the most pressing needs were. Vollmer then looked at different programs across the state to see what was currently being offered, while reaching out to other organizations in the community.
She found that both the Consumer Bankruptcy Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland were very interested in the project. Following some initial collaboration, a meeting was held in October 2008, with all interested parties invited to offer feedback.
The input from that summit meeting as well as several collaborative meetings with the Chapter 13 Trustees resulted in the Debtor Assistance Project. “We decided to go with the half-hour approach for a couple of reasons,” explains Vollmer. “One, pro se parties don’t necessarily always qualify for pro bono assistance, and two, we didn’t really have anyone to do intakes.” What resulted was a program that any pro se applicant can take advantage of and discover firsthand what the bankruptcy process involves.
The Debtor Assistance Project (DAP) is based in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts located in Baltimore and Greenbelt and will operate clinics from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Mondays. Volunteers are being recruited to staff the DAP office in two-hour shifts and can sign up online by visiting the Court’s volunteer section of its website, www.mdb.uscourts.gov. Malpractice insurance coverage will be provided for volunteers through Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service while they are staffing the clinic.
Any bankruptcy attorney with at least three years experience who is barred to practice in Maryland and is also admitted to practice in Federal Court is invited to volunteer. However, any attorney interested in volunteering is encouraged to contact the Court as training opportunities are currently being discussed.
Support pro bono work in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on the legal service volunteer opportunities in Maryland, contact the PBRC at (410) 837-9379 or 800-396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.