Assistance from Volunteers and Nonprofit Organizations
The Court works closely with nonprofit groups throughout the district who are assisting self-represented litigants. Information and materials are coordinated district-wide through Public Counsel’s Debtor Assistance Project (DAP). The DAP began as the Court’s first effort to make pro bono programs available to the public within its jurisdiction, and has become the umbrella committee and resource for projects for all self-represented parties throughout the district. Despite its name, the DAP addresses the needs of self-represented creditors as well as those of debtors. Each participating nonprofit organization serves its dedicated clientele, but all self-help desks using Court space must provide service to any party who visits the Court.
The DAP holds bi-monthly meetings at the Court, bringing together representatives of public interest law firms, volunteer attorneys, chapter 7 and 13 trustees, bankruptcy judges, the Clerk’s Office, and the Office of the U.S. Trustee. The DAP raises funds for and awareness of its programs, provides training for pro bono attorneys, and exchanges information on trends and issues related to providing pro bono and self-help assistance, as well as best practices.
The organizations coordinated through the DAP provide critical legal services to the self-represented parties in our Court. Their assistance not only promotes access to the Court for the parties they serve, but it also indirectly promotes Court services to all parties by freeing up valuable Court resources that can then be used to serve everyone. When a hearing is shorter because a self-represented party obtained the legal advice he or she needed, or when a creditor can resolve a dispute without a hearing or trial because knowledgeable counsel represents the debtor, resources can be better distributed for all litigants.
The network of services provided through different organizations is intended to utilize limited resources to reach the greatest number of self-represented parties. Often, this means that self-represented parties receive help in a limited part of the case, rather than full legal representation for the duration of the case. For example, full representation in a chapter 7 case is provided only where a client qualifies, based on income, and has a complex enough situation to warrant counsel, and does not appear capable of preparing the schedules without assistance. Pro bono defense in a dischargeability action is limited to cases in which the debtor meets the income requirements, and the organization finds that a meritorious defense should be presented. Reaffirmation clinics, on the other hand, are open to anyone who may wish to attend them before a reaffirmation hearing. The self-help desks and seminars are also available to all interested parties.
All of these services are provided solely when the organizations involved are able to provide them. Limited financial and volunteer resources shape how and when services can be offered. Pro bono programs are available to the public in all five of the Court’s divisions, but they vary, depending on what organizations are available in different areas. Self-represented debtors learn about these programs from either the Court’s website or at the intake window.
While it is difficult to track exactly how many people are served through this network of volunteer programs, the data gathered by each of the participating nonprofit organizations shows that at least 8,441 debtors received pro bono legal assistance in 2011. Creditors would have been served mainly at the self-help desks, at the intake windows, and by phone, and the number of inquiries is not tracked. The numbers served in each division are detailed in the chart below.
Table of Contents (Download Report)
- What Do We Know About Self-Represented Parties in our Court?
- How Many Self-Represented Parties Are There?
- Measuring Success
- Language Barriers
- Bankruptcy Petition Preparers
- Income Levels
- Literacy Issues
- Self-Represented Creditors
- Court Resources and the Impact of Large Numbers of Self-Represented Litigants
- Debtor ID Program
- Current Programs and Services for the Self-Represented
- The Court’s Website
- Personal Assistance from Court Staff
- Easy to Understand Forms and Instructions
- Assistance from Volunteers and Nonprofit Organizations
- Honor Roll
- Recruitment and Training of Volunteers
- Funding Sources for Non-Court Services
- Current Projects “Under Construction”
- Pathfinder Electronic Filing Project
- Proof of Service
- Video Instruction
- Future Surveys
- Call Center/Internet Live Chat