So, I'm sitting in my office one day plowing through a stack of bankruptcy paperwork, getting ready to file a half dozen Chapter 7 petitions when I get a call from a potential client. She's got a negligible amount of debt, but she just can't afford to pay it back right now and one creditor is suing her. Her total debt is a little bit higher than my fee, but really, not by much. I'm about to thank her for her call but tell her that I don't think my firm can help her when she says "I don't even think I owe these people any money, but I don't know what to do. They're suing me and they'll get a judgment unless I get a lawyer to help me." I set an appointment, reviewed the complaint and realized quickly that there wasn't enough here to get a judgment, but if she did nothing, they would get one anyway. I also realized that for her the economics just didn't work. Even billing at a reduced hourly rate, she would pay me more than she was alleged to have owed the plaintiff. I also realized that there were many other people in this situation, being sued by debt buyers and collection agencies on debts that were past the Statute of Limitations, undocumented, or satisfied. People are sued every day who have a completely valid legal defense and no clue how to raise those defenses and have their case heard. It was a problem, but there were solutions available and I just didn't know it. I did what I probably never should have done. I gave her advice, I coached her on how she should respond to the complaint, what she should tell the judge when she got a hearing, and what to expect. Three months later she called to thank me. The complaint had been dismissed by the plaintiff when she challenged their lack of documentation of the debt.
As I developed my practice, I discovered a lot about this pioneering form of legal practice, including the sad discovery that not all of my fellow lawyers understood or were even aware of the availability of this remedy for the chronicly unrepresented and that is what I and various other of my associates will be discussing in this blog.
Others have recognized the problems facing the legal industry. Courts are clogged with people trying to slog through on their own. Lawyers are expensive and often the amounts at stake just don't warrant a huge fee, or one of the parties just can't afford it. Recently a project by professors at the University of Maryland School of Law began recruiting attorneys to provide full legal services for free in exchange for training. This is laudable from a charitable perspective, but all it has managed to do so far is slow the tide.
Something needs to change, and soon. I'm not sure what the answers are. I have my thoughts. I'm sure you have yours as well. Is legal insurance the answer that some have suggested? Maybe, after all, look how well it's done in the medical field.
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