Washington Lawyer - August/September 2018 - 46
THE PRO BONO EFFECT
tasked bankruptcy trailblazer Jeffrey M. Sherman and
the Clerk's Office with establishing the Bankruptcy
Assistance Center, which provides legal advice to
unrepresented parties in bankruptcy matters. Jeff
asked me to serve as a volunteer attorney in the
Bankruptcy Assistance Center, and I am so glad that
I agreed to do so. The bankruptcy process can be
overwhelming for people; it feels good to know that
I can help guide them through that complex process,
free of charge, and give them a fresh start in life.
Helping people in this way has made me crave more
opportunities to make a difference.
While working with the Bankruptcy Assistance
Center, I was appointed by Judge Teel to serve
as pro bono counsel in certain contested matters.
In one such case, I assisted a young woman with
a student loan hardship issue. I was able to negotiate with the student loan servicer to lower her
loan payment to $100 a month; the young woman
was in tears when I gave her the good news.
She would no longer have to struggle to pay
her student loan or be constantly harassed by this
creditor. This case helped me understand the
financial pressure that so many young people are
experiencing with paying off their student loan
debt. While many people try to avoid bankruptcy
like the plague, it can actually lead to a fresh start.
Most recently, I was asked by the D.C. Bar Pro
Bono Center to serve as a bankruptcy expert
mentor. This is truly an honor for me because
I have enjoyed volunteering with its Bankruptcy
Clinic for the past two years. The clinic provides
general counseling and advice to individuals living
below the federal poverty guidelines who are
considering filing for bankruptcy. Most of the cases
I've handled have been for homeless and mentally
ill individuals. One homeless woman I assisted had
five children and could not obtain housing due to
certain judgments against her. I filed a Chapter 7
bankruptcy case on her behalf, which discharged
all the judgments against her and provided her
with a clean slate. She was later able to secure
housing and provide for her children.
As an expert mentor, I am now assisting attorney
volunteers with issues that may arise in a bankruptcy case. For example, I most recently assisted
an attorney with an issue regarding the listing
of tax debt in the bankruptcy schedules and
dischargeability of the tax debt. Although the
pro bono attorney felt somewhat overwhelmed
at first by the drafting of the bankruptcy schedules, I was able to make the process easier for her
by classifying the debt and explaining the issue
of dischargeability. This opportunity to serve
as an expert mentor has allowed me to build
relationships with many wonderful attorneys,
including the attorneys at the D.C. Bar Pro
Bono Center's Bankruptcy Clinic (especially Nakia
Matthews), and my fellow bankruptcy expert
mentors, Jeffrey Sherman and Madeline Trainor.
While direct representation is one way of
engaging in pro bono work, there are many other
ways to serve the pro bono cause. I truly hope that
my story of mentorship will encourage others to
use their skills and talents to assist those who are
in need. If you are not already an expert mentor
in your practice area, I recommend that you sign
up immediately. It will change your life.
My passion for this type of pro bono work has
given me an opportunity to expand my expertise
in bankruptcy law while serving my community
- the very community that fostered my interest
in the law all those years ago. We must all pay it
Interested in mentoring pro
bono lawyers in civil legal cases?
Email the Pro Bono Center at
to get a discount.
Tell us you're a
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BAR
member and see how much you
could save on auto insurance with
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