Thanks to a grant from the American College of Bankruptcy Foundation and the collaboration of Florida Coastal School of Law and local bankruptcy attorneys, resources for pro bono bankruptcy assistance have grown in northeast Florida in the last year.
The Pro Bono Bankruptcy Practice Groups were formed with two coaches, Laura Boeckman and Preston Oughton, both experienced consumer and bankruptcy attorneys.
Each agreed to guide four new pro bono attorneys who were willing to assist low-income clients with Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings in exchange for receiving professional guidance from the coaches.
Florida Coastal donated six used laptops for the project. The grant was used to purchase bankruptcy software, which was installed on the laptops.
The coaches and pro bono attorneys have accomplished life-changing results for their clients during the past year. With Oughton as her coach, Kathryn Masters achieved an excellent outcome and fresh start for a client. She describes the success:
What were the basic facts of your case?
The client lost a majority of her savings and went into a large amount of debt after becoming the victim of an Internet scammer, leaving her to survive on disability. After reviewing her financial situation, we found that her generosity to many charities was also a contributing factor to her financial trouble. She was being hounded by debt collectors and the stress from her situation was exacerbating her medical issues.
What were you able to accomplish for your client?
We decided that filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy would afford her some relief. She was successfully discharged and we worked on a budget that would still allow her to give to charity, but to take care of herself as well.
Why was the outcome important to your client?
Like so many people who end up in bankruptcy, this case and its outcome gave her peace.
Why was the experience important to you? That is, what did you gain from the experience?
Working with the bankruptcy practice group was a great learning experience. I had done a little bit of bankruptcy on my own before joining, but the group definitely helped refine and solidify my knowledge.
What are the names of your firms? In what areas do you practice?
For Masters: Anastasia Law, specializing in bankruptcy and consumer law, real estate, probate, and general civil litigation.
For Oughton: Law Office of Preston H. Oughton, specializing in real estate, bankruptcy and probate.
What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement?
Just do it — for two reasons. First, there is so much need in our community and, realistically, access to the courts is limited when you don’t have an attorney. Some people do just fine on their own, but most struggle without help.
Second, I (Masters) know that many attorneys, including myself, worry about taking on cases that are outside of their experience or normal areas of practice. The great thing about pro bono work is that it gives you a great opportunity to learn new areas and to seek out and connect with other attorneys who can help you learn them.
Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, The Jacksonville Bar Association Pro Bono Committee, [email protected].