Pro Se Assistance Project Fulfills Need in Bankruptcy Community
Since its soft launch last October, the Georgia State Law Pro Se Assistance Project (PAP) has received tremendous support from judges, attorneys and bankruptcy professionals—and has helped educate several people in need of legal guidance.
By visiting the PAP Center, individuals representing themselves in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court meet with volunteer bankruptcy attorneys and law students to learn more about the bankruptcy process and receive limited case-specific advice.
“Georgia has a high percentage of people who file for bankruptcy pro se, which can create problems for both those filing and the courts,” said Summer Chandler, visiting assistant professor of law who oversees and founded the PAP. “Those filing need guidance through the bankruptcy system and may not understand what information they need to file or how. This slows the process through the courts and can bog down trustees. We provide this information at the center, along with guidance to creditors in bankruptcy, such as landlords or small business owners, who may not be familiar with the bankruptcy process.”
PAP hosted an event last November to introduce the project. Co-sponsored with the Bankruptcy Section of the Atlanta Bar Association, the event featured a reception to celebrate bankruptcy pro bono initiatives and included a panel presentation: “The Pro Se Party in Bankruptcy: Views from the Bench & Introduction to the Pro Se Assistance Project.”
As part of the panel, bankruptcy judges Paul W. Bonapfel, Mary Grace Diehl and Lisa Ritchey Craig discussed the pro se party in court. Then, Chandler, PAP coordinator Bill Diehl (J.D. ’17) and PAP volunteers, Gai Lynn McCarthy from KPPB Law and Lorena Saedi from the Saedi Law Group, discussed PAP and the services the center provides.
“The reception of the project has been very enthusiastic,” Chandler said. “Attorneys and judges are excited we are providing assistance to pro se parties, and the local bankruptcy community has been very supportive of our efforts.”
The center officially opened in January and is located in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building and Federal Courthouse. Volunteers see clients on various days throughout the week, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
Gregory Hays, managing principal of Hays Financial Consulting LLC, has made several referrals to the center.
“Pro se debtors generally don’t have the funds to pay counsel and have limited places to seek assistance in completing their bankruptcy schedules,” he said. “As a Chapter 7 trustee, we see a lot of pro se cases that get continued several times because of issues with the forms. The debtors generally just need assistance in filling out the 60-plus pages of forms and claiming exemptions. It is nice to have a place to refer debtors so they can get assistance.”
Chandler added, “PAP is not a substitute for the guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. PAP cannot fulfill the role of an attorney, but we can try to nudge the client in the right direction and perhaps connect the client with an attorney they will be able to hire.”
To further promote awareness of the center and bankruptcy issues in general, PAP has developed financial literacy and bankruptcy informational classes for the public.
“In March, we hosted an informational presentation called Money Matters that covered credit scores, credit statements and how interest works. There are a number of people who don’t understand how these things work, which can result in bankruptcies,” Chandler said.
Attendees actively participated during the presentation, asking a number of important questions about borrowing money and the way different types of debts may be treated in bankruptcy.
PAP is hosting another Money Matters presentation from 12:15-1:30 p.m. Friday, April 14, at Georgia State Law, Second Floor, Room 244. The event is free and open to the public.