With the ever-changing funding from Florida and the federal government, Legal Services organizations who provide free legal services for the nation’s poor are being subjected to annual budget cutting and lay-offs. As a result, the numbers of individuals receiving these pro bono services continues to shrink on an annual basis. However, the needs of the poor have not shrunk and citizens filing cases on their own, or pro se, have risen sharply. Along with the budgetary restrictions and cuts, Legal Services Organizations (LSOs) have had to narrow the scope of those who qualify for free legal services. This has created a larger class who cannot afford traditional legal services, namely those who make too much money to qualify for free legal services, but not enough money to afford being able to hire an attorney to meet their needs.
I have had the privilege over the years to work with LSOs to offer free consultations with an attorney to discuss their financial problems. Within the monthly clinics, I have reviewed their finances and warned them of the consequences of failing to take some action to correct these problems. Within the Federal Bankruptcy Court, I have served in the capacity of helping pro se clients review reaffirmation agreements to make sure their best interest was being served. Pro bono needs are yet still great.
As previously mentioned, many of the LSOs offer legal clinics where attorneys like myself will meet for free with the non-qualifying clients, offered usually on a once per month basis. The LSOs do give the potential client a chance to speak with an attorney, even if only as a consult to discuss the problem and how the client may handle the matter on their own.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) does a wonderful job using their always limited resources to provide for the needs of those requiring pro bono representation. Specifically, JALA has crafted a program to train young lawyers to handle a bankruptcy case by providing the software, a computer, and a senior mentor to steer the lawyer successfully through the case. The hope in the training is to get more cases that require an attorney handled by these new trainees. The need is great and underserved. However, there are still those many citizens who earn too much income to qualify for even this pro bono service.
While LSOs lobby for more attorneys to offer some form of pro bono services, via taking more cases for free, some law firms have creatively and successfully lobbied to create new means for clients to fund their cases. Some law firms have created “dual” contracts, one administered prior to the filing of the bankruptcy case, and a second offered after the filing of the case. Despite objections from the U.S. Trustee’s office, Federal Bankruptcy Judges found it a viable alternative to help debtor’s attorneys offer legal services to those who might need a bankruptcy and otherwise might have to file the case themselves.
At Law Offices of David M. Goldman, we have a policy that we are not going to deprive someone of the opportunity of filing a Chapter 13 case to stop a foreclosure as long as the Debtor(s) can pay the filing fee of $281. The case is NOT free, but the balance of fees can be paid on a monthly basis through the Chapter 13 Plan payment. While we want the Debtor(s) to have some “skin” in the fight, we want every person to have the valuable opportunity to try to save their house through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Secondly, Law Offices of David M. Goldman is devising “sliding scale” of discounts for those clients who fall below 150% of the Federal Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines, the same Guidelines the Department of Education uses to evaluate federal student loan hardship. Bankruptcy Attorney Michael Duggar has participated for eight (8) years in the Florida Bar’s Low Fee and Elder Fee Panel. The Panel offers discounts of roughly the costs of the filing fee to serve the needs of Florida’s elderly and those whose income is not sufficient to afford the cost of a bankruptcy. Qualifications for this program are determined by the Florida Bar.
Currently, Law Office of David M. Goldman files bankruptcy cases in both the Middle District of Florida’s Jacksonville and Orlando Divisions. It is our attempt to bridge the gap for those who do not qualify for pro bono services. Please call us today to schedule an appointment for a free bankruptcy consultation in Orlando or Jacksonville.