Just in time for 2017 National Celebration of Pro Bono Week, October 22-28, Lone Star Legal Aid, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, announce the launch of Texas’ new Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project. The result of more than a year of collaboration between LSLA, TRLA, and LANWT, this new project was designed in coordination with bankruptcy judges, trustees, and several experienced practitioners from all four Texas districts.

A major component of the project is a videotaped CLE. Calling the CLE video “spectacular” and “ground-breaking,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Eduardo V. Rodriguez, of the Southern District of Texas McAllen Division, thanked the participants for their contributions to the project by saying, “It is my hope that your combined contribution will touch and change the financial lives of many underprivileged individuals in Texas for years to come.”

In the U.S., many bankruptcies are triggered by life events such as illness, death, divorce, job loss, or disasters. The events are stressful and the resulting financial burden only exacerbates that stress. The physical and mental health of affected individuals and their families are negatively impacted. At the same time, legal aid funding is inadequate to permit legal aid organizations to handle many Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Instead, funds are directed toward situations that—without legal assistance—will lead to homelessness or unemployment due to loss of transportation. Meanwhile, individuals in their 90s who are living in nursing homes and have contacted legal aid for relief from debt collectors may not get the help they need, such as a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, due to a lack of resources.

To address this unmet need, Rodriguez helped secure gifts of $5,000 from the State Bar of Texas Bankruptcy Section for each of the legal aid organizations. Pablo Almaguer, TRLA private attorney involvement coordinator; Bill Marple, LANWT director of pro bono and bar services; and Linda Good, LSLA directing attorney; agreed to pool the gifts to create a program with statewide application. Modeled after the successful Family Law Essentials program, the Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project includes a three-hour videotaped CLE (0.5 ethics) designed to train new practitioners to handle Chapter 7 bankruptcies on a pro bono basis. The program also includes a PowerPoint presentation, a welcome packet of forms, and contact information for experienced mentors. In addition, each of the organizations received grants from the American College of Bankruptcy Foundation that will provide free bankruptcy preparation and filing software to attorneys who attend the CLE. Attorneys may attend the CLE and receive all materials free of charge in exchange for a commitment to accept at least two Chapter 7 bankruptcies on referral from legal aid in the two years following the training.

The CLE speakers spent the afternoon videotaping the three-session program on September 25, 2017, at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

The first session, “Panel I—Before the Filing,” was led by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Craig Gargotta, of the Western District of Texas San Antonio Division, and included Chapter 7 Trustee Catherine Curtis, Chapter 13 Trustee Stuart C. Cox, and attorney Abelardo Limon. This session trains the new practitioner on how to gather and analyze information to adequately assess clients’ needs, how to properly advise clients about Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and the mechanics of filing the case.

The next session, “Panel II—After the Filing,” was moderated by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mark X. Mullin, of the Northern District of Texas Fort Worth Division, and included Chapter 7 Trustee Christopher Moser, and attorney Carol Cross Stone. The session discusses the duties of attorneys and clients once the case is filed, addresses special circumstances like language barriers, and includes a timeline for a Chapter 7 case.

The final session, “Panel III—Closing the Case,” was led by Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bill Parker, of the Eastern District of Texas, and included Chapter 7 Trustee Corky Sherman, Chapter 7 Trustee Jose C. Rodriguez, and attorney John Grieger of LANWT. The final session covers reaffirmation agreements, the effect of discharge, and post-discharge issues.

LSLA will premiere the new CLE, for which MCLE accreditation has already been confirmed, on October 23, at a combined CLE/Client Clinic at Combined Arms in Houston.

This article, which originally appeared in LegalFront, has been edited and reprinted with permission.

From left: Abelardo Limon, Corky Sherman, Judge Craig Gargotta, Catherine Curtis, Judge Bill Parker, Judge Eduardo V. Rodriguez, Carol Cross Stone, Judge Mark X. Mullin, Linda Good, Stuart C. Cox, Christopher Moser, and Jose C. Rodriguez. John Grieger is not pictured.

Photograph by Briana Stone, State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division