By Rawan Bitar
A large number of indigents who are unfamiliar with complex legal processes are filing pro se in Tampa Bay area courts. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough pro bono attorneys to meet the area’s need.
To serve the purpose of providing a much-needed resource for the community, while also giving students exposure to real-world legal issues, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School will open a bankruptcy clinic in September. Students involved in the clinic will have the opportunity to provide free legal services to a percentage of the population at or below the federal poverty line filing for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine McEwen of Tampa has been instrumental in supporting efforts to establish the clinic.
“What a great contribution to the community this will be,” Judge McEwen said. “We have a significant underserved population of poor and working poor without attorneys. The Cooley students will provide needed access to the courts for these filers. As a by-product, our court will be able to process these cases more efficiently.”
The future law graduates will conduct interviews for potential filers for bankruptcy, prepare and file documents, and represent clients in bankruptcy meetings with creditors.
Under the supervision of Professor Robert Savage, students who participate in the program will be “learning the right skills to go out there and be contributing members of the legal community.”
“They will transition from the legal text books and apply [what they’ve learned] in the real world by dealing with real clients, with real problems, and developing real solutions for them,” Savage said.
Pro se filers in Tampa Division courts added up to nearly 12.5 percent last year, and the number is growing. The clinic aims to give students valuable courtroom experience while fulfilling the needs of bankruptcy filers without attorneys.
For referrals or more information, contact [email protected] or (813) 405-3555.