The Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project (BPBP) is a joint venture of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California and The Law Center. The BPBP was initially proposed in 2008 by the Bench-Bar Liaison Committee for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California. In 2009, BPBP clinics were opened in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Santa Clara County and San Francisco.
The Clinic customarily has two components: A group presentation by one volunteer attorney and one-on-one consultations provided by other volunteer attorneys. During the group presentation, the attendees are given an overview of the remedies available in Bankruptcy Court and of the general process that takes place after a bankruptcy petition is filed. Time permitting, one-on-one consultations are provided to those attendees who request them. Some of those seeking a consultation are in the midst of litigation with a creditor. When there are few attendees, the group presentation is sometimes dispensed with and each attendee is given an individual consultation.
The Contra Costa County Clinic originally operated at JFK University and in 2011, the Clinic moved to the offices of the Contra Costa County Bar Association. The Clinic first opened on June 11, 2009, and had three attorneys, three non-attorney volunteers and no other people in attendance. Since that very humble and somewhat quiet beginning, the Clinic has enjoyed a measure of success. The Clinic has averaged 8.5 people in 2009, 19.6 in 2010, 10.3 in 2011 and 9.7 in 2013 (the last year for which statistics are available). In total, more than 1,000 people have been served by the Clinic.
A West County clinic opened on August 29, 2011, and had four attorneys, two non-attorney volunteers and 11 people in attendance. The West County clinic averaged 8 people in 2011, 10.2 people in 2012 and 3.8 in 2013. In total, the West County clinic has served nearly 200 people in just over two years. The West County clinic was closed in 2014, as there did not appear to be a need for the second clinic (when you operate a bankruptcy clinic, you truly hope to work yourself out of business).
The following are additional comments from the non-attorney volunteer clinic coordinator, David Kam: “Many debtors and creditors have been assisted at the consumer level as well as people with a variety of other issues from all over the Bay Area. This program has also allowed attendees to get assistance beyond the clinic, if they cannot afford an attorney. New attorneys to bankruptcy have also appreciated this forum to learn and assist people.”
All in all, the BPBP has been a success. With no budget and a lot of support from the county’s legal community, it has served the needs of many of the county’s citizens. Much of the thanks need to go to the efforts of the many attorneys who staff the clinic and especially David Schuricht, who has not only staffed the clinic on many evenings, he has handled all of the scheduling since the first day. The BPBP is truly a Contra Costa County legal community success story.
Alan E. Ramos is the managing partner of the law firm of Steele, George, Schofield & Ramos, LLP. The focus of Alan’s legal practice is Bankruptcy and Probate. He also represents plaintiffs in Elder Financial Abuse cases and he acts as a neutral in Mediation.