Since 2012, the CBF Pro Bono Project has been providing financial support to pro bono projects throughout California that educate and provides services for pro se bankruptcy filers. California continues to have roughly 25% of bankruptcy petitions filed in pro se, which is about three times the national average. The Pro Bono Project is CBF’s attempt to help alleviate the burden to courts caused by pro se debtors and promote the administration of justice in bankruptcy courts. CBF’s pro bono efforts have raised approximately $81,000 since its inception in 2012. Its donations have supported a number of causes including a project to create a self-help web video for pro se debtors on the topic of reaffirmation agreements produced by the Law Library Justice Foundation in San Diego; the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County; Orange County Public Law Center; Alameda County Bankruptcy Association-Volunteer Legal Service Corporation; Riverside Legal Aid’s Pro Se Self-Help Clinic; Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) Program-Southern District of California; Legal Aid Society of San Diego – Bankruptcy Clinic; Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California; La Reina Legal Clinic in Palm Springs; The Bankruptcy Self-Help Center in collaboration with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and Public Law Center in Orange County.
How the CBF Pro Bono Project Raises Money.
CBF raises money primarily from three sources: (1) CBF sets aside $10 for each registrant at its annual conference in May of each year; (2) voluntary donations from members of the CBF community and from conference attendees; and (3) a donation drive with the help of a raffle or auction of prizes at its annual dinner event. Each year, CBF finds a unique way to increase voluntary donations, such as, a crowdfunding competition between competing proposals or an auction, and CBF has raised over $10,000 per year on average for the pro bono project.
2021 Pro Bono Recipients – Los Angeles and Orange County
This year, CBF raised over $10,000 to support The Bankruptcy Self-Help Center in collaboration with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) opens in a new window and Public Law Center (PLC) opens in a new window in Orange County.
NLSLA has been on the front lines in the fight for justice since 1965. Each year, NLSLA provides free legal assistance to more than 150,000 individuals and families. NLSLA advocates specialize in areas of the law that disproportionately impact the poor, including affordable housing and eviction defense, access to public benefits, support for domestic violence survivors and their children, access to healthcare, worker and consumer rights, as well as employment and training.
The Bankruptcy Self-Help Center is an important collaboration between NLSLA and the United States Bankruptcy Court in the San Fernando Valley and has been in operation for more than a decade.
The Bankruptcy Self-Help Center was created to ensure that everyone – regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer—could have meaningful access to the bankruptcy process. Since its opening, staff, and volunteers have worked closely with the court to help thousands of unrepresented debtors access the critical information and tools they need to file for bankruptcy and obtain a financial “fresh start.”
For the first time in years, NLSLA is facing severe budget cuts from the city, state, and county, as well as from private funders. Financial support from the CBF will allow NLSLA to continue to fight to help people keep their homes, manage their debts, navigate the precarious public benefits system, and ensure people have access to the healthcare they need and deserve.
PLC is a non-profit organization that provides free civil legal services to low-income individuals in Orange County. The Consumer Law unit specifically assists debtors and creditors in bankruptcy court. PLC offers a self-help clinic at the bankruptcy courthouse (during normal times and virtually now) that provides guidance and advice to self-represented individuals in bankruptcy court. PLC also provides representation to Chapter 7 debtors, both with in-house staff attorneys and through its volunteer attorneys. PLC litigates motions and adversary proceedings in bankruptcy court, both for debtors and creditors, depending on the issues of the case. In addition, PLC works on debt collection issues generally, and will seek out alternatives to bankruptcy when feasible for clients. Like many other bankruptcy attorneys, PLC is expecting an increase in need for assistance with bankruptcy for our low-income clients over the next couple of years and it anticipates needing to increase the bankruptcy-related services available in Orange County.
2020 – Conference cancelled due to COVID-19
2019 Project Beneficiary – Palm Springs.
The 2019 pro bono efforts were led by Sharon Weiss of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP and Ed Hays of Marshack Hays, who helped raise CBF $9,000 the La Reina Legal Clinic, which is administered through the Desert Center for Legal Education in Palm Springs, California.
This year’s pro bono efforts were bittersweet because our donation was made in memory of our friend, John Melissinos, who passed away on April 2 at the age of 54. John leaves behind his wife, Candice, his two young daughters, Chesney and Logan, his father Adrian, his brother Andrew and countless friends and family. John served as the President of the Los Angeles Bankruptcy Forum and was actively involved with the CBF, most recently serving on the pro bono committee in 2018 and as a session producer this year.
The mission of the California Desert Trial Academy College of Law is geared toward the educating, training, and developing extraordinary legal advocates. CDTA was founded by John Patrick Dolan and Irene Garcia Dolan after conversations with F. Lee Bailey and Gerry Spence. Long time CBF members Jenny Doling and Summer Shaw serve as faculty to the law school.
As part of its school, the Desert Center for Legal Education provides legal counseling for limited means clients in the Eastern Coachella Valley through the La Reina Legal Clinic. The Clinic assists its clients by consulting with them about the bankruptcy process and explaining the differences between chapter 7, 11, and 13 cases alternatives. It offers assistance to pro per chapter 7 debtors from initial counseling, credit counseling requirements, preparing the bankruptcy petition and schedules, preparing for the first meeting of creditors, completing the post-petition financial education course, and meeting with them once they receive their discharge. It serves as a referral source for debtors requiring chapter 11 or chapter 13 services.
The Clinic also provides advice on landlord-tenant, family law, and minor criminal matters which is available on a “no” or “low-cost” basis.
2018 Project Beneficiary – Sacramento
This year, CBF raised over $7,000 to support the Voluntary Services Program of Northern California.
Since it’s founding in 1981 as the Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California, thousands of volunteer attorneys and other legal professionals have given generously of their time and expertise to provide free (“pro bono”) legal services to thousands of low income people who live in the Sacramento region. We were created through the joint efforts of Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), local attorney and then County Bar President Tom Eres, attorney/now Judge James Mize, and the Sacramento County Bar Association (SCBA). We still receive support from LSNC and the SCBA for the work that we do. VLSA offers legal clinics and projects in many civil legal areas including debt collection defense, employment, family, and probate.
2017 Project Beneficiary – San Diego.
In 2017, CBF raised $13,000 to support the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc and Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) for the benefit of the San Diego Chapter.
A little bit about….
Legal Aid Society of San Diego – Bankruptcy Clinic
Legal Aid Society of San Diego’s Bankruptcy Self-Help Center is located in the Southern District Bankruptcy Courthouse and was established in August 2016 to provide legal assistance to pro se bankruptcy filers. The bankruptcy clinic is open every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and visitors receive Chapter 7 bankruptcy counseling, information about the bankruptcy process, assistance in obtaining and filling out bankruptcy forms, access to reference materials, and referrals for additional legal assistance and Chapter 13 attorneys. The Consumer Protection Group at Legal Aid Society of San Diego also holds a monthly follow-up clinic to assist pro se filers with more complex bankruptcy matters, and if needed, referrals to attorneys or direct representation. Since the launch of the Self-Help Center, Legal Aid Society of San Diego has served approximately 250 people.
Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) Program-Southern District of California
CARE was established to prepare high school and college students to manage their personal finances so they can begin adulthood with fewer limits on their future financial success. CARE is designed to coach high school students and young adults on how to responsibly use credit and other financial services to keep them from ever seeing the inside of a bankruptcy court. The coaching is conducted by volunteers, which consist of bankruptcy judges, lawyers and financial professionals who bring their real life experiences into the classroom. Retired judge, the Honorable John J. Hargrove at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California, instituted the CARE program in the Southern District of California (which encompasses San Diego and Imperial counties). Following Judge Hargrove’s retirement, the Honorable Margaret M. Mann now heads the Southern District’s CARE program.
2016 Project Beneficiary – Riverside.
In 2016, CBF raised over $5,740 to support the Riverside Legal Aid’s Pro Se Self-Help Clinic in the Bankruptcy Clerk’s Office in Riverside, and a satellite clinic in the Coachella Valley. The Riverside clinic is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Coachella Valley clinic operates on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Visitors receive advice and help with completing bankruptcy forms. Riverside Legal Aid also holds free public Chapter 7 workshops quarterly in both Riverside and the Coachella Valley, which include page by page, line by line, instructions on how to complete the bankruptcy forms packets and samples. The clinic has a Spanish-speaking attorney and paralegal at every clinic and workshop. The funds donated by the CBF pro bono project will be used to expand the clinic’s self-help library and support the existing services.
Riverside Pro Se Clinic 2016 (from left to right): Clinic Managing Attorney Robert Simmons;
Volunteer Attorney Amelie Kamau; Clinic Paralegal Michelle Lara; Staff Attorney Manfred Schroer
Riverside Pro Se Bankruptcy Clinic 2016
The 2015 Pro Bono Silent Auction – CBF decided to hold an onsite auction to raise additional funds for the CBF Pro Bono Project. The Bay Area Bankruptcy Forum decided that the funds raised would be donated to the Alameda County Bankruptcy Association-Volunteer Legal Service Corporation to help it expand and improve its existing clinic, which should significantly increase the number of pro se filers the ACBA-VLSC reaches each year. Over $20,000 was successfully raised with the help of our generous Insolvency Community donors and bidders. The funds donated to the ACBA-VLSC went to help it cover the cost of a new, larger facility for its clinics, additional equipment and employees, and increased volunteer recruitment and training.
2014 CBF Annual Conference
In connection with the 2014 Annual Conference held in Santa Barbara, CBF elected to use a crowdfunding competition to determine which of two worthy proposals (one from the OCBF and one from the LABF) should receive the majority of the CBF Pro Bono Funds raised that year. Every $10 donated towards a proposal counted as a vote in favor of that proposal. The OCBF s proposal received the majority of the votes, and, with the help of the crowdfunding competition, a total of $10,466.11 was raised. As a result, the LABF received the $10 per vote for its proposal ($1,690.00) and the OCBF received the balance of the funds ($8,776.11).
The funds contributed to the OCBF s proposal are being used to enable pro se filers to have the option of consulting with volunteer attorneys over the internet. The first $2,300.00 raised for the OCBF s proposal was paid to the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County (“Legal Aid”), and the balance was paid to the Orange County Public Law Center (“OC PLC”). The amount contributed to Legal Aid is being used to buy the hardware and software necessary for pro se filers to consult with attorneys over the internet via laptops and webcams placed at existing pro se clinics in the state courthouses serving the counties within the Northern Division. The amount contributed to the OC PLC is being used to purchase the equipment necessary to take advantage of an existing infrastructure enabling consultations over the internet (i.e., the Virtual Counselor Network developed by the Housing Opportunities Collaborative, which consists of stand-alone kiosks containing a computer, telephone, and webcam placed in non-profit agencies, libraries, and courthouses).
The funds contributed to the LABF s proposal are being used to support the work of the self-help desks located in the Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley Divisions of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California. The funds contributed to the LABF s proposal were divided equally among the two self-help desks. The LA Self-Help Desk is using the funds it received to purchase a scanner and a laptop computer to allow it to serve the pro se clients it meets with more rapidly and more efficiently. The Valley Self-Help Desk, which is staffed by an attorney from Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, is using the funds it received to build up its self-help library of resources for the pro se litigants and debtors which it assists.
2013 CBF Annual Conference
In connection with the 2013 Annual Conference held in San Diego, $5,830 was raised and donated to a project identified by the San Diego Bankruptcy Forum. That project involves a self-help web video for pro se debtors on the topic of reaffirmation agreements that is being produced by the Law Library Justice Foundation in San Diego.