Volunteer Lawyers to Help Debtors
NYLAG’s Consumer Protection Project and the New York State’s Access to Justice Program of the Unified Court System launched the Consumer Credit Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Project to provide unrepresented defendants with representation for their consumer cases at the Bronx Civil Court. While collection cases constitute over half of all civil court cases filed in New York City, only about 1% of the individual defendants are represented by an attorney. “This is a crucial area of need, and our legal representation can help a defendant avoid unfair practices and unnecessary financial ruin,” explains Daphne Schlick, who supervises the program. Without representation, debt buyers, who initiate the majority of these lawsuits, win their cases with little or no opposition. Worse yet, the debt buyers employ deplorable tactics to prevail, such as improperly or failing to serve defendants, postponing trials until debtors fail to show up, and scaring debtors into accepting settlements they cannot afford. “It’s very intimidating,” explained Erica Kyzmir, a law student volunteering for this project. “If I were a debtor without experienced representation, I would be petrified,” she added.
In the few months since this program began, NYLAG has already represented over 238 debtors in court and advised them on their legal options, successfully winning dismissals or discontinuances of their cases. “Sometimes, all it takes for the plaintiff to back down is having a lawyer there who knows our clients’ rights,” explains Soraya Hurtado, a NYLAG attorney who coordinates the program/.