Bankruptcy Clinic: New Year, New Students, and New Clients

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Last semester, Evan Stroman and Austen Caraker, along with their mentor, Markowitz Ringel Trusty + Hartog PA’s Grace Robson, helped a homeless veteran through his bankruptcy and in getting back military benefits. It was an especially sensitive case – the man had gone through a divorce and had not been able to see his children in years due to lack of housing and transportation. With the help of the students and the bankruptcy discharge, he was able to gain sustainable housing and to regain his military benefits.

At the Eleanor R. and Judge A. Jay Cristol Bankruptcy Pro Bono Assistance Clinic, nine new students and a new Clinic Coordinator, Austen Caraker, began the semester taking on new cases and following up with ongoing ones. Throughout the year, Maximilian Steiner, Karyn Sanchez, Helene Wilson, Matthew Silver, Kelsey Paine, Gregg Steinman, Tiffany Disney, Elena Gil, and Cesar Pineda continued the mission of the Clinic to assist pro bono clients at each stage of the bankruptcy proceedings.

With the help of mentors within the bankruptcy legal community, students help pro bono clients through each step of the filing process. Each year, under the leadership of Professor Patricia Redmond, students help countless low-income clients regain their financial freedom and lives.

“I am excited about finally putting theory into practice by helping indigent and well-deserving clients,” said Pineda. “We are mentored by some of the best practitioners in South Florida. To date, my partner (Matthew Silver) and I have conducted research/case law regarding student loan dischargability. Also, we are drafting a student loan discharge complaint on behalf of one client and drafting a notice of Rule 2004 Examination duces tecum to compel documents from creditor servicing private student loan.”

The clinic offers pro bono legal services to low-income individuals who are dealing with bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida established the clinic and Redmond, JD ’79, a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A. in Miami, Florida, helms it.

“The Clinic gives students the unique opportunity to work alongside bankruptcy attorneys in the community to truly help people,” said Caraker, JD ‘15. “Not only do the students get excellent mentoring and networking opportunities, but they hit the ground running as soon as they get their first client. Students learn client interviewing skills, litigation skills, and legal writing while working with actual clients to solve their real issues.”

The two-semester clinic places students in pairs to work on active cases. Students work with Chapter 7s, Chapter 13s, contested matters, and adversary proceedings. The Put Something Back program at Dade Legal Aid and sitting judges of the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida refer clients to the clinic.

“In the end, the client had tears in his eyes when the court cleared his debt,” said Caraker. “As most clients are, he was relieved, and a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. For me, the look on a client’s face when you tell them ‘we're done’ is priceless; that's what law should be about.”