Of Bankruptcy, Legal Action, and Marquette Law School’s Many Partners in Pro Bono Work

Legal Action of WisconsinIn this continuing series of posts concerning the pro bono work of the Marquette Law School community, my recent focus has been on aspects of our own Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics. These have included the role of the Mobile Legal Clinic and our statewide efforts with respect to rural communities and small businesses.

Yet even in the MVLC-related posts, it has been evident that we are so dependent on partners, such as (to draw variously on the instances just noted) the Milwaukee Bar Association, the Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts, and the State Bar of Wisconsin. The point was perhaps most explicit in the shoutout to the many individual attorney volunteers—last year half of them Marquette lawyers, half of them not—that make the MVLCs a true legal community effort.

In some of our efforts, we are rather less the “host” entity than contributors to efforts led by others. One such setup involves Legal Action of Wisconsin, the state’s largest legal aid provider (as that term is understood in the legal vernacular). Legal Action long has hosted Marquette law students’ pro bono service. Of the numerous examples available, I will note here the newest one.

In a project begun just this past summer and continuing this semester, Legal Action is helping clients interested in filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions for discharge of debts—and a number of Marquette law students are right there with attorneys on the project. In its early months, the work included (as I understand it at a level of anonymized generality), advising some clients not to file because of an IRS garnishment issue or concerns about fraudulent transfers. It also involved six successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions.

One working on such a project no doubt will learn something about bankruptcy law. That seems to me quite valuable, as anyone who has taken Advanced Civil Procedure with Tom Shriner and me can attest (for there I always promote the school’s Creditor-Debtor course). One will also gain, from this work, insight and experience with respect to the human condition.

Consider what Maggie Niebler-Brown, the volunteer lawyer project coordinator at Legal Action of Wisconsin, recently wrote one of my colleagues: “Rarely do our clients struggle with a single legal issue, and our bankruptcy clients are no exception. Many of our clients are also experiencing myriad medical or family-related issues which can distract from the often detail-intensive process of preparing a bankruptcy petition. This leads to some of the delays in gathering documents that we’ve seen this semester, and this past summer, especially with credit counseling certificates. However, despite these delays, I’m proud that this clinic is still able to deliver much-needed relief to our clients. Thank you, Marquette law students, for being part of this practice.”

And thank you, Legal Action and our many other partners and collaborators, for welcoming our students into your work.

Joseph D. Kearney

Joseph D. Kearney has served as dean and professor of law at Marquette University Law School since 2003. He joined the faculty in 1997.

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