Showing posts with label Green v. U.S. Department of Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Green v. U.S. Department of Education. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Naked to mine enemies": A modest proposal to help destitute student-loan debtors get attorneys to represent them in bankruptcy court

A great many destitute student-loan debtors file for bankruptcy without the aid of an attorney. This is not surprising since the only reason these poor people are in a bankruptcy court is because they're broke.

For example, Janet Roth, whose case I discussed in an earlier blog, appeared before the Ninth Circuit's Bankruptcy Appellate Panel without a lawyer.  At the time of the bankruptcy proceedings, Ms. Roth was living on her monthly Social Security check--only $774 a month. Obviously, she had no money to pay an attorney to  represent her in bankruptcy.

Bankrupt student-loan debtors need lawyers
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On the other hand, student-loan creditors--agencies like Educational Credit Management Corporation and Sallie Mae--always appear in bankruptcy court with excellent attorneys. The creditors' lawyers know bankruptcy law inside and out, and they typically argue that the poor saps who enter bankruptcy are not entitled to a discharge of their student-loan debts. I don't know how these lawyers sleep at night, but I hope they sleep badly.

This inequity of legal resources obviously works to the student-loan debtor's disadvantage. Indeed, a study by Pardo and Lacy (2009) found that student-loan debtors got better outcomes in bankruptcy if they were represented by experienced bankruptcy lawyers.

Occasionally, indigent student-loan debtors obtain informal legal support from attorneys or non-lawyers with bankruptcy expertise. These people may "ghost write"  a debtor's pleadings without formally representing the debtor in court.

But some courts frown on this practice. In a bankruptcy decision filed this year, a federal court in Virginia strongly condemned the practice of ghost writing. "The Court emphasizes that the practice of ghost-writing is in no way permissible in the Eastern District of Virginia, or any federal court for that matter," the court wrote. In the court's view, such conduct amounted to "the unauthorized practice of law" (Greene v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013, *26-27).

I would like to make a modest proposal for getting better legal representation for bankrupt student-loan debtors. Currently, the law schools are turning out far more lawyers than the job market needs. In fact, a few law schools have been sued by their alumni for allegedly making false representations about their  graduates' job prospects.

Why don't these law schools organize legal aid clinics that specialize in representing bankrupt student-loan debtors?  There are certainly enough unemployed lawyers to staff these clinics. The clinics would employ lawyers who would otherwise be unemployed and give them some legal experience that would later help them obtain permanent employment.

Law schools might consider the sponsorship of legal aid clinics for student-loan debtors as a sort of penance for their hubris.  It is now well established that third- and fourth-tier law schools charged high tuition rates to students who had only dim prospects of ever getting jobs that would pay well enough to allow them to comfortably pay back their student loans. Wouldn't it be a good thing for these law schools to do something positive to ease the plight of overburdened student-loan debtors?


Greene v. United States Department of Education, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143678 (E.D. Va. Oct. 1 2013)

In re Roth, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Raphael Pardo & Michelle Lacey. The Real Student-Loan Scandal: Undue Hardship Litigation. 83 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 179 (2009). The American Bankruptcy Law Journal