1) Student Loan Debt Project
Student loan debt in the United States is the fastest growing debt, now totaling approximately $1.1 trillion, which exceeds credit card and car loan debt and is second only to home mortgage debt. The rate of student loan borrowing has increased from $12 billion in 1990 to $154 billion in 2013, with 45% of Americans having student loan debt. Therefore, the resolution of student loan debt is a significant issue in many bankruptcy cases before this Court.
In order to consider student loan debt issues, Judge Waites has organized a working group whose goals are to (1) develop and make available on the Court's website educational resources helpful to parties and their counsel considering such issues; and (2) establish a procedure for voluntary mediation of disputes regarding such issues in bankruptcy cases.
The members of the initial working group are:
Judge Waites invites other members of the bar interested in working on this topic or contributing helpful resources and ideas to this effort to notify him by e-mail to Sarah_Kistler@scb.uscourts.gov or contact any other member of the working group.
2) Pro Bono/ Pro Se Service Initiatives
As a follow up to this week's Pro Bono celebration and to encourage new volunteers to select a service, I wanted to provide you with a list, including contact information, of service opportunities in the programs of the Bankruptcy Court and the SC Bar. If you are interested in more information or wish to volunteer for one of the Bankruptcy Court's programs, you may contact me via Sarah Kistler at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in more information regarding SC Bar sponsored volunteer opportunities, please contact Cindy Coker at 1-877-797-2227 Ext. 142 or the specific contact provided on the attachment.
Programs of the US Bankruptcy Court, District of South Carolina:
1. CARE Program is a financial education outreach program which is primarily designed for teenagers or young adults, often presented in school settings. The CARE program was initiated in SC in 2007 and is now nationally sponsored by the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). Volunteers work with the Court in organizing presentations or educational resources helpful in teaching money management skills and good financial habits. Recently, the Court has partnered with SC Legal Services, which, with funding from the American Bankruptcy College, has produced videos and made CARE presentations on Student Loan Debt at both Clemson and the University of South Carolina.
While interested parties often contact the court, it would be helpful to have a bar committee or working group to coordinate these efforts.
2. Bankruptcy Ask-a-Lawyer program offers the public an opportunity to speak to a lawyer anonymously about legal issues. The bankruptcy court's program, established in 2007, is offered in partnership with the SC Bar's program and offers specialized advice on bankruptcy or debt related issues. It is offered once a month and members of the public are allowed to sign up with the court in advance of the session. For a two-hour time period, the lawyer volunteer is referred calls in his or her office via the court's toll free line and provides counsel and advice. The lawyer is covered under the SC Bar's malpractice policy and receives credit toward certificates for complimentary registration at CLE seminars. Additional volunteers may allow the court to provide more sessions.
3. Debtor Assistance Program is a case referral initiative in Judge Waites Chapter 13 pro se filed cases. The volunteer lawyer is matched with a debtor who has filed without an attorney and agrees to meet with the debtor on an expedited basis to determine if a representation agreement can be agreed upon. The lawyer is not appointed by the court or expected to take the case pro bono. The matching is done early in the case, generally before schedules and statements are due, thus minimizing corrective work for the accepting lawyer. In 2014 to date, 35% of the referred debtors have retained attorneys and 40% of those cases have been confirmed. Under the form Chapter 13 plan, the attorney receives the initial $1000 distributed by the Trustee.
The program has also matched attorneys in Chapter 11 pro se filed cases or in pro se cases converted to Chapter 11 from Chapter 13.
If there is an indication of interest from volunteer attorneys, the court may expand the program to include referrals for creditors who appear pro se.
4. Legal Clinics which specialize in bankruptcy or debt related problems (either as debtor or creditor) are sponsored by the bankruptcy court on a monthly basis, usually the week before foreclosure hearing dates. The clinics are presently staffed by attorneys with SC Legal Services and conducted in Columbia at the bankruptcy court, in Charleston at SC Legal Services' N. Charleston office, and in Greenville/Spartanburg at the Oconee County Courthouse. Debtors sign up with the court and attorney volunteers provide counseling and advice for parties before and after bankruptcy filings, including alternatives to bankruptcy. If attorneys are interested in volunteering for Legal Clinics, the court may expand this initiative by increasing the number and location of clinics.
5. Consumer Mediation pilot program provides mediation in consumer cases, mortgage modification/loss mitigation and on student loan debt issues in cases on Judge Waites docket. Mediation sessions are generally 1 hour in length and mediators are paid on a reduced rate basis or at a flat fee rate. This program coincides with the new Mortgage Modification/Loss Mitigation procedures detailed in Judge Waites Chambers Guidelines and will be used in a new Student Loan Debt Project soon to be announced. Attorneys interested in this service should contact chambers.
6. Other Access to Justice Pilot Projects:
a. In Chapter 13 cases filed in the Charleston division, pro se filers are allowed to commence a bankruptcy case by filing a petition by email or fax under procedures detailed in an operating order available on the court's website. The Charleston court location has recently announced public service hours on a periodic basis to allow the public to view and copy case records, take credit counseling and financial management courses and receive other bankruptcy information.
b. Information helpful to the public and pro se filers regarding bankruptcy has been enhanced and is available on the court's web site.
c. Debtor Education Pilot Program in the Spartanburg Division: Beginning on November 24, 2014, SC Legal Services, with assistance from students of Wofford College, will pilot a program which offers low income debtors the opportunity to complete the financial management course required before discharge in a group setting after 341 meetings. If successful, the program may be expanded to other divisions.
South Carolina Bar Programs:
Cindy Coker has provided a concise attachment which lists the Bar's programs and contact numbers. Please click here to view the attachment. The bankruptcy court works closely with the South Carolina Pro Bono program, which seeks volunteers to take Chapter 7 cases for qualifying debtors, and the bar referral program, and commends SC Law Answers, which allows volunteer attorneys to answered emailed legal questions from members of the public, including bankruptcy and debt related questions on a 24/7 basis. Please consider participation in the Bar's programs. If you volunteer for a Bar program, please let us know.