When he came to the Civil Session of our Fair Debt Collection Lawyer for the Day program, our client felt scared. “I didn’t know what was going on. I never been in trouble in my life. I was in the military. I was actually scared for the first time in my adult life.”
The client had been brought to BMC Central after a judgment was entered against him in Fall River for debt collection. Now the creditor was filing an action with his employer so that they could garnish his wages to collect on the $9,000 debt.
But when the client spoke with VLP Staff Attorney Tallulah Knopp, he was confused. He said he was working with a debt settlement company to help pay off his credit. “They called me and said we have a great deal for you. We can reduce the rates. We can reduce the bills. I just had to pay $528 a month…They were supposed to help me settle all the credit debt I owed.”
Unfortunately, these predatory debt settlement practices are all too common. Attorney Knopp researched the company, and after reading through their contract and ledger with the client, she found some issues. The company promised the client that they would negotiate a settlement with the original creditor. However, they knew they would be unable to do so because the creditor refuses to negotiate with debt settlement companies like this one. Despite already knowing this, they continued to charge the client over $500 per month to settle the case. As if that wasn’t enough, they gave the client the impression that they would represent him if the case went to court, which they didn’t.
Attorney Knopp recognized these actions as unfair and deceptive. After multiple attempts by the client and VLP to contact the settlement company, Attorney Knopp wrote them a 93A Demand Letter, outlining exactly how their practices violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. She explained how the company’s actions damaged the client’s credit, forced him to take time off from work for court dates, and created significant emotional stress, among other things. The client reflected on how this debt impacted him and his family:
“I never really owed anybody anything in my life, and once these guys took my money, I had 16 creditors calling me saying that they weren’t getting anything from me…I try not to let anything bother me when I’m with my kids and wife, but it was hard. I had trouble sleeping. It was always on my mind. I just wanted it to stop.”
In her letter, Attorney Knopp argued that the settlement company’s deceptive actions caused significant harm to the client and warranted a reasonable settlement.
After receiving Attorney Knopp’s thorough demand letter and settlement offer, the company was persuaded to return all $2,376.25 to the client, plus $1,000 in attorney’s fees to VLP. Even better, from that deal, Attorney Knopp was able to negotiate a settlement with the original creditor where the client would pay them a lump sum of about $2,000. In exchange, the original creditor would drop the rest of $9,000 judgment against him. When Attorney Knopp told the client, he was thrilled.
“She informed me that they would send me a check and I was so happy. I was relieved because then I had the money to pay [the original creditor]… It’s been a rough 2 years – I had an injury at work. I couldn’t do some of the things I used to. With the $2,000 I could pay off my debt and I had some money left over for groceries.”
Thanks to Attorney Knopp’s diligence, this client was able to reach a fair settlement in his debt collection case and regain some peace of mind.
Please be advised on Wednesday, September 11th all VLP clinics will close at 12:00PM. We apologize for any inconvenience.
This issue features a Board Member and Volunteer Spotlight, as well as a Guardianship Case Win and Clinic Story. It also includes a PBIF Grant Update, AmeriCorps Appreciation and welcome to new VLP Staff. Read our Newsletter to learn more about what we’ve been up to this Summer!
Attorney Nicole Bluefort is a valued volunteer at VLP, having worked on multiple family law cases with us. She was recently interviewed by ThriveGlobal for their series on Strong Female Leaders. Attorney Bluefort worked for the first African American to be appointed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Justice Frederick Brown. Her knowledge and drive have led to her appearing on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and FOX. She has earned numerous awards, including Mass Lawyers Weekly Top Women of Law 2018, the National Bar Association’s Top 40 Under 40, and the 2019 Business Woman of the Year Award, among many other distinguished honors.
Attorney Bluefort has shown strength, determination, and incredible compassion with our clients, and we know she carries those same qualities with her in every aspect of her life. To learn more about her story and hear the advice she has for female leaders everywhere, be sure to read her interview with ThriveGlobal here. We feel honored to count Attorney Nicole Bluefort as one of volunteers and supporters.
Attorney Brian Dunphy is a valuable member of VLP as a volunteer attorney, a coordinator of the statewide Civil Appeals clinic, a donor, and a board member. Attorney Dunphy gives time to VLP because he feels “a responsibility to help people.” Recently, Attorney Dunphy used his legal knowledge to help a Family Law client with an appeal. The client shares a 7 year-old child with a man currently incarcerated for a string of violent crimes, including manslaughter and attempting to harm a police officer. The father was granted visitation of the child, even though the father has been incarcerated out of state for most of the child’s life. The father and child do not have a strong relationship, and both the client and her child expressed fear of the father.
The client came to the Appeals Clinic hoping to appeal the visitation, where she met Attorney Dunphy. After hearing the client’s story, Attorney Dunphy believed there was merit for appeal based on the Family and Probate Court not properly applying the best interest of the child legal standard. Attorney Dunphy, along with Attorneys Christine Paradiso, Patrick McDonagh, and Erica Coray, worked on an appeal to argue that the father should not have any visitation rights. The original decision was not only overturned, but parental rights for the father were terminated. The client and her child feel safer because of the hard work of Attorney Dunphy. Volunteers like Brian Dunphy are a rare find, and VLP feels incredibly fortunate to count someone so dedicated and altruistic as a volunteer and supporter.
In order to express the urgent need to recruit more volunteers, and to communicate the meaningful and valuable experience that VLP provides, we have updated the look and feel of our brand.
Our new logo tells a story. The story of the ripple effect, spreading out from a single action of volunteering to everyone that is affected. Volunteers help transform lives in crisis. In doing so, their own lives are changed for good. Volunteers learn new skills and gain experience, helping their future and the future of those they will represent. They are mentored and guide others, changing lives for years to come. Our new, bold, contemporary colors of orange and blue visually voice our strong commitment and powerful impact of our mission.
The new site is designed to be inviting, and easy to navigate. It calls out to volunteers, informs, educates, and offers new insight into VLP. From how to volunteer, to training classes, to Senior Partners for Justice, to providing a compassionate voice and resources for those in need — it’s all right here.
This spring issue contains the latest on the Housing Clinic 20th Anniversary, Volunteer Spotlight, 209A Case Win, DotHouse Project, Housing Clinic Video Training, and a welcome to our new VLP Staff.
“Again, I want to express my heartfelt thanks. When all seemed lost or impossible you and your project came to life and restored my faith in the world of professional people as yourself. Please keep being there for people like myself… you restored my hope in humanity.” — VLP client
“I volunteer because of the opportunity to use my legal skills to help those who are unable to obtain legal representation otherwise. Clients are very grateful for the help of volunteers because otherwise the legal system can seem quite daunting and complex to them. Volunteering has been a two-way street for me — not only do I help clients with their legal woes, but being a newly admitted attorney I get to take on interesting cases, receive training and mentorship from senior lawyers, interact with and represent clients, and be challenged everyday in every way.” — VLP volunteer