Free Legal Aid for Bankruptcy

Massachusetts Debt Relief Foundation's experienced attorneys provide free legal analysis of debt relief options to meet each individual need

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Eligibility

  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States

Gender

  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Massachusetts: Boston (02109), Worcester (01608), Natick (01760), Springfield (01108)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

06/30/2011

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

http://www.massdebtrelieffoundation.org/

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/ProBonoBK

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/MassDRF/

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In 2008, Attorney Richard S. Ravosa listened to a woman on the eve of retirement talk about how frustrated and helpless she felt going into retirement with no money saved, and thousands of dollars in debt that she incurred just to meet her living expenses in the Greater Boston area. Compelled by her story, Richard represented her free of charge in filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy, so she could at least retire debt free, and what limited income she received from social security could be used to buy food and other necessary living expenses. After that, Attorney Ravosa saw more and more people showing up at his law office in dire financial straits with no ability to pay a legal fee to file a much needed chapter 7 bankruptcy.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The sad truth is that there will always be a need for helping others overcome debt, especially for families already struggling to make ends meet. Legal aid can only help so much. A Boston Bar Association report shows that 70% of otherwise qualified applicants who need legal representation for debt relief are turned away by the large, leading legal aid providers. Yet those with the greatest need are not able to afford an attorney.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Bankruptcy is a vital tool that allows all of us to start over when the unexpected occurs, but without a lawyer the process is impossible for the average person to benefit, and the cost of a lawyer is an insurmountable barrier for those living in poverty. We created MDRF with the hopes of leveling the playing field. With our team of specialists, we provide one-on-one in depth analysis of our clients’ income, assets, debt, as well as short-term and long-term goals to advise the best route to financial stability. If appropriate, we then provide complete legal representation in bankruptcy to discharge debt, and then based on the client’s individual needs, work with them to ensure they possess the tools to take advantage of their fresh financial start, including developing a budget and rebuilding credit. MDRF’s clients are Massachusetts residents who do not own real estate whose income is at or below 150% of the HHS poverty Guidelines. We also have expanded our guidelines in 2015 to accept Veterans and Servicemembers at or below up to 200% of the HHS Poverty Guidelines.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

The low-income community is under-served when it comes to obtaining legal help. And unfortunately, bankruptcy comes with many negative or incorrect connotations, which makes it difficult to reach everyone that could benefit from our help. Many within the community reach us through referrals from general legal aid, from shelters and food pantries, and other community organizations. The only way we can better serve the entire community is through expanding our organization.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • illness
  • work status
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

MDRF acknowledges the presence of other legal aid nonprofits in the area. We even get referrals from legal aid nonprofits and other organizations quite frequently. However, because our organization is bankruptcy specific, we continue to work with other nonprofits to best serve our target population.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have helped over 200 individuals achieve debt relief-our discharge rate is 100%. MDRF also likes to look at the amount of money discharged and types of property that we protected. Overall, our staff was able to discharge $5.9 million. On top of all these numbers, we have some of the most poignant success stories from our clients. Here are a review from a client: "I am incredibly grateful to Maegan Hurley and the Massachusetts Debt Relief Foundation, Inc. for their services. In 2013, due to budget cuts I was laid off from a position I held for a decade. Googling for any info I could find, I came upon an article about MDRF. I contacted the number, and Maegan immediately returned my call. She asked thorough questions, and explained my options. We decided I was a good candidate for bankruptcy. Not only did I receive debt relief, she empowered me with the tools to rebuild my life."

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Starting just last year, MDRF has aggressively increased its fundraising efforts. As of mid-2018, our organization has doubled in size including volunteers. We have also made it our mission to attend more events and training—both for legal and nonprofit. Just this year, 2018, our filings have been more than they ever have been. We will continue to meet and assist clients, while we grow our organization through fundraising and outreach. We also are looking at other project, including starting educational seminars and starting partnerships with other organizations.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently, MDRF already has a very small, limited budget. Our organization relies on in-kind donations and volunteers. The more the organization expands and reaches more individuals in need of our services, our budget will also increase. We are prepared to increase all of our fundraising efforts—more grant applications, social media outreach, and event networking. However, even with our small budget, we are able to help everyone who walks into our offices.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

MDRF has one full time employee, Maegan Hurley. She is the managing attorney responsible for any case that comes into our office. She delegates cases to our volunteer attorneys depending on need and location. Our Executive Director, Richard Ravosa, and managing attorney handle the operations of organization. MDRF employs consultants to handle specific tasks, including fundraising, website management, and general accounting. Our board is a mixture of attorneys, professionals, and clients.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

If you replied "Other" in the question above, please specify. (optional)

Our organization's target population identifies with nearly all races.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • BNY Mellon page or contact
  • Email

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 50%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 50%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 50%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 50%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%

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Upsolve

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This project is doing important work to expand access to a fresh start for low-income filers in Mass! Keep up the good work.

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