This post was written by Steph Poland ’17
This summer I have had the opportunity to be an intern at Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York (LASMNY) and work directly with attorney Susan Conn, who graduated from Colgate in 1979. While interning at LASMNY, I have begun to understand the poverty levels in New York, specifically in Utica, and I have seen first-hand the impact that Legal Aid has on low-income individuals and families. Legal Aid Society is a not-for-profit law office that offers free legal information, advice, and representation to those who cannot afford an attorney. The work the people at Legal Aid do is vital for the residents of mid- New York and without the work of the secretaries, paralegals, and attorneys, many residents would be unable to receive legal aid in civil (non-criminal) cases. LASMNY provides interpreters and offers over one hundred and fifty languages to serve a wide population and offers advice regarding employment benefits, housing, special education, access to health care, divorce, family matters, domestic violence, SSD or SSI benefits, welfare, and bankruptcy.
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York deals with an array of issues, but I am specifically working with Susan Conn on the Consumer Bankruptcy Law Project, where we help clients file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This unique project is a collaborative effort between LASMNY and the Upstate Institute at Colgate University that aims to increase bankruptcy representation in low-income residents of central New York. While working on the project, I was first educated on bankruptcy law and legal ethics, and then once I received the adequate training I began to go through clients’ credit reports, income, expenses, and property to prepare the bankruptcy schedules. I assist my supervisor when working directly with the clients and after the schedules are completed I use the schedules to help recruit pro bono attorneys to represent our clients in bankruptcy court.
Filing for bankruptcy can be a daunting task, but LASMNY takes a lot of the complexity and expense out of the process. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be beneficial for many clients because it can actually discharge unsecured debts and allow for a fresh start. I have seen the impact that the Consumer Bankruptcy Project has on our clients and I love being a part of a project that has a positive impact on the central New York region. I wanted to be a Field School Fellow to enhance my independent research skills and work on an innovative project, but the primary reason I applied to the Upstate Institute was so that I could work alongside individuals who are passionate about positively affecting the region. I often sense a disconnect between Colgate and its surrounding communities, so I appreciate the opportunity to be able to work directly with our clients because it helps me garner an understanding of mid-New York, as well as a greater appreciation for the region that I have lived in for the last three years.
As a Field School Fellow at Legal Aid Society, I have been able to apply much of what I have learned at Colgate; and I have gained many new skills as well as a wealth of knowledge regarding bankruptcy law. I am surrounded by incredibly hard-working individuals who dedicate much of their time to help those who cannot afford legal advice. LASMNY is important for the region and I hope to continue my work on the Consumer Bankruptcy Law Project into the 2016-2017 school year so that the project can continue its effectiveness.