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Fresh Start Initiative to provide information on debt to Mass residents

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The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP), in partnership with DotHouse Health, will launch the Fresh Start Initiative — a free legal clinic that will educate the residents of Massachusetts about various types of debt, inform them of the legal options for debt relief, and provide assistance with filing bankruptcy. The aim of the initiative is to provide eligible residents wider access to volunteer attorneys that are available to assist with bankruptcy matters on a pro bono basis.

The partnership between VLP and DotHouse forms a medical-legal partnership that allows DotHouse patients to have access to pro bono attorneys to address debt related matters.

Rosa Beriguete, the Community Program Manager at DotHouse says, “There is a strong relationship between finances and health, as debt is a major cause of stress. Stress causes depression, weight gain and overtime deteriorates a person’s well-being. I’m excited about this partnership because the Debt Relief Legal Clinic will not only improve our patient’s financial health, but also their physical and mental health as well.”

Designed to be collaborative, the clinic will be staffed by experienced bankruptcy attorneys who will review legal documents and facilitate a question and answer session. Prospective clients that are interested in filing bankruptcy will be informed of the benefits and disadvantage of bankruptcy, and provided assistance with gathering the required documents needed to file bankruptcy. The clinic will be particularly beneficial for individuals that may have difficulty working with computers or have limited access to the internet, as there will be volunteers available to assist with filling-out web based forms.

The Fresh Start Initiative is made possible by a competitively-awarded Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The Legal Services Corporation is a private, non-profit corporation funded by Congress, and is the largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the country. The Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grant was awarded based on proposals that aimed to engage more lawyers in pro bono legal service and increase access to quality legal aid to people that cannot afford legal assistance.

According to Attorney Joanna Allison, Acting Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, “The goal for our organization, through this initiative, is to expand free legal services in the area of debt relief through the innovative use of volunteers and technology. Often people experience circumstances or traumatic events in life that cause undue financial hardship. This initiative will provide Massachusetts residents that are overburdened with debt — especially victims of domestic violence, or those that have incurred debt due to a disability, foreclosure or divorce — greater access to pro bono legal assistance to obtain debt relief through bankruptcy.”

The Volunteer Lawyers Project serves the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, as well as many other communities in Greater Boston. To have a case accepted for representation, clients must meet financial and other eligibility requirements set by LSC.

Upon the launch of the initiative, clinics will be held on the 3rd Tuesday of every month, with the location alternating monthly between DotHouse and the downtown office of the Volunteer Lawyers Project. The first two scheduled clinic dates at DotHouse are Tuesday May 24th and Tuesday July 19th at 4pm. DotHouse Health is located at 1353 Dorchester Avenue Dorchester, MA. 02122.

Due to space limitations, reservations are encouraged.

The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association is a non-profit legal aid organization that provides legal representation in civil matters to low-income residents of Boston primarily through the pro bono services of private attorneys and paralegals. Founded in 1977, it is among the oldest organized pro bono efforts in the country. In 1996, VLP broadened its scope when it became the grantee of the federal Legal Services Corporation for the Greater Boston area. Pro bono services are provided through VLP’s panel of approximately 1,000 attorneys, law students, and paralegals representing all segments of the legal community.