“Most of the people who come seeking help from the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Offices (CLARO) are low and moderate-income New Yorkers working more than one job, whose wages just haven’t been able to keep up with the cost of living,’ explains Dora Galactos, adjunct professor of law and executive director of the Feerick Center.
Since the mid 2000’s, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have been sued in collection cases, with filings peaking in 2008, when more than 300,000 debt collection cases were brought in NYC’s civil court alone. Now the numbers are on the rise again. Stagnating wages and thin margins have left many New Yorkers vulnerable to subprime lending, that is, credit cards with abusive terms that can trap them into a vicious debt cycle.
Students in Professor Marcella Silverman‘s Consumer Litigation Clinic (“CLC”) get hands on experience providing full legal services to low-income consumer defendants in federal, state and local trial and appellate courts. Students take primary responsibility for every aspect of a case. Thomas Kendris ’20 is currently working on a case in which a woman was asked by her ex-housband to co-sign a loan for a used BMW. Years later, when he defaulted on the loan, she discovered she was the sole signatory. Now she is being sued for more than $16,000 which is “money she doesn’t have, for a car she never meant to own, never wanted, and never drove,” explains Kendris who found several deficiencies in the case from the contract violating the Truth in Lending Act, to dealer misconduct, to the over-inflated amount contained in the lender’s document to reclaim the car. “Some cases are so factually complicated and legally complex that there is no way a person can win without being fully represented by a lawyer,” notes Silverman. “Those are the cases we bring back to the clinic.”