Students Offer Hope for Clients Steeped in Debt

According to a March 2013 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, 69 percent of American households are in debt. The median amount owed is $70,000. Whether it is credit card debt, health care debt, student loans or mortgages, Americans are facing an increasing array of financial obligations. As a result, the Loyola Law School Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) was inundated with calls for assistance from people facing a barrage of financial difficulties. The Conciliation and Mediation Assistance Clinic (C-MAC) is Loyola’s answer to this groundswell of need.

Launched in spring 2013, C-MAC offers counseling to debt-ridden consumers and options to put their financial affairs in order. One significant option that is immediately available is mediation and conciliation services, also provided by Loyola Law School students. Other options routinely discussed by clinic students include negotiating a payment plan, answering versus defaulting to the lawsuit, exemptions, foreclosure, bankruptcy, garnishment, liens, levies and government benefits.  

“We opened during the spring 2013 semester and designed the clinic to give the consumer knowledge that is targeted and most helpful,” said Mary Britt ’06, program manager and assistant director of operations at the CCR. “For a consumer, it is difficult to make a decision on what to do next with no information, so students give consumers what they need to know.”

In preparation for their appointments, C-MAC clients receive information packets that include budget worksheets focused on their monthly income and expenses, including all debt payments. These packets help the consumer see their overall financial picture so that debt decisions are not made in a vacuum. “We expand the lens,” said Britt.

Once clients understand their overall financial realities, students educate them on fixing their credit, credit reports and the collection process. If clients need individual counseling, law students meet with them in one-on-one counseling sessions that are overseen by the program manager.

"The clients whom we've encountered so far have been quite diverse and have all had very different debt-related issues,” said Nathan Gauthier ’15. “But the one constant has been each client's desire to fulfill their obligations and better their lives, which is what really makes this program so rewarding to be a part of.”

Aside from benefiting consumers, the clinic gives Loyola students the opportunity to participate in field work outside the classroom. “My goal with the clinic is to see it serve even more consumers and Loyola Law School students. We are currently reformatting the workshop to include more detailed information on how to fix your credit,” said Britt. “The point of the clinic is not only to help those who are inundated with debt and have nowhere to turn, but to prepare the Loyola Law School student to be able to enter this practice area in the future.”

Student hours qualify toward satisfaction of Loyola Law School’s 40-hour pro bono graduation service requirement. But for students, the clinic is much more than a means to an end.

“As a counselor, I provided life-changing information and advice for clients who were seeking assistance with consumer debt-related problems,” said Christopher Mohamed ‘14. “Knowing that I was able to help my clients tackle their debt issues is a rewarding and fulfilling experience that I will always remember." 

The CCR has been recognized for its work on behalf of clients saddled with debt. It received the “Outstanding Mediation Case Award” from Los Angeles County for its resolution of a consumer-debt dispute involving $55,000 in medical bills. Alumnae Sara Campos ’99, CCR assistant director, and staff attorney Sarah-Jane Stecker ’11 helped the client file a charity application that ultimately secured the waiver of the entire bill.

More information on C-MAC is available at lls.edu/ccr. Call 213-736-1145 for assistance.