Ethics Opinion on Pro Bono Bankruptcy

Check out the latest issue of the Maryland Bar Journal! MVLS Advisory Board member & volunteer attorney Larry Coppel of Gordon Feinblatt sought an ethics opinion on bankruptcy from the Maryland State Bar Association’s Ethics Committee to help MVLS argue the case for pro bono.

In most cases, if a volunteer attorney represents a bank or lender (or works for a firm that represents a bank or lender), that attorney has a conflict of interests if they take a pro bono case where the client has a case against that bank or lender.

This ethics opinion says that it isn’t a conflict if the pro bono case is a Chapter 7 no asset bankruptcy (the kind of case we place with volunteers). This is because the creditor would not receive any disbursement; it is highly unlikely that the creditor would file anything in the bankruptcy, let alone seek to stop the pro bono client from getting a discharge of the debt in bankruptcy. It wouldn’t matter who the attorney is, so why limit how many pro bono attorneys are out there?

Aside from family law, bankruptcy is the most in-demand service that MVLS provides. We always need more attorneys to take bankruptcy cases. In the past, conflicts of interest have prevented us from placing cases with attorneys at large law firms, who otherwise would be a great fit for doing bankruptcy work pro bono.

Thanks to Larry and the MSBA Ethics Committee for their thoughtful work. Attorneys who are interested in taking on a bankruptcy case pro bono, join our panel today! If you’re already on our panel, contact Michelle Swift at or (443) 451-4068 to take on a bankruptcy case.


MVLS Volunteer Helps Maryland Woman Clear Debts

Darlene* has roots in Maryland, but lived and worked in other states. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012. In 2014, she moved back to the Eastern Shore to be with family. Darlene’s debts totaled more than $40,000, and included student loans. Darlene’s income from food stamps and Temporary Disability Assistance simply could not stretch enough for her to make payments on debts she incurred while she was still working.

In 2015, she sought help from an attorney who volunteers with MVLS. MVLS provides our volunteers with bankruptcy software, and for all types of cases volunteers receive malpractice insurance, mentorship if desired, client screening, and staff support. The attorney agreed to represent Darlene pro bono if she went through our intake. We referred her back, and he was able to help her discharge all her loans through chapter 7 bankruptcy and successfully helped her get a disability exemption for her student loans.

Darlene needed relief from her financial troubles so she could focus on her health. When MVLS’ low-income clients are able to move past their legal issues, it frees them up to focus on employment, housing, child care and more. Without help from volunteer attorneys, almost all MVLS clients would go unrepresented.