Students in the Debtor Defense Clinic (DDC) work with unrepresented individuals who have had judgments entered against them in collection cases. Most cases take place in the County Court of Lancaster County. The DDC is open to two third-year law students each semester who provide counsel and legal advice to clients about debt collection issues, and, when necessary, litigating cases involving legal issues that have been identified to benefit from a full and robust presentation to the court. If representation in collection cases is not sufficient to resolve the clients’ legal and financial problems, the law students may also file consumer Chapter 7 bankruptcies on behalf of clients for whom that would be the best alternative.
The DDC is also open to up to two second-year students each semester who are involved in a research and support role during their time in the DDC. Second-year students more fully research legal issues identified in the DDC’s work with unrepresented debtors, and develop and write pleading templates, legal briefs, and other supporting documents for use by the third-year law students in their direct representation of clients. The second-year students also attend Friday morning motion hearings at the Lancaster County courthouse to provide general information to debtors appearing for hearings and to observe hearing outcomes.
Students are eligible to take the DDC for two semesters: one semester during their second year and one semester during their third year. A student who participated in the DDC as a second-year student is not guaranteed a spot in the DDC as a third-year student. That will depend on demand for the Clinic, expertise needed in any ongoing cases, and other factors to be articulated by the collective clinical faculty as part of the selection process.
The DDC involves a classroom component, which focuses on general matters regarding client representation (motion practice, ethical issues inherent in 2L involvement and in 3L limited scope and extended representation of clients, substantive issues regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Nebraska debt collection law, and bankruptcy practice).
Students participating in the DDC can expect to be exposed to and mentored in the following skills: applied legal ethics, legal analysis, legal research, writing and drafting, client counseling, gaining familiarity with court practices and procedures, drafting (pleadings, discovery, etc.), oral advocacy, negotiation, and gaining familiarity with substantive areas of law including civil procedure, debt collection law, secured transactions, bankruptcy law, and other substantive areas of law presented by the clients. Ultimately, students taking the DDC as second-year students will come away from their time in the DDC with an enhanced understanding of all of these areas of law and practical experience in working with clients in a manner limited only by their status as second-year students. Students taking the DDC as third-year students would come away with an experience that would expose them to the full range of lawyering skills used by lawyers working with clients in cases that involve debt collection and bankruptcy.