Fordham Law


Innovative Video Project Launches to Empower Consumers to Fight Debt-Collection Lawsuits

July 22, 2014

The Feerick Center for Social Justice and New Media Advocacy Project have launched an innovative video aimed at educating the public about how to handle consumer debt cases. The video is part of an ongoing effort to assist unrepresented consumers facing an onslaught of cases filed by creditors throughout the state, undertaken jointly by the Feerick Center, MFY Legal Services, Inc., the New Media Advocacy Project, and Pro Bono Net. This effort supports the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) program.
 
The new animated video provides legal information to consumers about how to address debt cases that have been filed against them, including information about issues consumers can handle themselves and guidance on finding free legal assistance. A novel, interactive approach recommends to users the video chapters most relevant to their situation, or gives them the option to watch the entire video. The system will also gather vital data about the challenges that consumers face in navigating their cases.
 
New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman recently made protection for debtors against debt collection companies a top priority. He has proposed new court rules aimed at protecting debtors against fraud and improper collection practices. Many states face similar debt-collection problems and New York is leading the reform effort, but still sees about 130,000 debt collection lawsuits a year – in which about 98 percent of the defendants are unrepresented.
 
“Debt collection lawsuits are a huge problem for thousands of New Yorkers every year, and this video provides accessible, straightforward advice that will help people begin to address what can be a very complicated and traumatic situation,” said Dora Galacatos, Executive Director of the Feerick Center.
 
“The video is part of a ‘quiet revolution’ in which lawyers and tech companies are utilizing creative technology to tackle the growing problem of civil defendants without access to legal representation,” said Adam Stofsky of the New Media Advocacy Project, an innovative nonprofit organization that produced the video and built the website.
 
“This animation and plain language in this video takes complicated, often intimidating legal concepts and makes them easy to understand” added Adam Friedl of Pro Bono Net, who also worked on the project. “This knowledge empowers consumers to take action – the most important thing they can do to protect their rights.”
 
CLARO is a limited, legal advice project for unrepresented debtor-defendants with consumer debt cases in New York City Civil Court. It operates in all five boroughs operates under the auspices of the New York State Unified Court System’s Access to Justice Program. Volunteer lawyers work side by side with volunteer law students and are available for onsite consultation during weekly clinics, which take place in the courthouses. The Feerick Center helps administer the Manhattan CLARO Project and the Bronx CLARO and provides support to the Staten Island CLARO Steering Committee.
 
The video project is supported by an innovation grant from the Flom Incubator Grant, the New York Bar Foundation, and from a generous Fordham Law School alumni. It is also available on CLARO’s website (claronyc.org) and at lawhelpny.org/consumer, which also provides a number of other essential resources to unrepresented consumers.