Everyone experiences that one life-changing moment that shapes their identity and molds their career choices, mine was when I was fifteen.
My father had been working as an executive chef at a country club, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. They had saved up enough money to buy a house, and for a moment, life was good. But unfortunately, the effects of the 2008 financial crisis would soon find its way to us, and my father was laid off from his job. That one calm moment was gone. The house that my parents had saved up for became a burden, with the payments exceeding what my father could pay, having only an unemployment check to sustain a family of five.
Through bankruptcy however, we were able to stay afloat and keep our house. It was at this moment that I decided I wanted to help people who may not have the knowledge or resources to handle situations like this on their own. I wanted to become knowledgeable in this area in order to become an advocate for those in similar situations to my family.
Fast-forward some years later, and I am confronted with the question of where I want to go to law school. Since I began my journey with an interest in bankruptcy, I wanted to look for a place where I could explore this interest further. Out of all the schools I applied to, McGeorge School of Law was the only one that had a legal clinic dedicated to bankruptcy. It felt like a sign, and I followed it to McGeorge. The moment I was able to, I applied to participate in the Bankruptcy Clinic and was accepted into the program at the beginning of my 2L year. I have been active in the Clinic ever since.
The first thing you learn in both the Bankruptcy Clinic and the class is that the purpose of a bankruptcy is to give debtors a “fresh start.” This is achieved by the “discharge” at the end of the bankruptcy that in theory leaves the person debt-free to start over. At the Clinic, we focus on Chapter 7 Bankruptcies, which are considered “full liquidation” bankruptcies where assets are sold to repay debt. Students at the Clinic conduct client calls and interviews, as well as draft bankruptcy petitions for filing.
I have loved every interaction that I’ve had with clients at the Clinic, and the relief I see on their faces once we file the petition is priceless. Just like my family, many of our clients are seeking aid after dealing with financial hardship, which oftentimes is out of their control. My experience with the Clinic has been truly remarkable and has continued my passion to work in the bankruptcy field.
Bankruptcy is one of those things that people view very negatively, whether it be that it will affect your credit score or that people will treat you differently when you list it on an application. While there are inevitable consequences of filing for bankruptcy, I don’t view it as negative. I view it for its purpose, to give debtors a “fresh start,” a lifejacket thrown to them when they are drowning. It is with this mentality that I continue to appreciate the good that this field can do for people.
I can’t wait to continue learning and growing more in this area of the law in both my externship this fall with the Bankruptcy Court and my role as a team leader for the Bankruptcy Clinic in the spring. My hope is to continue in this sector post-grad in some capacity because of the flame it ignited in me so many years ago.
By Crystal Rodriguez, a third-year law student at McGeorge School of Law.