Shore Legal Access connecting Counsel and Communities

May 16, 2024

Dear friends,

The way we talk about debt says a lot about how we experience it. We don’t just have debt: we carry it, like a burden on our backs. We fall into it, like a hole. It’s insurmountable, like a mountain peak; unmanageable, like a wild animal. Debt sinks its claws into us. To be in debt is, to some degree, to feel in constant danger.

debt dice on a deskIt wasn’t always like this. A debt was once seen as an obligation one person owed another, a single strand in the complex web of human interrelations. Debt had a face—it was your neighbor, a family member, someone you did business with.

 

 

Now, do you even know who owns your mortgage, your credit card debt, your medical bills? Likely they’ve been sold multiple times since you first took them out. Even after your debt has been sold, the company that owns it might not be the one contacting you to collect it. Debt is faceless, anonymous, a thing always threatening to swallow you up.

People suffering from unmanageable debt often feel isolated from those around them, marked out for what many perceive to be a moral failing. But no one in this world escapes debt: Amazon has over $73 billion in debt, yet no one calls them deadbeats. In many cases, personal debt is the result of misfortune: credit cards run up because of a lost job, medical bills that ballooned because of a past emergency. Even knowing this, it’s hard for people not to feel that their debt is theirs alone to deal with.

Making matters worse, with the average hourly rate for a private attorney at $250, securing private representation when you’ve been sued for your debt is not an option for most people. Remember, the right to an attorney only applies to criminal law.

hands couting cashLast year Patty* stood on the edge of losing everything. A debt-buyer—a company that purchases debts from other organizations for pennies on the dollar and tries to collect on them, often using aggressive tactics—had sued her for credit card debt it claimed she owed. Patty was retired, by herself, on a fixed income. The only asset she had was her home —and if she lost it, she’d have nowhere to go.

 

 

 

Patty came to Shore Legal Access in desperate need of help. Not only did she have to worry about this debt that had come out of nowhere, but also she now had to navigate the legal system, yet another faceless entity. Patty didn’t just need legal help, she needed to know that a person was on her side. She found that in long-time SLA volunteer attorney Derek Hills.

In court, Derek argued that the debt-buyer was only trying to see what they could get away with, certain that Patty, and the thousands of people like her who are sued every day, would not be able to defend herself. Derek decisively proved to the court that the debt-buyer had no right to collect the debt from Patty. With that, Patty was free: she’d climbed out of the hole, thrown off her burden, surmounted the daunting peak—all because she had access to free legal assistance through Shore Legal Access.

Derek wasn’t just her attorney, he was her advocate—for her financial stability, for her inherent dignity as a human being—in the face of an unscrupulous corporate entity that only saw her as a source of profit. Without Derek, Patty would have been ripped from her community, leaving a hole there never to be filled. Shore Legal Access works with many attorneys like Derek, who go beyond what is expected of them to make sure their clients are given the fair chance everyone ought to be due—but often aren’t—within our legal system.

SLA believes that financial stability is the key to so many of the good things in life. When a financial issue becomes a legal issue, people can count on us and our network of dedicated volunteer attorneys to be there for them.

But we depend on the support of our community to continue to provide such vital services to our clients. Shore Legal Access is the only legal aid organization to work exclusively on the Eastern Shore. Our staff and our attorneys live in your communities, shop at your stores, eat at your restaurants, send our children to your schools—just like our clients do. We are all in this together.

Support for Shore Legal Access goes further than you’d ever realize. A recent study shows that for every dollar invested in civil legal assistance, six dollars are returned to the community. Think of that, like magic: any gift you give is magnified six times for the people in your community who desperately need access to legal assistance.

It works this way because legal representation affords people with financial legal issues a better chance at staying in their homes, of negotiating down their debt to something manageable, or of Last year Patty* stood on the edge of losing everything. A debt-buyer—a company that purchases debts from other organizations for pennies on the dollar and tries to collect on them, often using aggressive tactics—had sued her for credit card debt it claimed she owed. Patty was retired, by herself, on a fixed income. The only asset she had was her home —and if she lost it, she’d have nowhere to go. getting out from under it completely. This means that fewer homes are foreclosed and sold to real estate investors, who then drive up housing prices; and fewer people need social services, thus easing the strain on an already over-burdened system. We all share in the success and misfortune of each person in our community, whether we realize it or not.

Your gift doesn’t just support someone with a legal issue right now; it lives on, supporting people who, inevitably, will need legal assistance in the future; and, most consequentially, it invests in the Eastern Shore as a place where people of all incomes can still live a financially secure, rewarding life.

But, for people in Patty’s situation, you can forget about six times, or even a hundred times—the true impact of your support doesn’t have a number.

Your kind donation to Shore Legal Access goes a long way towards making the Eastern Shore a place where anyone can access legal representation, regardless of their means.

Warmest regards,

Meredith L Girard signature

Meredith L. Girard, Esq., Executive Director