Law students spend summer in public-service mode
Public Relations - Published: August 14, 2009
Summer for four Delaware campus students has been a time to educate area senior citizens about their legal rights – and to spread the word about services of the Pennsylvania Civil Clinic.

Thanks to a generous grant from the American College of Bankruptcy Foundation, students Katrina Shea, Kolleen McGinnis, Meryl Peterman and Kathryn O’Connell were able to create a public awareness campaign that informed seniors of their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Known as the Financial Literacy Program for Seniors, the program got its start after clinic Director and Associate Professor Nathaniel C. Nichols noticed the rising age of the clinic’s low-income clients. He was also hearing a lot of stories from clients who felt harassed by debt collectors. With the help of the law school’s development office, Nichols was able to secure the American College of Bankruptcy Foundation funding that provided the students a way to provide a public service, earn a summer paycheck and gain valuable insight to the law.

The students studied the law, developed a curriculum for educating seniors about it and took it on the road to senior centers in Delaware County – the jurisdiction served by the law clinic. They have also counseled seniors individually about the law, and worked on several of the clinic’s bankruptcy and debt-collection-harassment cases.

“The main point of our presentation is empowering you,” Peterman, a third-year law student, said at the outset of a 30-minute talk she gave with McGinnis, a second-year law student at the Chester Senior Center on July 16. She went on to explain why it is important for seniors to pay their debts, what rules debt collectors must play by under the law and how to handle a debt collector’s calls.

Nichols, who also attended the presentation, took the opportunity to explain to the roughly 50 seniors in the room about Widener’s law clinic and how students can help those in financial trouble with legal representation. The students said the work was personally rewarding.

“Everybody’s been really responsive and we’ve had a lot of people calling the clinic and asking questions,” McGinnis said.