VLSP Recognizes Exceptional Bankruptcy Clinic Volunteer Neal Konami
Thursday, July 01, 2004
"It's not often tax attorneys have a chance to help indigent clients," says VLSP's Volunteer of the Month, Neal Konami. "I think it's good for attorneys. It keeps you grounded." Indeed, Neal's tireless dedication to VLSP's Bankruptcy Law Clinic has earned him the distinction as a volunteer firmly committed to bringing expert pro bono services to those who need it the most.
And it turns out, those who need it the most cut a surprisingly wide swath: Neal's VLSP clients range from the homeless, people with disabilities, and those who, until recently, were middle-class or business people. "They represent a true cross-section of the city," Neal says, "It's given me a very good look at our community."
For the past five years, Neal has contributed countless hours to the community by assisting at VLSP Bankruptcy Clinics and setting up office consultations for clients with tax or debt issues - this, in addition to his full work schedule as a sole practitioner tax attorney. Not only has Neal's exceptional enthusiasm helped turn countless lives around, but it's also given him the opportunity to continue learning.
One thing Neal has learned is that no one likes being told they're judgment-proof, meaning their income (often solely from SSI or unemployment insurance) is low enough to protect them under a Claim of Exemption. "It's like no one's ever told them they can't get blood from a stone," Neal concludes, Yet, despite their initial rankling, he finds that most clients are relieved that collectors will stop harassing them; they are ready to do whatever it takes to repair their finances.
In light of the fact consumer credit has nearly doubled in the last decade, Neal believes that the Bankruptcy clinic provides clients with a valuable service. "There's so much misinformation out there," he explains, "I enjoy giving them very specific advice that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get."
Neal appreciates the VLSP client screening process, which starts with a comprehensive intake form detailing financial history and evaluating "attitude," specifically, whether a given client will be amenable to accepting help: "I've never felt like they weren't listening," Neal says of his clients, "that they didn't realize we were volunteering our evening to give them legal advice. As a volunteer attorney, it's easy for me to sit down and in a few minutes get a good idea of the client's situation."
Tony Rothschild, chief presenter and 20-year veteran of the Bankruptcy Clinic, attributes the project's continuing success to Neal's remarkable generosity of time, energy, and expertise: "Neal really knows his field well. He's a very hardworking, very enthusiastic volunteer."