Lawyers provide pro bono services for many reasons, but at some level, the
desire to better the world motivates the work. A group of bankruptcy
lawyers in Seattle wanted to do more than provide individual pro bono
services to consumer debtors. CENTS (Consumer Education and Training
Services) decided that we would offer financial education to consumers to
help them avoid bankruptcy.
Over the last 10 years, numerous bankruptcy pro bono organizations have
been created around the country. The Pro Bono Services subcommittee of the
Section's Business Bankruptcy Committee has been instrumental in nurturing
several of these programs, and has published a "Starter Kit" to
assist new programs.
In Seattle, using the ABA Starter Kit, we formed CENTS (formerly, the
Debtor Creditor Resource Project) in 1995. The original mission was to
provide legal services to pro se debtors and to provide referrals on an ad
hoc basis. Together with the King County Bar Association, CENTS staffs the
Debt Clinic, a weekly legal clinic that provides free consultations to
anyone who requests it. In addition, CENTS instituted and supported two law
school clinics that provide pro bono assistance to those in need of a
bankruptcy filing. Finally, CENTS maintains an ad hoc referral list for pro
However, CENTS' volunteer lawyers were not satisfied with this range of
services. Over the course of a year, CENTS' board met and discussed its
members' shared belief that the bankruptcy system does nothing to solve
debtors' underlying financial problems. Few debtors possess the basic
financial skills necessary to prevent repeated calamities. CENTS decided to
expand its mission to provide financial literacy training to debtors,
whether or not they had gone through bankruptcy.
Under the newly passed Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection
Act, consumer debtors will now be required to get both credit counseling
and education on personal financial management. Long before passage of the
act, CENTS began providing financial education. As bankruptcy practice
under the act evolves, the need for affordable financial literacy services
is certain to grow.
In 2001, CENTS formed a committee of accounting and turnaround
professionals to design a financial education component. Initially, an
individual financial counseling session was offered to each client of the
Debt Clinic, in conjunction with the legal services provided. Over time, we
realized that individual counseling had limited effectiveness. In response,
CENTS launched its Money Management classes. The classes were designed in
collaboration with a consultant experienced in adult education and
financial literacy programs, and a curriculum was developed consisting of a
workbook and trainer's guide. Beginning in 2003, the class was offered
Now, CENTS has embarked on a new endeavor: The Smart Borrowing project.
CENTS created and produced a DVD and workbook that educates consumers about
lending situations, while teaching them skills to make prudent borrowing
choices. The materials target five borrowing environments that can impede
successful money management: credit cards, payday loans, auto loans, first
mortgages, and mortgage refinancing. Smart Borrowing, which was grant
funded, will be distributed nationwide.
In addition to a full range of bankruptcy pro bono services, CENTS has
expanded to help fill the growing need for affordable financial literacy
programs. For more information, visit CENTS' Web site at www.centsprogram.com.
Crocker is managing partner of Crocker Kuno Ostrovsky LLC, a bankruptcy
boutique in Seattle. She is the former president of CENTS, and chair of the
Pro Bono Services subcommittee of the Business Bankruptcy Committee of the
ABA's Business Law Section. Her e-mail is