Alumna Partners with Students, Upstate Institute to Give Legal Aid

Lindsay Edinger

Five years ago, Colgate alumna and attorney Susan Conn ’79 established the Consumer Bankruptcy Law Project (CBLP) at Colgate. The project was created as a partnership between Colgate University’s Upstate Institute and the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc., in which students are assigned to work on Chapter Seven bankruptcy cases for low-income individuals.

The vision behind the CBLP was to connect students with the local community while equipping them with professional skills. Students who volunteer donate about 30 hours per semester, learning about bankruptcy policy, credit and debt, in addition to gaining a unique hands-on legal experience. The Chapter Seven bankruptcy cases they work on are then referred out to pro bono attorneys.

Several of the past participants of the CBLP have continued to pursue a career in law, successfully securing jobs at some of the nation’s leading and most competitive firms.

Senior Abby Callahan was impacted by her work on the CBLP last semester.

“The project really forces you out of the ‘Colgate bubble’ and makes you reexamine your preconceived notions of the poor as well as pushes you to consider the role our government and social institutions play in society,” Callahan said.

 As well as learning about bankruptcy law and legal ethics, Conn teaches her students about public benefit programs.

Conn plans to expand the project to other schools. Over the past year she and her Colgate student interns have worked together to design and launch a website for the CBLP that would serve as a platform for the program’s classroom and bankruptcy work. The intent behind this project is that it could act as a model for other law firms or attorneys to replicate in areas with colleges or law schools. By providing the course’s educational curriculum and bankruptcy material, the website packages the project for attorneys or schools to easily adopt and establish their own programs.

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