May 24, 2022 Update
As of a court ruling in SDNY on May 24, 2022, trained professionals in NYC who are not lawyers are able to provide vetted, monitored legal advice under the American Justice Movement program to low-income NYC residents facing debt collection lawsuits. If you are a public interest professional in NYC who is not a lawyer and you're interested in helping members of your community respond to debt collection lawsuits, please let us know
Liz Jurado, a working mom in Bayshore, NY, was sued $12,000 by her anesthesiologist for a surprise medical bill she received after a routine epidural in childbirth.
Chris Lepre, a veteran and power plant technician, was unknowingly sold a broken car, financed with a high-interest loan from a subprime auto-lender, and then sued for over $15,000 – even though he gave the car back within three months.
William Evertson, a social worker in Brooklyn, was sued fraudulently by a large third-party debt buyer for a debt that was never his.
Liz, Chris, and William all could not afford legal fees to fight back when they were unjustly sued. And it was against the law for each of them to get free, routine legal advice from a trained social worker, patient advocate, or any other public interest professional who was not a lawyer.
Each of them automatically lost their case without the court considering any of the facts. Liz and William ended up filing bankruptcy. Chris had his wages garnished and borrowed from his 401(k) to make rent.
In America, you’re only guaranteed a free lawyer in criminal cases, not the vast majority of civil cases. And there aren’t close to enough free lawyers to meet the demand of every single person who needs legal help.
The American Justice Movement, launched in January 2022 by the nonprofit Upsolve, is working to empower low-income families to get free, safe, and accountable legal advice from trained professionals in their communities who are not lawyers, called Justice Advocates.
We're fighting for a new civil right: the right to access your rights, regardless of how much money is in your bank account. Justice Advocates include clergy members, social workers, community organizers, patient advocates, and other frontline professionals. Increasing the supply of free, safe help is the only way we can ever achieve equal rights for all.
Right now, we’re focused on debt collection lawsuits in NY. Each year, about 4 million Americans are sued for their debt, often for debt that they don’t actually owe or for the wrong amounts. Over 90% of people sued for their debt receive no legal advice at all. The downstream consequences can include hunger, homelessness, poverty, and even jail. This problem is urgent in 2022, as experts predict an onslaught of debt collection activity.
But every state in America has policies that make it illegal for low-income people to get free, vetted, and accountable legal advice from trained professionals in their communities who are not lawyers.
This is one of the fundamental civil rights injustices of our time. These policies restrict the supply of help available, perpetuate the imbalance of our justice system towards those who can afford legal fees, and guarantee that we’ll never have equal rights under the law.
They're also unconstitutional.
Chris Lepre outside his home in Lynbrook, NY.
Liz Jurado inside her home in Bay Shore, NY.
On January 25, 2022, Upsolve, the nonprofit launching the American Justice Movement, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against New York in Federal Court (SDNY). We're challenging the constitutionality of New York's laws that make it illegal for low-income people to get free, vetted, and accountable legal advice from trained professionals in their communities who are not lawyers. See full challenge
. And here are the five amicus briefs
filed in our suit from the NAACP, National Center for Access to Justice, Institute for Justice, 25 law professors, and Prof. Becky Sandefur.
Upsolve is joined as a plaintiff by Reverend John Udo-Okon, a pastor in the South Bronx who wants to provide free legal advice on debt collection lawsuits but cannot.
Liz Jurado, Chris Lepre, and William Evertson are all participating in the case, representing the millions of Americans each year whose lives are upended because they cannot afford legal fees.
Upsolve aims to vindicate the constitutional right to provide free, safe, and accountable legal advice – and the right of low-income Americans to receive this advice. We aim to create the volunteer firefighter equivalent in the law.
We're fighting to protect rights the Constitution already guarantees the Americans most in need – like the challengers in Miranda v. Arizona and Gideon v. Wainwright.
Recent filings and transcripts:2nd CircuitUpsolve 2nd Circuit Brief
(January 4, 2023)Amicus Briefs (2nd Circuit)
(January 11, 2023)SDNY
Upsolve Lawsuit against New York (SDNY)
(January 25, 2022)Amicus Briefs (SDNY)
New York Attorney General Opposition Brief (SDNY)
(April 15, 2022)Upsolve Response to New York Attorney General Brief (SDNY)
(May 2, 2022)SDNY Oral Argument Transcript
(May 12, 2022)Landmark 33-Page Opinion in SDNY
(May 24, 2022)
“It is vitally important that low-income individuals get the help they need when trying to respond to debt collection actions. Black Americans are more likely to face these actions, and they’re more likely to have to do so without being able to call on a lawyer. The rules surrounding the practice of law should make it easier, not harder, to redress this problem by ensuring access to high quality legal help for those who need it.” - Janette Wallace, NAACP General Counsel
"Upsolve’s lawsuit matters to millions of people nationwide who need basic legal advice and can’t get it. The only thing laws like New York’s achieve is ensuring that ordinary people who most need help can’t get practical advice from people who are willing to give it." - Robert McNamara, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney
Rev. John Udo-Okon outside his church in the South Bronx.
Join the Movement
Please sign up below to join our movement and stay in touch.
If you're a New York resident and interested in being a Justice Advocate or receiving free legal advice on your debt collection lawsuit, please let us know below. We're unable to conduct trainings or provide access to advice as of now, given NY state laws.
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Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, based in NYC, with the mission of helping Americans access their civil legal rights for free and achieve economic mobility, using technology, education, community, and advocacy. Upsolve’s first project was an online web application to help families file bankruptcy on their own for free, which has relieved over $400M in debt for families facing medical bills and other financial shocks. Upsolve also provides free financial and legal education that reaches 2 million individuals per year. Upsolve donors include Jack Dorsey, Emergent Ventures at the Mercatus Center, Eric & Wendy Schmidt, Jim Breyer, Chris Sacca, Scott & Cyan Banister, the Robin Hood Foundation, and Y Combinator. In 2020, TIME named Upsolve one of the Best Inventions of the Year. Upsolve launched the American Justice Movement in 2022 to empower low-income families to get free, safe, and accountable legal advice from trained frontline professionals.
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