Author: Cara Gardner
Bay Path College’s prestigious President’s Award for Excellence in Innovative Thinking was presented to Assistant Professor of Law, Justin Dion JD, at the College’s annual Holiday Luncheon in December. Professor Dion was honored for his work as founder of the Bankruptcy Clinic, a service learning project that gives students hands-on experience working with clients who are filing for bankruptcy. The clinic, unlike any other pre-law student service project in the country, assigns each student a real client, who they must represent throughout the entire bankruptcy process. “This is a tremendous honor,” Dion says regarding his acceptance of the President’s Award. “A lot of what I do as an attorney is pro bono and I don’t do it for recognition. It’s something I believe in; all individuals should have access to lawyers, the law, and the court system.”
The President’s Award for Excellence in Innovative Thinking is presented annually to an individual member or team of Bay Path College’s faculty and/or staff members. Recognition is awarded for a significant process improvement, idea, or action that enhances the College’s quality of service; provides an innovative educational experience for students; improves operational effectiveness, or results in a significant cost savings for the College within the past twelve months.
Professor Dion’s history of pro bono work carries back to his days as a private practice attorney. He has continued to search for ways to serve the community as a faculty member at Bay Path College. “Although the public often thinks those needing bankruptcy help are individuals who are wasteful, irresponsible, and dishonest, the reality is one missed paycheck can push a fairly financially stable family into financial crisis, poverty, and possibly homelessness,” Professor Dion says, noting that a perfect storm of Wall Street investment failures, the housing market/mortgage collapse, skyrocketing unemployment, and many personal issues such as divorce, illness or injury, or job loss, can put a family into financial ruin. “Simply put, bankruptcy gives the most disenfranchised and indigent a sense of freedom and hope.”
Professor Dion says he got the idea to start the Bankruptcy Clinic at Bay Path from his years working with indigent cases as a private practice lawyer. “In preparing to launch Clinic, I considered the College motto, Carpe Diem, which encourages students to seize the day, as well as the College mission to be a pioneer in innovative undergraduate education,” Dion says. He explains that Bay Path’s mission to teach the value of community service motivated him to pursue the Bankruptcy Clinic. The Clinic runs each fall, after students have taken a previous spring course on Bankruptcy and Insolvency. Several top are selected to participate in the Clinic, which receives its cases from the Mass Justice Project, an organization Professor Dion has long been associated with.
“On the first day of the Bankruptcy Clinic students are handed a file with their individual client’s information. It’s their job to get that client through the entire bankruptcy process by the end of the semester,” Dion says. He explains that even law schools don’t offer direct access to clients, so this experience gives Bay Path students a definite advantage.
In addition to the satisfaction Professor Dion gets from helping people navigate a complicated legal process; he is doubly satisfied by seeing his students get an empowered look at the law. “It’s unique in that they meet with the client and conduct real legal work, research, file papers, and go to court. As a lawyer I never even did that in law school. In most law schools they teach you black letter law but it doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer.”
Professor Dion explains that his Clinic offers more than just a service; he’s working hard to change the negative perception people have of the law. “A lot of people have a perception of lawyers as being greedy people who are out for themselves. By putting [students] through this process they have their eyes opened that the law isn’t this corrupt thing that we constantly hear about in the media,” Dion says. “It’s something powerful that can be used to help people. We have a number of students who were interested in becoming paralegals and after working in the Bankruptcy Clinic they decide to be a lawyer. So that is very satisfying from my perspective.”
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