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Tanya Hobson-Williams Says Only Attorneys Can Provide Free Legal Advice to Those Who are Being Aggressively Pursued by Debt Collectors

Many low-income individuals who are being aggressively pursued by debt collectors do not have the means to hire an attorney and, therefore, must either pay the debt or file for bankruptcy. Some will turn to nonprofit organizations that can offer free advice, but are not nuanced in the legal aspects of debt collection and settlements. Tanya Hobson-Williams at Hobson-Williams, P.C. says that, while nonprofits can be helpful, debtors who are facing serious financial consequences should obtain an attorney who is willing to work pro bono or at a lower cost.

A recent lawsuit was filed against New York Attorney General Letitia James by Upsolve, a nonprofit organization which implemented the American Justice Movement, a program that is training non-lawyer individuals to provide free legal advice to residents of low-income neighborhoods who are defendants in debt collection lawsuits. In the lawsuit, Upsolve claimed the state’s ban on seeking free legal assistance on debt collection matters violated the First Amendment because its rules governing the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) forbids individuals who are not attorneys from providing legal advice and advising others on how to respond to a lawsuit, “even when the advice is free, straightforward, and simple.”

“There are many nonprofits that do wonderful work helping low-income individuals who are in dire financial straits, whether they are in debt or facing eviction,” Ms. Hobson-Williams says. “However, the law makes it clear that their volunteers cannot give out legal advice if they aren’t attorneys. I strongly suggest that anyone who is being aggressively pursued by debt collectors should reach out to the local Bar Association and find an attorney who can offer low-cost legal services or their legal services free of charge.”

Ms. Hobson-Williams has served as a Guardian ad Litem for more than 15 years, providing pro bono services to disabled and senior citizens in need of legal representation in Housing Court. She has represented hundreds of individuals facing eviction.


“I want to take this time to thank Tanya and Keith for their professionalism and their ability to keep me calm during this process. Tanya was very helpful in explaining the whole guardianship process and my next steps. Despite my numerous emails, I never felt ignored or that they were growing weary of me. Even after being granted guardianship when I had an issue with the bank releasing money Tanya stayed calm and found a way to get what I was entitled to. I hope I never need to do this again but if I do, I will definitely come back to Tanya and her team. Thank you Thank you Thank you. Love from Bermuda.”

-K. Durham.
(An attorney in Bermuda transferring a Bermudian guardianship to NY)

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