Setting the Financial Prisoner Free

Dolan Family

The Dolan Family

Darrell Dolan never really wanted to be an attorney. He wanted to be self-employed and to have the freedom to work his own schedule, giving him time to spend with family and to volunteer. It didn’t matter to him if that meant running a pizza shop or working as a dentist. Ultimately, he found the freedom he sought in law. And so, Darrell began practicing 23 years ago after graduating from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

For nearly as many years, Darrell has also worked as a volunteer attorney for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, taking on bankruptcy and non-litigious family law cases. In addition to assisting the Legal Clinic, he also volunteers for the bankruptcy court and Marion County’s family law pro bono project; he even serves as his church’s football coach. Volunteering is simply a way of life for him. He says, “It reminds me on a regular basis that there are more important things than just making money and it kind of keeps your day fresh so you’re not just doing the same thing.”

Although Darrell perhaps did not imagine himself practicing bankruptcy law as a boy, he enjoys his work very much. “A lot of people can make whatever they learn what they like,” he says. And after two decades in the field, offering his expertise to those in need is second nature. He explains, “Most of the cases are not that complicated … If you stick to things that you’re good at, you can knock them out really easy and it doesn’t overly consume you and you really feel good about yourself. You’ve used what you have a lot of skill at to help someone at no charge. And it was no skin off your back in most cases.” He encourages other people to do the same—to find those areas in which they excel and then volunteer their time.

Personally, Darrell finds fulfillment in bankruptcy law because he knows the need is so great. He says, “Freedom from debt is very, very important. The burden of living with debt and the harassment, the garnishments, the creditor calls, and not being able to pay your bills have a significant effect on a person’s mental and physical well-being. And a debt-laden marriage can oftentimes end in divorce because financial pressure is a significant reason for dissolution. So I think that when you file bankruptcy sometimes it really releases you and gives you some financial freedom and a fresh start from your mistakes.” By consistently taking on these cases, Darrell is able to act as a conduit, connecting his clients to this kind of freedom.

The historical context of the bankruptcy code is especially poignant to him. Darrell says, “[It] goes back to when the English settlers came to America. One of the big reasons they were coming was to escape debtors’ prisons. So back in England and France you could be put in jail and you would sit in jail until your relatives paid your debts. And a lot of those people—to escape it—came to America. One of the foundations of our country was never to have a debtors’ prison. Because you owe someone money is not a reason you will sit in jail in the United States.”

In Darrell’s eyes, his clients are just people who need a little mercy, which he does his best to grant. He says, “All of the referrals are very thankful and they don’t have million-dollar cases. They just need a little bit of help.”

For more information about volunteering for the Clinic, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Jocelyn Oppenhuis at joppenhuis@nclegalclinic.org.

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