Nassau Suffolk Law Services is pleased to honor Harold M. Somer, an attorney who has been volunteering his time through the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) for many years to help needy Nassau County residents with bankruptcies. In December 1991, Mr. Somer was one of the first attorneys to receive the honor of Pro Bono Attorney of the Month, and though he has been previously recognized for his service, after twenty years of dedication the time has come to praise his efforts once again!
Mr. Somer has met hundreds of prospective pro bono clients over the years who attend the VLP’s free Bankruptcy Clinic held at the Domus, and co-sponsored by Nassau Suffolk Law Services and the Nassau County Bar Association. He serves alongside several other generous pro bono attorneys to interview clients, educate them about their options, and then vets the cases for eventual referral to the panel of pro bono bankruptcy attorneys, all the while conscientiously overseeing the workings of the Clinic. In addition, he accepts cases for pro bono representation in bankruptcy proceedings. Many participants see bankruptcy as the equivalent of committing financial, social or career suicide and they fear losing their homes, their cars and their livelihoods. The bankruptcy will eventually give them the opportunity to start over, relieved of collection calls and huge debts caused by illness, loss of jobs, declining business, and use of credit cards.
When asked why he enjoys working with the Volunteer Lawyers Project Mr. Somer explains, “The clients are grateful and most are nervous because they have been receiving threatening letters and phone calls due to credit card or medical debt, and do not have the money to pay back. I like the relief that clients get, that they have the opportunity to speak with an attorney who can immediately address their concerns.” His most gratifying VLP case involved a client with cerebral palsy who was confined to a wheelchair with limited ability to communicate. Due to his severe disabilities he was unable to do some of the things required by the bankruptcy code. Mr. Somer was able to get these requirements waived so that the client did not have to appear in court for the meeting of the creditors, take the credit counseling and financial management courses, or pay the petition filing fee. He says, “This client has a special place in my heart” and they continue to exchange e-mails.
Harold Somer graduated with the first class of Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in 1983 and began his legal career in a general practice firm for his first five years after graduation. Since 1988 he has practiced bankruptcy law and appeared in matters in all four Federal Districts. On July 1, 2002 he opened his own practice in Garden City and thereafter moved to Westbury where, in addition to Bankruptcy, he practices General, Commercial, Foreclosure, Foreclosure Defense, and Real Estate law.
Mr. Somer also volunteers as a member of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Volunteer Lawyers and the Nassau County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Foreclosure Project. He lectures on Bankruptcy and other legal topics for various professional groups. When asked how all this volunteer time impacts his practice he simply says, “So, I stay later. Anyone who does this will find their life enhanced and will learn.” He also explains, “Unfortunately there is a huge need for volunteer attorneys, especially with all of the budget cuts. Becoming involved with projects like the VLP’s Bankruptcy Clinic provides you with a new perspective. Practicing law is a privilege, not a right, and we all have an obligation to give back.” Over his twenty years of service Harold has logged almost 300 hours of pro bono service. Maria Dosso, Nassau Suffolk Law Services’ Director of Communications and Volunteer Services has observed Mr. Somer’s compassion for the many desperate clients he encounters. “His long term and steadfast commitment to the Bankruptcy Clinic explains how he has become the backbone of the pro bono bankruptcy effort in Nassau County.”
In addition to being a dedicated attorney, Mr. Somer is also devoted to his family. With his wife Stacey, they are busy raising a blended family of five boys.
For his many years of service to the financially distressed, low income residents of Nassau County, it is our privilege to once again honor Harold M. Somer as Pro Bono Attorney of the month.
Nancy Zukowski is a volunteer paralegal at Nassau Suffolk Law Services with a paralegal certificate from Suffolk Community College. Ms. Zukowski is also a freelance writer and has extensive professional experience in health insurance claims and health care advocacy and has also interned at Nassau Suffolk Law Services, Queens Housing Court, and at private law offices in Suffolk. She is also a member of the Self Advocacy Association of New York.
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