For more than a year now, East Bay Community Law Center attorney Elisa Della-Piana has been watching the number of clients in financial straits march upward. What she wants to know is, where are the volunteer lawyers?

As one of two part-time lawyers at the center handling debt collection work, Della-Piana has been trying hard to match clients with volunteers. She says up to half of the 40 or so clients who come to the center’s neighborhood justice clinic every week are being sued for unpaid debt. The majority of cases are brought by debt collectors — not the original lenders — who she says can’t prove they have the right to sue. Almost universally, though, big-firm pro bono partners tell her that conflicts prevent lawyers at their firms from getting involved.

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