back to Screen-Friendly page

Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Local Attorney Assists Low-Income Individuals in Getting Out of Debt

By Allison Anderman, Equal Justice Works Americorps Legal Fellow


BASF’s Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP) has helped hundreds of low-income individuals in the Bay Area deal with debilitating consumer debt and debt collection lawsuits thanks in large part to the efforts of San Francisco attorney Marie Appel.

Appel has provided pro bono consumer advice to low-income clients at VLSP’s Legal Advice and Referral Clinic (LARC) since 2001. Additionally, she was the first and only VLSP volunteer to staff a monthly clinic focused solely on debt collection lawsuits in early 2008. After a full day of work in her solo practice which focuses on consumer class actions, financial elder abuse and other unfair practices, Appel would spend one night a month counseling clients who had been sued by debt collectors. She often stepped in to represent the clients pro bono. Building on her work, in March 2009, VLSP significantly expanded the monthly clinic to utilize additional volunteer attorneys and law students to provide debt collection and bankruptcy advice to consumers twice a month. Appel continues to volunteer as a supervising attorney at VLSP’s expanded Consumer Debt Defense and Education Clinic.

Appel finds volunteering with VLSP very rewarding because it gives her a chance to help clients who are struggling to stay afloat in a lagging economy. Of her work she says, “It is sad to see how many clients seeking VLSP’s services used to have regular jobs. Now many are unemployed and are facing debt collect lawsuits. Clients are typically very grateful for the assistance even if it is simply to help them understand their rights so they can make informed choices.”
In her private practice, Appel recently settled a case for a nationwide class of military veterans whose tax refunds and benefits the government improperly withheld to recover debts to the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

Born in San Francisco, Appel loves the cultural diversity of the city and, of course, the food, but could do with less fog. When not working, she seeks out new running trails and spends time with her dog.

Find out how to become a volunteer with VLSP.

Our partners at BASFAhern Insurance Brokerage