Pro Bono Volunteer Alleviates Debt-Related Stress for Low-Income Clients

The Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) recognizes Jessica McKinlay as Volunteer of the Month for her dedication to low-income consumers facing debt collection. McKinlay, of counsel with Dorsey & Whitney, who practices bankruptcy and corporate law, brings valuable legal expertise to JDC’s Consumer Debt Defense and Education Clinics (CDDEC). At CDDEC, she provides bankruptcy consultations, and serves as bankruptcy expert for other volunteer attorneys. The consultations are essential for clients who are low-income and struggling to make ends meet.


McKinlay recalls one client in particular whose abusive ex-husband incurred a large debt in her name and credit card companies insisted that she pay. While she tried to make the minimum payments, it consumed her small income and left no money for her basic needs. McKinlay discussed bankruptcy options with her and, as a result, another legal aid organization agreed to represent the client since the basis of her debt was divorce from an abusive spouse. McKinlay describes her client as “an incredibly intelligent, kind individual, and I am very glad she is getting the help that she needs to get a fresh start and to be able to move forward in her life.”

It’s disappointing for McKinlay when bankruptcy is not a viable option for clients to alleviate their debt. One common example is when clients have non-dischargeable debt such as student loans. McKinlay notes, “everyone I have met at the clinic has been incredibly gracious and willing to listen to my advice, even if what I tell them is not what they were hoping to hear.”

McKinlay says that CDDEC clients make volunteering worthwhile. “Clients are appreciative of the help we give them and the advice we provide. They take it to heart and really consider it.” She also enjoys meeting other volunteers, and especially appreciates JDC Consumer Project’s Supervising Attorney Marie Appel “for her tireless efforts to make the clinic happen and function so well.”

McKinlay, who is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, now lives in Palo Alto and enjoys hiking and biking its foothills. She also loves visiting San Francisco with her family, attending the theater and the ballet, and eating great food throughout the beautiful city.

For more information about volunteering with JDC, email or visit