March 08, 2024

Attorney Spotlight: Allison Day on Her Thriving Pro Bono Clinic and What She Loves About Bankruptcy Law

6 min

A partner in Venable’s Miami office, Allison Day helps clients navigate challenges in all areas of bankruptcy, business reorganization, and creditors’ rights. She was also recently recognized as a Pro Bono Hero by the Florida Bar Association. In this Q&A, Allison relates how she first got into bankruptcy law, the benefit of women’s networking organizations, and how representing dying AIDS patients fueled a lifelong dedication to pro bono service.

Q. How did you get into bankruptcy law, and what drew you to that field?

A. Shortly after I got out of law school, my first husband and I started a retail boat business. When it fell into financial difficulties, the lawyer representing the buyer told us we should file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to maximize a sale of the business, so we found a lawyer who just happened to be a sole practitioner to represent the company. One day, the lawyer asked me if I knew of any secretaries or paralegals looking for work. I told him, “No, but how about a lawyer who can type her own pleadings?” That's how I worked my way into his office and learned everything about bankruptcy from the bottom up. I stayed for six years and ultimately took over his Chapter 13 practice for a period of time.

Q. What is it about bankruptcy law that you most enjoy?

A. Bankruptcies are different from typical court cases, where each party takes a position, and the issue has to be litigated. With bankruptcies, you go to court, and the parties get together and try to find a solution to the problem. I like the idea that with bankruptcies, you have a company in trouble, and many times a buyer wants to come in and essentially get it out of trouble. Then all of the parties get together to make that happen.

Q. Are there any bankruptcy cases you worked on that were particularly interesting or challenging?

A. So many! But there is one that stands out for quite personal reasons. Early in my career, I represented a Chapter 7 debtor who had borrowed money from the “Mafia” to start a nightclub in New York. He owed them about $400,000, and they weren’t willing to be patient about it. The lenders were dangerous people who were making threats and who even killed the debtor’s dog. The state court lawyer did as much as he could, but then the client was told he needed to file a Chapter 7, so I took the case. The creditors who were representing the other side wanted to vote out the existing trustee, so I went to speak to him. As the case was so messy, the trustee wasn’t too bothered about being replaced. He asked me about the debtor’s current nightclub, and I told him it has a decent restaurant and bar where we could get a drink if he got voted out. We’ve been together now for 30 years.

Q. You’ve been involved in a lot of networking organizations. Do you think networking groups are particularly important for women in the profession?

A. My mom was a lawyer who graduated in 1949, when she was the only woman in her entire law school. They gave her a really hard time. But she was determined to show what she was made of and graduated in two years as opposed to the more usual three. Of course, nobody wanted to hire a woman lawyer, so she started her own firm and worked until her late eighties. Her experience instilled in me the idea that women need to stick together.

Q. Is that what led to your involvement in the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC)?

A. Although there are a lot of female bankruptcy practitioners, it’s still a male-dominated field. So, when I discovered this organization called IWIRC—a network of women who wanted to help each other—I started going to their meetings. I recognized very quickly that it really worked as a referral service, and I thought, “Why not start a Florida chapter?” I was chair for the first four years, until finally someone else stepped up to the plate. Today, we have a South Florida chapter, an Orlando chapter, and a Jacksonville chapter, so the state is well represented. Last year, the IWIRC Florida Allison R. Day Founder’s Award was established, with me as the first recipient.

Q. You were recently recognized by the Florida Bar Association as a Pro Bono Hero. What drives your passion for pro bono service?

A. When I was working in my first private bankruptcy practice, the brother of our office manager was sick with AIDS, which back then was a terminal diagnosis. A lot of AIDS patients had sought assistance from our local Bar, but nobody wanted to help them because they were afraid of the disease. Having seen the need up close after working with our office manager, I volunteered to take all of the AIDS cases. The patients were using credit cards to get whatever medicine they could, and of course the credit card companies were chasing them. I met some of the coolest people ever, most of whom sadly passed away. But it felt good to know that I could make a difference in their lives. That’s the thread that holds through to today with my pro bono practice.

Q. What does your pro bono practice involve today?

A. For least 21 years I have been teaching a bankruptcy clinic at the University of Miami, and we take cases from Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach County, or referrals from the bankruptcy court. We work with law students, who take on the cases that are referred to us, and then we go to court with them. So, they get practical experience with how to really be a lawyer, but they also are helping people. We were very fortunate to receive an endowment of over $1,000,000 from a bankruptcy judge who is passionate about this work. So, the clinic really helps the law students as well as the pro bono clients they represent. 

Q. What is the greatest area of need for the clients you represent?

A. It's cyclical. For a while, the biggest problem was people getting foreclosed out of their homes. Now I see more clients struggling with medical bills and student loans. Most people who have large credit card bills aren't misusing them, they're just trying to survive. Often the assistance that’s available (if any) just isn’t enough, so there’s a lot of need.

Q. Your previous firm recently combined with Venable. What’s it like to be part of a much larger law firm?

A. I didn't think at this stage of my career that I was going to be part of a 900-person law firm. But it really does get you out of your shell. It’s been terrific to meet a new group of people in all areas of law. All sorts of issues arise in bankruptcy cases. Now, when I have a question or I have a case that needs some expertise outside my area, I have a stable of people I can turn to. It’s like I have a whole new group of cousins.

Learn more about Venable’s Bankruptcy and Creditors’ Rights Practice.