In the fall of 2016, I decided to take time off from Harvard to keep building Upsolve. To mark the occasion, I wrote a list of the top ten reasons Jonathan and I were working on Upsolve.
Here is the list!
(1) Bankruptcy transforms lives. People go from worrying everyday about the debt they owe to having a second chance at life. Most of these people get debt from sudden financial shocks like medical illness, job loss, and divorce.
(2) 10x to 20x the number of people should be filing bankruptcy as those who file today. 527,000 people filed Ch. 7 last year, but 47 MM Americans live under the poverty line and the same number have outstanding debt that averages $132,086.
(3) Bankruptcy is good for the economy, especially for low-income communities in financial distress. When their wages aren’t garnished, people have a greater incentive to seek employment rather than rely on government benefits. Chapter 7 filers on average increase labor supply by 12.3%.
(4) Millions of Americans cannot file for bankruptcy today simply because they don't have the money. Lawyers are too expensive, legal aid clinics turn them down due to limited resources, and the process is virtually impossible to complete without expert help.
(5) We hope to serve as proof-of-concept for other areas of the law. If we can succeed with bankruptcy, we hope others will tackle areas like employment, housing, and family law.
(6) We see ourselves as policy advocates. From our meetings with staffers on Capitol Hill, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we believe that policy goes hand-in-hand with innovation. Right now, regulatory uncertainty and a lack of public technology funding curbs entrepreneurs.
(7) We want to bridge the gap between lawyers and technology entrepreneurs, getting both sides excited by the potential of consumer-facing products. Lawyers, by training, are often risk averse. In the words of someone we met in Washington, “Most startup people come in here and don’t know shit about the law.”
(8) Technological innovation has often neglected to help low-income populations. We can only think of a couple of technology nonprofits that are household names, namely Khan Academy and Wikipedia.
(9) We only know of two technology companies dedicated to helping low-income Americans solve their own legal problems. One is ProBono.net and one is JustFix.nyc, whose team sits next to us at Blue Ridge Labs in Brooklyn. The room for growth motivates us each day.
(10) We aim to lead a paradigm shift in the law from professional services to technology. When Americans have a legal problem, we want them to first ask the question, “what technology company can help me?” not “what lawyer can help me?”
Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) legal aid nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income Americans in financial distress get a fresh start through Chapter 7 bankruptcy at no cost. We do this by combining the power of technology with pro bono attorneys. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have mission-driven funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and private charities.