There was a time when Patrick Cicero, a member of Harrisburg (Pa.) BIC Church, would not have given a profession in law any serious thought. But one semester abroad while a student at Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.) changed that.
“[My time in Ecuador] was the turning point in how I viewed the world,” Patrick relates. “I began seeing clearly how political and corporate structures can be just as evil as individuals. In fact, I saw that it is often structural evil that oppresses the poor more forcefully than the individual.”
Returning to the United States, Patrick found the same broken and oppressive systems of inequality taking advantage of the poor in his own country. “By hook or by crook, the poor are dragged into the legal system. They need advocates who know that system and can fight for them. I began to see that as a lawyer, I could make a great impact in the lives of the poor,” he says.
After obtaining a law degree from Temple University (Philadelphia) and clerking for a federal judge, Patrick began his work at MidPenn Legal Services, a non-profit law firm serving low-income persons and victims of domestic violence in central Pennsylvania. Today, he serves as a staff attorney and the head of MidPenn’s Consumer Unit. In this position, Patrick’s cases range from providing advice to folks dealing with debt collectors to navigating complicated predatory-lending foreclosures.
Typical of his cases is the story of one client who came into his office facing foreclosure on a mortgage financed by a subprime lender. Patrick reports that her mortgage was “laden with excessive fees” unjustified by her credit, including almost $2,000 in kickbacks to the mortgage broker. These payments, he asserted in his defense case, violated federal and consumer protection laws.
After a protracted negotiation process, Patrick was successful in helping his client reach a new settlement with the lender, one that cancelled the junk fees and expenses and reduced the interest rate by almost three percentage points, saving her thousands more in interest over the life of the loan. “Most importantly,” Patrick emphasizes, “my client and her kids were able to stay in their home.”
Patrick recognizes that there are many ways within the legal profession to help the disadvantaged, but he appreciates the “hands on” aspect of his work as a legal-aid attorney. He enjoys working directly with people—people who, he says, remind him of those with whom Jesus associated.
“My clients are not perfect,” he shares, acknowledging that some of them have made mistakes that contribute to their situations. Yet he’s quick to point out that they’re often “victims of injustice” and “outcasts of society” When it comes to his vocation, Patrick wonders, “What could I do better than this?”