‘A Tremendous Ability to Do Good’
A Christmas epiphany led Doucet & Associates to help people avoid eviction
Published in 2016 Ohio Super Lawyers Magazine on December 17, 2015
Troy Doucet was opening gifts with his family on Christmas Day 2013 when he felt compelled to do more.
“I’ve always been focused on trying to do the right thing,” says the founder of Doucet & Associates, a small foreclosure defense and consumer protection firm in Dublin, Ohio. “I thought more about it during that day and said, ‘Maybe there’s something I can do that both gives back but also maximizes my personal abilities.’”
In February 2014, Doucet, now 36, a former mortgage business owner who was forced to file for bankruptcy and later switched careers to go to law school, created a dedicated pro bono position at his firm. The job focused primarily on eviction cases, and The Legal Aid Society of Columbus soon started sending referrals.
Jonathan Layman, 31, came on board in the pro bono attorney position last July. He has since helped 50 or more clients, not counting those he counsels by phone. “Otherwise, they’re left just talking to friends and family or looking at things they found on the Internet,” he says.
A few months ago, Layman represented a man suffering from mental illness who faced eviction after his landlord accused him of engaging in criminal activity. “His behavior was odd. He would do things like wander around in the parking lot [of the apartment complex] without his shirt on at night,” Layman says. “But he was a very, very nice person and he was not harming anyone. He was not trying to create a disturbance; all he wanted to do was to live there peacefully. And they wanted to evict him because basically he didn’t fit in.” The case went to trial and Layman won.
In another matter, a young couple with a newborn complained to their landlord about bedbugs. When the apartment owner refused to pay for extermination services, the family moved out, and the landlord sued for unpaid rent. Layman quickly filed a counterclaim, and opposing counsel ultimately dismissed the case. Without Layman’s help, the couple would have been responsible for $1,500 in back rent, an impossibility given their minimum wage jobs—circumstances they share with many of the firm’s pro bono clients, some of whom earn only $700 or $800 a month.
“It’s been extremely rewarding for me,” says Layman, who handled debt collection and eviction cases for creditors at a firm, during and after law school, before coming to Doucet & Associates. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with representing creditors … but I found that I just wasn’t really happy doing it. It’s tremendously better for me personally representing people that I can sympathize with and care about on a personal level.”
The firm’s free and reduced-fee services aren’t limited to the pro bono work Layman offers. In 2014, Doucet wrote off nearly $1 million in client debt so as not to compound often already-dire financial situations. “My perspective is I try to charge fair amounts to clients and try to pay my staff and myself fairly,” Doucet says. “It’s about what I can do, not about how much I’m giving up.”
This year, he plans to start offering free living wills and other end-of-life documents to clients. “We can all make a fair living, and we don’t need to squeeze every ounce of juice out of the orange,” Doucet says. “We have a tremendous ability to do good. There are few professions on the planet that allow or enable one person to effect so much change.”