The Debt Doctor

Pittsburgh’s Matt Herron restores his clients to financial and emotional health

Published in 2010 Pennsylvania Rising Stars — June 2010

One morning 15 years ago, Patricia Thompson’s apartment went up in flames. As did her finances. It was Matt Herron who helped put out the fire.

Herron, managing attorney of The Debt Doctors, a downtown Pittsburgh firm that specializes in consumer bankruptcy, lives to provide lifelines to clients deep in debt. “The people I see every day are just like you and me,” he says. “All they need is an opportunity to turn their lives around.”

Thompson, single mother of two, didn’t have renter’s insurance at the time of the fire, which was caused by faulty wiring in the building, and proceeded to accumulate a mountain of credit card debt in the intervening years trying to get by. She was in desperate straits when she visited Herron in late 2007.

“It just got to be hell on earth,” she says of the stress of her financial burden. He helped her file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which put her financial house back in order. “I wasn’t ashamed anymore,” she says. “Matt gave me peace of mind.”

 

A Pittsburgh-area native, the 35-year-old Herron earned a B.A. in psychology from Washington & Jefferson College, with an emphasis in human resource management, which played to his strong people skills. He wasn’t exactly sure what to do next so he took a practice LSAT. He scored well and enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

By 2000, he’d graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and landed a job at the Pittsburgh firm Blumling & Gusky. Then a glitch: He failed the bar exam. The firm let him go. Like the people he helps now, he was in a difficult spot. To help get him through he reflected on the words of his grandfather, a professor of education at California University of Pennsylvania, who had recently died. “He’d had bad experiences [with attorneys],” Herron says. “He told me to become a good lawyer.”

Newly inspired, he passed the bar on his next attempt. And picked up a job with Legal Helpers in 2003, handling consumer bankruptcies. Two years later, he became general manager of The Debt Doctors, the sister firm of Campbell & Levine, known mostly for its corporate bankruptcy work. (The Debt Doctors got its name in the late 1990s when the Pittsburgh Penguins sought partner Douglas Campbell’s help in restructuring the bankrupt organization, and Ted Black, then the team’s general counsel, took to calling him the “debt doctor.”)

“Debt can become a poison in people’s lives,” Campbell says today. “They’re so much healthier once it’s removed, so I thought Debt Doctors was an appropriate name [for the firm].”

Indeed, debt plagued Thompson for more than a decade. She appreciated the attention she received from Herron and his staff. “Everyone there made me feel important,” she says.

The Pittsburgh office has filed 200 to 300 bankruptcies a year since it opened, whereas a similar firm might file twice as many. Herron has a quality-not-quantity philosophy. “It’s treating clients with respect and dignity,” he says. “I talk to them about their lives; I really care if they go on and do well.”

Herron’s empathy comes from experience—he knows what it’s like to need a fresh start. “Without the feeling that you can make the future better,” he says, “there’s not much of a life worth living.” 

He keeps in mind the words of his mentor, Campbell: “We don’t do funerals,” Herron says. “We do resurrections.”

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