Michele Perez Capilato takes it all in as AL DÍA’s 2022 Small Firm Top Lawyer
She brings a personable approach to bankruptcy law.
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Michele Perez Capilato is a Philadelphia native and solo practitioner that focuses on consumer bankruptcy, financial rehabilitation, and debt relief. Her firm serves the Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Berks, and Delaware counties.
Perez Capilato holds a Bachelor of Arts in humanities from Widener University and earned her Juris Doctor from Temple University Beasley School of Law. After law school she clerked for the Honorable Joseph C. Cassini, III and the Honorable Hector E. DeSoto.
When asked why she went into debt relief she admitted, “I kind of fell into it accidentally.”
In her second year of law school she took a class on bankruptcy to fulfill a writing credit. During this class she wrote a paper that she ended up using to apply for a job with a bankruptcy firm that she got right after her clerkship.
Perez Capilato admits that bankruptcy law isn’t the most exciting, but finds the work fulfilling.
“What I love about it is the people. So it’s everyday, hardworking people that really just fell on hard times. Layoffs, family tragedies, medical issues, divorce, there’s so many reasons people find themselves just loaded down with so much debt and stress,” she said. I just felt like I was helping. So I like that I was able to earn a living and also give people some relief.”
Perez Capilato also explained that many of the people that she helped came in scared, often due to harassment from debt collectors.
“Being able to just bring comfort and take that weight off of their shoulders is a good feeling,” she said.
Perez Capilato has been in practice for 22 years. She has helped clients save their homes from foreclosure and tax sales, as well as rebuild their lives financially. She started her solo practice because she was dissatisfied with how the firms she worked for in the past treated the people who came in for help. She wanted to provide a more personable service.
Capilato made the leap to her own practice after working for a solo practitioner and learning all the little details about how a practice is run.
On top of running her practice, Perez Capilato also serves on the Merit Selection Panel in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This panel offers guidance on selecting and reappointing judges to the federal court.
Perez Capilato has also worked at the Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project of Philadelphia (CBAP) since 2016. CBAP provides pro-bono representation to low-income local families who are in financial distress. She volunteered with the organization in law school before being brought on as a staff attorney. She explained that she was approached by the director to work at CBAP as a staff attorney since she is the only Spanish-speaking bankruptcy lawyer in the area and the organization had a three-year long backlog of Spanish-speaking clients in need of an attorney.
As a result, she finds diversity in the law profession to be “incredibly important.”
“People that are walking through my door, they want to see a reflection of themselves, they want to feel comfortable. When you don’t speak the language it’s like being deaf, it’s like being blind, you don’t know where you’re going to fall. And there’s always someone that may take advantage of you,” said Perez Capilato.
She said that many people come to her with the scars of being taken advantage of and to have someone explain the law in their own language “makes all the difference.”
In her acceptance speech, Perez Capilato thanked her family for their support and her parents especially for instilling a good work ethic in her as well as compassion for others. She also talked about how getting a bio ready for the award allowed her to reflect on her career and accomplishments, which was ultimately very cathartic. She reiterated that the most important part of her work is helping others.
“For me seeing the worry escape from their faces when I explain their rights to them and when I’m able to free them from this mountain of debt, just take that burden off of their shoulders.” she said. “It is so satisfying. It truly feeds my soul. Changing people’s lives for the better, it’s an award in and of itself.”