Automate Yourself Straight To Bankruptcy Malpractice

The debtor’s attorney had him input the schedules through a subscription “bankruptcy interview”  website, printed them out in his office and had the debtor sign them, apparently without change.  The client got all the downside of self representation but with the cost of a bankruptcy lawyer.  The trustee got apoplexy.  I got a consult with the now-imperiled non filing spouse.

The trustee and I shared the reaction shown above.

The debtor didn’t list the corporate family business as an asset,  showed no household income for the past three years, and made no mention of the non filing wife’s  corporate business.  Now, I see a fair number of my questionnaires come back from clients with the same sort of omissions and misunderstandings.  But the schedules don’t get filed that way.

One of the double checks in my office, where my partner and paralegals take the laboring oar in petition preparation, consists of a review of the draft filing against my notes of the initial consultation with the client and my memo to staff that follows that initial meeting.  Despite all of our verbal explanation and written instructions, we get questionnaires back that omit gobs of the stuff I identified as issues in the first place.  So, draft in hand,  we set out to expand, correct, and complete the client’s input.

I’m sure that shifting the typing to the client is cost effective, in the short run.  But as we’ve said here, again and again, bankruptcy representation involves more than filing out forms.  It’s a two level skill set:  the first is knowing what goes in each slot in the schedules.  The second is knowing what the implications of that information is when filtered through the bankruptcy code.


 

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  • LegalSecy

    Great article. I’d like to disagree with one thing: that shifting the typing may be cost effective in the short run. I type >85 wpm and in all honesty I could get most clients’ bankruptcy paperwork cranked out in well under an hour once all the documents and info had been amassed & vetted. (There were exceptions – I recall one client with unbelievably poor handwriting who had over 250 creditors to list on his “simple” Ch 7.)

    I bet if you asked 1000 clients whether they’d like the opportunity to lower your fee by $15 bucks if they’d like to prepare their own (error-free) petition, schedules, Statement of Financial Affairs and creditor matrix … once you and your staff had reviewed all the info and given it the go-ahead … you probably wouldn’t get but 1 or 2 who’d even want to think about taking you up on that.

    • Anonymous

      The question for me is how do we get all the information to review and vet before the client inputs it. I cannot image a client inputting the means test correctly.

  • Jeff Hoffman

    Our clients who have email (the vast majority) fill out most of their info online (not the means test), which then gets imported to their petition. We still review everything and reconcile info with statements we have them supply. What difference does it make whether debtors fill out info online or on paper? They’re just filling out the info electronically instead of with a pen.

    • Anonymous

      Do they do the SOFA questions? Most of my clients don’t understand what
      those questions are asking.

      Do you verify that the clients have put in the correspondence address not
      the paymenet address?

      Do they choose whether the property is community or H or W?

      Do they link the mortgages to the properties? Are they prompted for
      property taxes? Tax liens? Judgment liens?

      How do they figure what the payoff balance on the car loan is?

      You are right that if they identified the correct information, it doesn’t
      matter who types it in. In my experience, that’s a big IF.