How To Cope With The Slowdown In Bankruptcy Filings

When you’re really, really busy in the bankruptcy business, you long for some quiet.  Fewer deadlines and less stress sounds wonderful.

When the phone is quiet, however, you worry that you’ve seen your last client and your practice is doomed.

All My (Bankruptcy Practice) Life’s A Circle.

Harry Chapin famously noted that the years keep rolling by.  We had some lean times in the aftermath of BAPCPA, then times when people clamored for our attention.

Now we’re headed back into a downturn.  Some of you are already experiencing the silent phones, the diminishing court calendars, and perhaps even the lower Chapter 13 trustee checks to get you from month to month.

Alan Greenspan once said that, “History demonstrates that participants in financial markets are susceptible to waves of optimism. Excessive optimism shows the seeds of its own reversal in the form of imbalances that tend to grow over time.”  We’ve been cautioned against such excessive optimism but for many, we’ve been too busy working to pay attention to those words.

Rise To The Challenge.

Your challenge is to make good use of the down times to improve the quality of the clients drawn to your practice and to improve the efficiency of your delivery.

Here are some things to do when the phone is quiet:

Work on your web presence.  No other single thing can influence clients more than a cogent, well focused website that allows prospects to get to know you and the issues in bankruptcy from the anonymity of their computer.

The quality of the clients who find me on the web is superior in every way to those who find me in the phone book. Much of it comes down to creating intelligent web content; if you’re weaker in that area than you’d like, consider signing up for some writing tips.

Refine your tools and techniques for gathering client information. Look back on filed cases and identify the recurring omissions and misunderstandings about the information you sought.  Can you write a handout, change your oral presentation, or revise your questionnaire to let the client know what it is that is required?  The best nugget I brought home from the NACBA convention in the spring was John Orcutt’s offer of a discount to clients who brought all the requested information in on the first try.

Explore those complex corners of bankruptcy law. Tackle an issue you haven’t  had time to work through when you were busier:  what is the attitude in your circuit to exemption planning?  any legal repercussions for landlords who collect rent and don’t pay the  secured claims?  get your arms around consumer income tax dischargeability.  (your research here can lead to blog posts or client handouts on the issue as well).

Read the most recent published decisions from your bench. One of the most valuable things you provide a client is familiarity with the world view and predilections of the judge who will decide disputes in their bankruptcy case.  Make sure you’ve read everything your judges have chosen to publish on issues they’ve confronted.

In your spare time, recharge your personal batteries by reintroducing yourself to your significant other and getting some exercise. You’ll need your renewed resources when the calls begin anew.  And they will.

If you’re in the mood for a change of scenery while gaining some intense practice-building knowledge, consider attending the Bankruptcy Practice Workshop in Phoenix on November 11, 2011.

Even if you choose to remain on your home turf, remember that the skills you build during the slow times will only help you prosper and make it through to the more bountiful times ahead.

Image credit:  Samael Kreutz

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