Use All Channels to Educate Bankruptcy Debtors

The skill set of a consumer bankruptcy lawyer must include a healthy dose of  the skills of a teacher.  The client has to master any number of legal issues and procedures to make informed decisions about the case.  An effective lawyer has a plan for how to convey all those things the debtors need to know.

As the parent of children with learning disabilities, I learned that each person has a preferred learning style:  some learn best by seeing; others learn best by hearing; others by feeling; and some by movement.

And the indisputable fact is that individuals contemplating bankruptcy are generally not functioning at their best.  The challenge for a bankruptcy lawyer  to teach the client enough about bankruptcy to make the necessary decisions is daunting.

So, how to do it?  Use each learning channeltell the client what they need to know, and,  give them written summaries of the material.  Different clients will pick up the information better in one fashion than another.

Put basic information on your web site.  Remind them of basic points when you meet.  Summarize important decision points in a letter.   Belt and suspenders, put the information in several forms and you increase the chances that your client absorbs the information.

Recall that there is a another learning channel:  some folks are tactile learners.  So I am often tempted slap them alongside the head, and pound the information in.  I try, however, to resist temptation….

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  • I intended to comment on this many months ago as it is a topic I feel strongly about but kept putting it off. This article makes some profound points in my view. As attorneys we all tend to focus greatly on informing clients by written materials when, in fact, a sizable number of our clients simply do not learn best by reading. Even the most educated and sophisticated client feels the stress of financial difficulties and may not carefully read or absorb all written materials. My wife taught elementary and educable mentally handicap children for many years. Frequently over the years she would remind me to not focus on written materials alone. Back in the 1990s I changed the way I handled initial office conferences and it has proved to be very successful in educating potential bankruptcy clients and serving as protection from the occasional problem client. After introducing myself to prospective clients and explaining how I handle appointments, I look through their debt list, tax returns, pay stubs, loan documents, etc. while showing them a 40+ minute videotape I prepared on filing bankruptcy in Kansas. This kills two birds with one stone in that I am able to, in most cases, digest the potential clients’ documents and the clients learn basic, important information about bankruptcy and potential issues, duties, opportunities and traps. Most prospective clients are eager for information at the initial office conference and their attention to the video is great – much like an “infomercial”. The video approach has been well received by clients, both highly educated and uneducated clients alike. At the end of the tape I ask them if they have any questions and then cover the notes I’ve made while looking through their documents and, at the same time, engage them about their situation. The average appointment lasts roughly 2 hours although some last much longer. While I’m big on letting clients “see and hear” information by use of video and talking with them I do not neglect written materials. I just strongly believe in educating clients by multiple methods (and repetition) to try and have the best chance of information sinking in. There are many different, successful methods of client intake. Nevertheless, many bankruptcy attorneys focus their procedures on written materials when more use of “see and hear” would result in a better educated, more satisfied client and, therefore, less problems for the attorney. Keep posting your excellent articles.