Why Realization Dawns Too Late

question-mark-96286_640This time, I have a question for you.

How do we get laymen to see a situation as one involving legal rights rather than just a “life event”?

That question was asked of the audience at a training on new legal rights created by the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights.  That bill includes protections for tenants in properties foreclosed.

The presenters admitted that the biggest challenge  in the new law was getting tenants to know that there was redress, or at least respite, in the law from immediate eviction .

Most unsophisticated tenants see their landlord’s foreclosure as just one of life’s unfortunate events, rather than an event that should send them to see a lawyer.

Too late

I saw it in my own practice yesterday when a well educated immigrant family came to see me, sent by friends to address an underwater junior mortgage.

This was after 3 years of paying $600/month in a debt management program to pay off most of their unsecured debt.  And weeks after withdrawing money from retirement savings to get current on their mortgage.  And still facing over $100,000 in student loan debt on deferment.

Damn, damn, damn!  Had they seen the situation as one suggesting bankruptcy sooner, we could have preserved the retirement savings, and considered whether money over time was better spent retiring the student loans rather than the credit cards.

So, I put the question to you:  how do we get the public to see events in their lives as legal triggers rather than unfortunate life events?

We can kick this around at the NACBA convention in San Diego at week’s end.  Hope to see you there.

Image courtesy of Pixabay and Geralt.

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  • JAMES H COSSITT PC (listserv)

    I won’t be there, but the answer to your question is: “you don’t get them to see these events as legal triggers”. Not unless you figure out a way to bypass the 5 stages of grief, the 1st of which is normally described as denial. Even after denial, you have anger and bargaining to deal with (do I need to see a lawyer for options, naw, I don’t need to do that). Unless and until the legal profession finds a way to get past all the emotional / behavorial baggage of the grief process, these folks don’t even perceive it as a legal event.

  • Misty Wilks

    Educate, Educate, Educate. I’ve asked this question for a couple of years now. It seems we have a lot to overcome. As always, we have to tackle some of the negative perceptions of lawyers. We also need to address the general mentality. One would generally see a doctor if s/he were facing physical death – but who sees a lawyer when facing financial death? I am still learning bankruptcy – been at it less than three years. I am continually surprised by the veterans who don’t seem to have a grasp of all the benefits/advantages of bankruptcy. I’ve seen/heard of attorneys that don’t reduce interest rates, void liens, etc – just file and move on. If we don’t know/understand all the benefits of bankruptcy – I know the public doesn’t. Seems like we need to educate the public at large. If the masses understood – I think they would bang down the doors to file. I consistently hear people say “I didn’t know I could do all that,” or “If I had known that – I would have filed sooner.” I just recently had an attorney tell me IRS debt couldn’t be discharged. What about seminars, ad/editorials, media blitzes, radio spots, PSAs? As a unit. Not for our own independent advertising (although it wouldn’t hurt), but as a way to educate the public?

  • J. kaufman

    Frankly, I feel it is the compound effect of (1) the social stigma of bankruptcy (2) an individual pride in being able to independently care for him/herself and family, (3) a fear of the unknown (not too many people actually know ANYTHING about bankruptcy).

    • Cathy Moran

      Good points. And it’s probably a matter of teaching about debtor/creditor matters, or personal finance so people stop before invading exempt assets and get some advice.

      • J. kaufman

        Yes….education is key (goes to my first and last points).

        Sometimes I wish there was a class in high school called “Real Life.”