Bankruptcy attorneys and their clients often seem to be a pair, divided by their common language. We talk past each other even when the professional carefully eschews legal jargon.
How do we misunderstand each other? Let me count the ways:
- Property: I don’t have any property, lost the house to foreclosure last year.
- Here are my debts: I’m current on everything else
- Value: well, no, I couldn’t sell it for that today
- Debts: not my debt, my (brother, child, parent) is the primary borrower
- Assets: you want bank accounts too?
- Legal rights: I didn’t include it because I haven’t filed the case
- Taxes: Nothing’s owed because I haven’t filed the return
- Ownership: not mine since I put title in my son’s name
- Full disclosure: sure I have clothes, they’re not worth anything
- Transfer that’s a bus token, isn’t it?
- Letter from court yes, it does have numbers down the left margin
- Inheritance: none: probate is still pending
- Real estate it really belongs to the bank
- Inheritance: yes, when my parent passes
- Couch I don’t have one, I have a sofa, though
If you’ve seen more than three clients, you’ve experienced the fact that, between the choice of our words and the client’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of the law, what appears to be the same question can produce wildly different answers.
For this reason, a skilled practitioner comes at these essential questions with different words, in different contexts, in writing and in interview, to wring the necessary information from the debtor.
Your turn. What words get mismatched answers from your clients?
Image courtesy of sifter.