Bankruptcy Advice Lost In Translation

How do you misunderstand me…let me count the ways.

A year into a confirmed Chapter 13 plan, I learned about my client’s hitherto unscheduled car loan when the creditor called up about missed payments. Huh? There was no car loan in the schedules.

This was a loan in the debtor’s name, secured by a car titled to his significant other and paid, or in this case, not paid, by the girlfriend.

When challenged by my staff asking what’s this all about, the client replied, “But Cathy said it would be OK“.

Probably so, as I think about it.  But “OK” to do what?

The question was “will they take the car“, to which I undoubtedly said “no, so long as you pay for it.”

What the client heard, apparently, was that it was OK not to list the debt, despite my written and oral admonitions to the contrary throughout the relationship.  Do I feel like we are parsing the meaning of “is”?

Which brings me to the point about the need for clarity in our communications with clients.

Sometimes, the misunderstanding is willful, more often it is innocent, but as consumer lawyers, we need to remember that what we say to clients gets filtered through their fears, goals, and misconceptions.  What sticks in their brains is not necessarily what went in their ears.

What I learned from this debacle was to be clear and repetitive about my answers to those questions the client is clearly concerned about.  My reassurances need to be specific, not general, when the issue is about what goes in the schedules.  And I need to be alert to the ways a client can miss my point.

After all, they can misunderstand you to the depth, breadth, and height of our field of law.

Image courtesy of Eugene.

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