Now retired Judge Jaroslavsky popped this question on a room full of new bankruptcy lawyers: what’s the first rule for filling out a legal form?
An answer from the floor suggested “make sure you have the most recent version”, which I thought was pretty good. But the judge had something else in mind: know the purpose for which the form asks the question.
There, in a nutshell, is the First Rule for filling out bankruptcy forms. Know why the bankruptcy forms asks the question, and what flows from the answer.
Bankruptcy more than filling out forms
Examine the work product of newbie bankruptcy lawyers and it’s clear they know neither the rule, nor the reason behind the rule.
The Statement of Financial Affairs is nothing but questions: how much did the debtor make last year? paid any old bills? transferred anything recently? holding anything that’s not yours?
Each of those questions tells the bankruptcy trustee something: is the debtor’s financial picture in the schedules consistent with the recent past? are there avoidable transfers? anyone I can sue in this mess?
Judge J reiterates a point I’ve made since I started mentoring newcomers to this practice: bankruptcy is not just filling out forms.
The fact that our work product finds its way into official forms, and that there are software programs to complete those forms, encourages some to think that’s all there is to it. But witness a case botched by a petition preparer or by a pro per and you get a gut wrenching view of the falsity of the notion.
See if you can find the reason for each question in the schedules and the statute behind it.
Image courtesy of Mrs. Logic.