New Year’s Resolutions: What Challenges Me

I asked you last week to identify the challenges in your practice.  I heard cries for more clients, for mentors, for new skill sets.

Turning the focus around, I thought about what I wanted to do differently or better this year in my practice.  Here’s my list.

  1. Communicate the bankruptcy grounds rules to clients more effectively.
  2. Improve my work product retrieval system
  3. Pay better attention earlier to fee applications in complex Chapter 13’s.

None of this is new or particularly startling.  But it is the nuts and bolts of making the practice run better.

Client communication

When you shuffle the client’s fact pattern with the messy provisions of BAPCPA, it’s no wonder you get unpredictable results.  Some debtors learn by reading, some by listening and some don’t learn at all.

I’ve done this long enough to know I won’t be able to achieve a Vulcan mind meld with stressed out laymen, but I’m going to continue trying.

I plan to review and revise the various hand outs we give clients.  I’ve got four years of my posts from Bankruptcy Law Network that I plan on making into an ebook.  I’ve rewritten our piece about our fees,  what’s included, and the frequent insufficiency of the no look fee.


How often have I stood in the doorway of my partner’s office and asked, “what was the name of the case where we ……”  I’m not particularly good with names anyway, and put a couple of years between me and the event, and I can’t recall where to look for an example of a 522(f) lien avoidance or a motion to incur debt.

I resolve to at minimum save examples of motions and legal research in my research file under a subject matter heading, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when these issues come back around.

Better yet, I want to strip out the case specific stuff and create a template with prompts, so that a new lawyer or a paralegal could take the first pass at drafting.

Collect what I’ve earned

Whether it’s because few bankruptcy judges have practiced under BAPCPA, or practiced consumer bankruptcy law at all, the no look fees for Chapter 13’s are seldom equal to the value of the work necessary to prosecute the case.  And with hard times out there, we’re finding an increased number of our confirmed Chapter 13’s cratering.

So, like they say about Chicago voting, apply for fees early and often.  I hope to routinely look at fees at confirmation and see if our time justifies a fee application.

I want to make greater use of the no-notice, no hearing fee application (and pray for an increase in the $1000 cap on fees to be considered without a hearing).

We’re going to build an annual review of Chapter 13 cases into our calendar system, so we can monitor any changed circumstances in cases, and weigh our unapproved fees against the current posture of the case.


Wherefore, movant seeks…Oops, wrong prayer, wrong place.

I pray that I don’t have to scramble for topics to write about this year.  If you  have issues, questions, or observations on learning to practice consumer bankruptcy law, leave me a comment.

It’s time to put this thinking about the practice of law behind me, and move on to doing it.

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  1. Cathy, I thought that you might enjoy this opinion issued today in the 7th Circuit.  A large Bankruptcy firm is being called to task for failing to properly train younger, inexperienced attorneys.

    • Too bad the Court might have gotten the law wrong.   The National Guard and Reservists Debt Relief Act of 2008 only applies to National Guard and Reservists called up to active duty.  At least in the opinion it doesn’t say she was a reservist.  In fact it sounds like she was regular military, who are not exempt from means testing.   And even if she were a reservist, 707(b)(3) still applies.  If she had I vs. J disposable income when the 13 was filed, maybe she didn’t qualify for ch 7.   
      Non-consumer debt may have been an argument, but it sounds like that part is disputed.

      We don’t have all the facts of course, but I’m not a fan in general of the court second-guessing counsel on their advice to clients.  

      • You would be a fan if you knew these guys.  They actually advertise the fact that they are the largest bankruptcy firm in the nation.  The have relatively no training system in place to educate inexperienced lawyers, and they don’t do much to oversee the work they do.  They are exactly the type of firm that gives the impression that bankruptcy is “just filling out forms,” because that’s what they think it is.

        Don’t you think it might be the prudent thing to do to try to get the 7 to work first?  If the court ends up saying that the Means Test is applicable, then you convert to a Chapter 13.  Heck, the Trustee may even do this for you by his or her own motion.  Then, you’re not out the time and expense.

        Personally, I’m not a fan of other lawyers giving advice to clients that results in them losing out on thousands of dollars.  Our oath is to serve our clients.  Sometimes bad lawyers have to be called to task by the court, especially when it consistently occurs as is the case with this firm and its predecessor.  I’m glad incompetence isn’t swept under the rug and ignored by judges.

  2. Give me your young, your inexperienced….yearning to be bankruptcy lawyers