Bankruptcy Courtroom Etiquette

by Rachel Lynn Foley, Esq.

May 7, 2012

Common courtesy and respect are essential life skills.

It never ceases to amaze me as to how people act in bankruptcy court regardless if it is the attorney, debtors or creditors.  As with all things in life, common courtesy and respect are skills that will take you far.  But sometimes what I think should be second nature to people are things that others just don’t think about or simply don’t know because no one has ever shared this knowledge with them. So please allow me to share some bankruptcy courtroom etiquette with you.

“Please” and “thank you” are always good basic starters.  Think about how wonderful you feel when you go to hold the door for someone and they say “thank you”.  It kinda gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  The same thing is true if you are dealing with your attorney, the judge or the trustee.  All these people are human beings who liked to be treated with kindness and acknowledged that you are on their turf taking their time.  Even if the judge and trustee are not courteous to you, you should still exhibit basic manners and say please and thank you.  Why?  Because it is a sign of respect.  You are in the judge’s courtroom and he or she is the one in charge.  You are asking for their help to accomplish your goal in regaining financial control and one of the best ways to do this is to show respect.

I always instruct my clients that they should say yes sir and no sir along with please and thank you.  It is a matter of showing respect for the chain of command and the position that the trustee and judge holds.  For those of you who do not think this makes a difference I would humbly disagree.  A client of mine was at a 341 meeting.  This meeting lasted for what seemed like forever and a day.  It was so long that not only were all the debtors complaining but so were the attorneys and the comments could be heard by the trustee.  The trustee was doing her job and it was not her fault that the docket was over stacked.  So Murphy’s Law kicked in and anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

My debtor did exactly what I asked.  He removed his hat when he entered the courtroom.  He remained silent and patiently waited for his turn.  When it was his turn as the last person on the docket, he replied either yes ma’am or no ma’am.  Then he thanked her for her time, which he did on his own.  She thought for a couple of moments and replied:  “You know that you might have a little equity in the guns and I was going to think about taking them.  However, I have noticed that you have been very courteous throughout these entire proceedings and I think good behavior should be rewarded.  Therefore, I am choosing to abandon my interest in your guns.”  To which my debtor replied, “thank you ma’am.”

Was it a big victory?  It was to my debtor.  He was advised that he may have to give up his hunting guns but it is in the sole discretion of the trustee.  So he walked away from the 341 meeting happy as lark as he was able to keep his guns and be totally debt free.  The price of the guns?  I think it was maybe $900, maximum.  Who knows what they would have brought at an auction.  Common courtesy and respect saved the day and the guns.

The question that comes up is about the dress.  How do I dress for court?  Always ask your attorney as local standards may vary.  In Kansas and Missouri, the dress code is casual to business casual.  Jeans are fine unless they have holes in them.  So wear long pants and a clean shirt.  If your pants require a belt, wear one.  Sagging isn’t it illegal but it can be considered disrespectful not to mention you look funny walking like a penguin up to the podium.  Unless you are working for UPS, FedEx or the Post Office please do not appear in shorts.  If it is a uniform, that is fine but if it is not, it is disrespectful.  If you are wearing a hat and you are male, remove it unless you wear one for religious reasons. If you are in the medical profession and appear in scrubs it is okay because it is a uniform.  The judges and trustees are aware that many people are coming from work and/or do not own a suit.  However there is a fine between casual and being down right disrespectful.

No matter what courtroom you appear in always stand as the judge enters or leaves the courtroom unless instructed otherwise.  If you are not sure what to do,  watch the attorneys in the court.  If the attorneys stand up at the beginning and ending of the court session so should you.  My last tip is if you chew gum, don’t for the meeting.  There is nothing more nerve bending than someone who is cracking their gum while being questioned.  If you must chew gum spit it out right before you go up to the podium or table.  If you absolutely must chew it, tuck it away so you do not crack your gum. People do not think that the judge and trustee notice these behaviors but they do.

As it states in the Good Book under Matthew 7:12 do onto others as you would want done onto you.  Think about how much better the world would be if all us practiced common courtesy and respect.

These tips are not going guarantee that you will have a perfect case nor does it guarantee a perfect experience.  These tips are just one more tool in your arsenal to help you obtain you goal of regaining financial control.

Remember that knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have about the etiquette of the court the more power you will have to gain the respect of your judge and trustee.

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Former Bankruptcy Attorney to the Kansas City UAW: Ford and GM workers, now assisting the general public in Missouri and Kansas with regaining financial control using the Bankruptcy Code. 816-472-HELP (4357).

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Last modified: January 3, 2013