No, Your Bankruptcy Lawyer Is Not Trying to Torture You

by Dana Wilkinson, Attorney at Law

May 2, 2013

Drowning in paperwork?For people who are engaged in a profession that is based upon communication, lawyers can be very bad at communicating.  Bankruptcy lawyers, including me, don’t always communicate effectively with clients.  Like any other specialized profession, we tend to think and talk in jargon, and we forget that other people, including clients, aren’t always up to speed.  Bankruptcy lawyers spend a lot of time working with and thinking about the Bankruptcy Code, which is the series of federal laws that govern what happens in any bankruptcy case.  We even speak in “Code,” referring to things by their section numbers, like “341 meetings” or “362 motions.”  And we tend to assume a level of knowledge about bankruptcy that others, including our clients, may not have.

For example, when I have a new client that wants to file bankruptcy, I give her a packet of information about what she needs to do (like credit counseling, dealing with bank accounts), paperwork to fill out, and a list of documents to bring in (like paycheck stubs, bank statements and tax returns).  All of that information has a role in preparing a bankruptcy filing.  You have to complete your credit counseling before a case can be filed.  You must file a list of property, debts, and a budget with the court, and you must provide certain documents, like paystubs and tax returns, to the trustee and the court.  And as time goes by, you are shooting at a moving target–credit counseling certificates expire, paycheck records have to be updated, you get a new bank statement every month.  So its important that you know what you need to provide, and when you need to provide it.

A few years ago I had a particularly difficult case in which filing was delayed several times.  If we had paycheck stubs up to date, we didn’t have bank statements; by the time the client brought in the bank statements, we needed more pay stubs.  I finally sat down with the client to explain that we needed everything up to the current date at one time.  She said, “you never said that you needed it all at once,” and I realized she was right.  Although it was implied, nothing in my paperwork said that I needed everything all at once.  I had failed to clearly communicate what I needed her to do.  Needless to say, I remedied that particular deficiency, but I’m sure there is still room for improvement.

When you start answering all the questions and putting together copies of all the documents your bankruptcy attorney is going to ask you for, you could be forgiven for thinking that your attorney is just pulling your leg, or torturing you.  But there really is a reason for everything we ask for.  Some of it is needed because your attorney will have to provide the documentation to the trustee in your case, or to the court.  And some of it is to protect you, to make sure that there isn’t some potential problem lurking that will change the expected outcome of your case.  We may not be great at explaining why we need all the information we ask for.  And frankly, you may not want a detailed answer–my clients’ eyes tend to glaze over when I start talking about such things.  But there is a reason, and we do NEED it all.  And we need it all at one time.

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Däna (pronounced "Donna") Wilkinson, has been a bankruptcy lawyer in South Carolina for 20 years. She is certified as a bankruptcy specialist by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Last modified: May 2, 2013