Stay on Your Bankruptcy Lawyer’s Good Side

02 Sep Stay on Your Bankruptcy Lawyer’s Good Side

You’ve finally hired a bankruptcy lawyer. You’ve done your research and found a lawyer with whom you think you can have a good working relationship. How do you preserve that good working relationship through the course of your bankruptcy case? I’m going to focus on things that are particularly relevant to bankruptcy cases, rather than lecture you about things you should have learned in kindergarten. Here are a few basic rules about how to maintain that relationship and stay on your bankruptcy lawyer’s good side.

The bankruptcy process is paper intensive, and the paperwork can be burdensome. If I become frustrated with a client, it is almost always about paperwork. Pay attention to what your attorney needs from you. If you have forms to fill out, fill them out completely. If the answer to the question is “none,” write that down. If it doesn’t apply to you, write that down, too. Don’t leave forms blank. And, as amusing as you may be to your friends, your bankruptcy paperwork is not the place to indulge in snarky remarks. A client recently added certain editorial comments to my form relating to the value of his assets. In the column marked “value,” I expected that he would write down a number that corresponds to his opinion of the value of the item in question. Instead, he had not recorded a single numerical value, but instead had noted “hand-me-down” or “not worth spit” or some other pithy comment beside the description of every single asset. While those responses may, in fact, be true, neither I nor the bankruptcy judge are amused. Treat the paperwork like the serious matter it is, and stay on your bankruptcy lawyer’s good side.

In addition to filling out paperwork, your bankruptcy lawyer will ask you to provide certain documents, like tax returns and pay stubs. Your attorney ask you to do this because the court or the trustee require it. They are your documents, and you need to invest the time in collecting them. When you have everything, take it to your lawyer all at once. Don’t take your lawyer a few things at a time. It wastes your time, it wastes the lawyer or paralegal’s time, and it multiplies the amount of work you are both going to have to do. For example, let’s say that a client brings me everything I have requested, except his pay stubs for the last three months. Three weeks later, he brings me the pay stubs, but after three weeks, the bank statements the client brought are now out of date, and a new collection agency has begun contacting the client. So the client promises to update that information, but when he gets back in a week or so, he’s gotten paid again, so now the pay stubs are out of date. And while we were going around in that particular circle, the credit counseling certificate expires. So, you see the futility of gathering and providing information to your attorney piecemeal. Get it all together, and take it to the attorney all at once. You may still have to update a couple of items, but it won’t be the endless paper chase of trying to do it a little at a time.

Read absolutely everything your lawyer sends you. If she thought it was important enough to write it down to send to you, it is important for you to read. It may be as simple as directions to the courthouse where your hearing will be held, or it may tell you how what you need to do to get the relief you wanted. It may even tell you what will happen if you don’t do the things you are supposed to do.

Filing bankruptcy can be a stressful process, and your attorney understands that, and wants to make it as simple and painless for you as possible. If you help her do that, and stay on her good side, you’ll both be happier as a result.

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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.
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