How A Long Bankruptcy Questionnaire Can Save You Thousands Of Dollars In Time

29 Apr How A Long Bankruptcy Questionnaire Can Save You Thousands Of Dollars In Time

I meet with potential clients every day. In each case, I ask that the client fill out two questionnaires, a short, two-page form to be brought to our initial meeting, and a second, much longer one, to help me in drafting the Schedules for filing with the Court.

These questionnaires, even the short one, take a lot of time to fill out. Many of my clients do not like to do this. Sometimes, they bring in copies of bills, lists of monthly payments, spreadsheets, etc. instead. If they do this in addition to filling out the questionnaire, it may help me (although, as discussed below, it usually does not). But if they bring in this information instead of completing the questionnaire, I may not meet with them, or the preparation and filing of their case may be significantly delayed. Why would I act this way?The answer lies primarily in time.

In our initial consultation, I want to spend as much time as possible talking about the client’s case, the options that are available, fees, and how things are likely to proceed. I wrote the questionnaire to give me the information I need to evaluate the client’s circumstances and let me do this as quickly and efficiently as I can.

I know just what I need, and the questionnaire is designed to give me precisely that information in a layout and format I am very familiar with. If I have to spend time looking at the client’s list of what he or she thinks is important, it may not be what I think is important (for example, the monthly payments on credit cards are generally irrelevant to anything in the bankruptcy case, although they are very important to the client), and certainly is not in a format that I can quickly and accurately analyze. Reviewing my standard questionnaire lets me spend most of my time talking about what the client is really interested in: what I think will happen in their case.

When it comes to the more detailed questionnaire, the benefits of using my standard form are even greater. My staff uses the questionnaire to enter data into the computer for inclusion on the schedules that will be filed with the Court. They are used to seeing information laid out in a particular manner in a particular order in a particular place on a particular form. This allows them to enter the data quickly and correctly. If they are faced with a spreadsheet or stack of bills instead of the form they are used to seeing, it takes them much longer to find what they need, be sure that it has all of the information that the court requires (and which is requested in my questionnaire), and enter it in the appropriate place in the database. The result: delay. Instead of it taking three hours to draft your schedules, it may take seven or eight hours. And my staff will normally need to call to get the information you didn’t include, delaying things yet further.

As a result, I will generally instruct my staff not even to start a case where the questionnaire isn’t completed properly, and have been known to refund fees and not represent clients who won’t “do it my way.” I know that it may be more difficult for you to get the information I need in the format I ask. But this lets me hold down my costs, and thus my fees.

Image credit:Steel Wool/Flickr

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Brett Weiss, a senior partner at Chung & Press, LLC, represents people and businesses in all phases of bankruptcy. He has experience in complex individual Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, and in Chapter 11 small business restructuring and reorganization. Mr. Weiss lectures nationally on bankruptcy issues. He has testified before the Federal Bankruptcy Rules Committee, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and has twice testified before Congress on bankruptcy and credit issues. Brett Weiss is the co-author of Chapter 11 for Individual Debtors, and has written Not Dead Yet: Bankruptcy After BAPCPA, for the Maryland Bar Journal, as well as hundreds of blogs for the Bankruptcy Law Network. With his law partner, he recorded a 13-hour basic bankruptcy training series, and leads intensive three-day Chapter 11 training boot camps. Mr. Weiss has received international media attention in connection with his work. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on The View, has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC News with Peter Jennings, the Montel Williams Show, National Public Radio, AARP-TV, the BBC World Service, German state television, and numerous local radio and television programs, and been quoted in Money magazine, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, among others. Brett Weiss is the Maryland State Chair for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network, on the board of the Maryland State Bar Consumer Bankruptcy Council, and a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute, the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland, and the Civil Justice Network. He has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” every year since 2007 for Maryland and the District of Columbia, and in 2011 received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for his work on behalf of consumers across the country. Mr. Weiss is admitted to practice before Maryland and District of Columbia federal and state courts, the United States Courts of Appeals for the DC, Fourth and Eighth Circuits, The United States Tax Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been practicing law since 1983.
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