Why Do-It-Yourself Bankruptcy Filing Is Like Buying Pills Without A Doctor

08 Nov Why Do-It-Yourself Bankruptcy Filing Is Like Buying Pills Without A Doctor

We are a country of do-it-yourselfers. I fix my own car, build my own furniture, and even write my own articles. A couple of things I won’t do is prescribe my own medicine or do my own legal work.

I am willing to take a chance on a lot of things. If I mess up a minor car repair I can do it over again. If the bookcase I’m building doesn’t turn out well, I can build another one. When it comes to writing articles, they have all been rewritten more times than you can imagine. It is easy to tell when things have not been done right. The car won’t start, the book case falls over, and the article doesn’t make sense.

Medicine and law are different.

I have been tempted to prescribe my own medication. Order a few pills off the internet to help sleep during a stressful week and skip the visit to the doctor. Get a few others to help fit into last year’s pants. The FDA has a great warning about this. Sure, we can learn all about the drug by reading on the internet. We can read all about how the pills are supposed to work. What if they don’t?

There are no do overs when we are consuming medicine. Over the weekend I read John Grisham’s latest book, The Litigators. It is a story about lawyers suing drug companies. A little internet research shows that a lot of drug companies have pulled a lot of drug off the market because they were dangerous. Sometimes they are not pulled off the market until after the FDA orders them to be removed.

I trust my doctor a lot more than I trust the drug companies. It turns out they put out most of the information that is available online. We might think we are reading a well-researched article about a medication, but often the study was paid for by the company manufacturing the drug.

Don’t be Your Own Worst Enemy

Early in my career I handled a lot of criminal defense cases. The most common reason a defendant gets convicted is their own statements. Most criminals think they are smarter than the police officers doing the interrogation. They are not. At the public defender’s office I once worked at we had a saying on the back of the business cards: “If you don’t talk, you might walk.”

You probably think you are smarter than the typical criminal. I doubt it. When it comes to “street smarts” the typical criminal is way ahead of the game. We are at a big disadvantage for one reason. Most of us are honest. We don’t stand a chance against a trained interrogator like a bankruptcy trustee.

It’s What You Don’t Know That Will Hurt You

I have only needed a lawyer a few times in my life. I know a lot about bankruptcy, estate planning, and trial work. I know very little about most other areas of law. Although I am sure I can figure out other legal problems, I would rather hire someone that already knows how. There are too many traps and secrets in the legal system for anyone to do a good job without a lot of training and experience.

The Bankruptcy Court has reported a significant increase in the number of people representing themselves in bankruptcy filings. I see some of these people at the bankruptcy hearings. The bankruptcy trustees seem to like the do-it-yourselfers. At the hearings the trustee will list off the items that need to be turned over to the trustee. Trustees are paid on a commission. That is why they like cases that have not been well planned.

Good Bankruptcy Planning Pays for Itself

Most of my cases need some planning. If I filed a typical case the day I met with my client they would lose far more than the cost of my services. Some of the people I meet with don’t need to file, some would lose too much, many need to have some planning completed before the case is filed. If these clients filed on their own they would have made mistakes that cannot be repaired, plus they would have to deal with the Court system and the bankruptcy trustee without a clue about what was about to hit them. Life is already too stressful.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Once the case is filed it is too late for good legal advice to fix many problems. Most of the legal work needs to be completed before the case is filed. Each week I get calls from people who would like me to take over their case. They ran into problems they did not know about. I don’t take these cases. It is a firm policy. We don’t need the money bad enough to handle train wrecks. What they need is an emergency room and I don’t work that way.

No Do-Overs in Bankruptcy Court

Just like the prescription for a medicine, the bankruptcy filing is part of the treatment plan. Unless you take the right drug, at the right time, in the right amount you risk a serious problem. With bankruptcy you only file in the right way, at the right time, with the right planning or you will risk a serious problem. There are no do-overs in the bankruptcy court.

Image credit: Roman Jr.

Joe Volin is a bankruptcy lawyer in Phoenix who has extensive experience helping people end their bill problems with Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

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Jay S. Fleischman is a bankruptcy lawyer with offices in Los Angeles and New York. He can often be found on Google+ and Twitter, where he shares information about consumer protection issues and personal finance.
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