Your relationship with your bankruptcy lawyer is just that, a relationship. Like any other relationship, there are things you can do to strain it.
Lawyers in all areas of law discuss problem clients. It happens at lunch, in bars, and at gatherings of all sorts. The horror stories. The “you can’t believe this” tale of woe recapped about the problem client.
The best stories invariably come from the family law attorneys who plow in fields filled of hatred, personality disorders, and general self-centered craziness. And of course the criminal defense bar has, by nature, an interesting clientele.
But I’ve seen some odd and frustrating things as a bankruptcy lawyer as well. And I thought I’d bare my soul and share the things that trouble me with some–thankfully only a few–bankruptcy clients.
1. You’re lazy. I don’t know how else to say it. You come to me with a mess. Debts and debts and more debts. We ask you for things like a few months bank statements, a couple of years tax returns, pay stubs, and so on. And it’s like asking for a kidney. Only, it’s not a kidney, only the kind of records that should be easy to assemble, even if you didn’t keep them. But you just can’t muster the energy to get those documents.
One client recently announced–after his financial circumstances had radically changed over the last few months–that he was paying me to obtain his pay stubs and was too busy to get them himself. (No, I’m not making this up.) This was a new one and an especially interesting statement given the fact that the client hadn’t actually paid me anything at that point.
To be clear: No, it’s not my responsibility to get your bank statements, tax returns, or other documents. It’s my responsibility to represent you after you provide those documents to me. I’m not going to look through your drawers or file cabinet, call your CPA for copies of tax returns, or contact your payroll department. It’s your responsibility. The relatively small amount you pay me to help you rid yourself of the huge amount of debt you’ve amassed just doesn’t cover me taking on the roll of your mother. Ask her to do it if you want to.
2. You’re non-responsive. There are times–lots of them–where we need answers to basic questions, a client’s input, or a document signed. Sometimes the answer is “14” or “in May, 2013” or the client must sign something we’ve worked on for an hour or two. Just sign it and respond to me. That’s all I need!
We email you. We call. We go to what I call “DEFCON 4 nag mode,” and I sic one of my paralegals on you. Every once in a while, we drive to your house and tape an envelope to your door. (Yes, we recently did this in a case.) Still, no response. Just so you know, this drives us nuts.
You have one case in the world going on. Pay attention to it. Respond!
3. You’re running your own program. I give each client a list containing numerous things not to do during the bankruptcy process. Don’t borrow more money. Don’t sell or transfer property. Don’t pay relatives back. Lots of don’ts.
But you do them anyway. Then you wonder why your case takes a turn for that cliff.
4. You don’t carefully review documents. We schedule two hours for your signing appointment. We tell you to make sure everything is accurate–all debts listed, all assets listed, accurate values, expenses stated correctly, among many other things. You then tell me it’s all correct after really not paying much attention to these important documents that are, by the way, filed in federal court under penalty of perjury. You then answer differently when the trustee asks you the same question I’ve asked either orally or in writing several times. Ugh.
In one case after having hours (and hours and hours) of time to review the income and expense schedules, a client forgot about a substantial amount of income–until the trustee asked about all monthly income. How is that? How can that happen?
If you file anything under penalty of perjury in any court make sure it’s accurate.
5. You lie to me or fail to tell me things you know you should disclose. This is a close cousin to #3 (“Running your own program”). Essentially, you start giving yourself legal advice. You figure if you don’t tell me it (whatever “it” is), it won’t be a problem. Well, it will be.
Most things clients perceive as problems can legally and ethically be “fixed” if you just tell your lawyer. To take an example, if you transferred property to dad to hide from your creditors, we can just have dad transfer it back, disclose the transfer, and claim an exemption in the property. In many cases, the allowable exemption far exceeds the equity. Problem solved.
Don’t lie to your lawyer, and don’t hide things from your lawyer!
The point in all this is that I’m not telling you this because I don’t like you or don’t want to help you. I’m telling you this because having a positive relationship with your bankruptcy lawyer will help you avoid problems and get the utmost benefit out of the bankruptcy process.
As someone once said, “help me help you!”