Getting legal advice on the internet can be difficult–and dangerous. The internet is a good source of information, but it can also be a place to pick up bad advice.
Knowing enough to be dangerous
Sometimes knowing nothing is a lot safer than knowing a little.
Recently, I saw a question on the legal site Avvo.com. The question was basic–very basic. The questioner asked if he was required to list a debt barred by the statute of limitations in his Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. (The statute of limitations is the time, after default, the creditor is allowed to bring suit against the debtor. In South Carolina, that time period is, in most instances, three years.)
The exact question was as follows:
My understanding is the statute of limitations on a debt in PA is 4 years. Do all debts, including those past the statute of limitations have to be included in a chap 13 filing? If not, and it is in the filing does that reaffirm the debt and make me liable for it again?
And the answer is yes. As I tell my clients, we must list “all debts in the Milky Way Galaxy, real or imagined.” In other words, even if a debt is disputed, you must list it. If you don’t list it in Chapter 13, it’s not discharged no matter how meritless it is. (You can, of course, contest it in state court after your bankruptcy case is over, but that’s very costly.)
The funny part was the response this person received, which included these:
Everyone will give you the same answer because the answer is you have to list all debts just like your attorney advised. Let him explain to you how that debt will be treated in the chapter 13 case instead of questioning him.
I see you like to gamble. So please come visit us in Vegas because we love to take your money! The gamble you are proposing has bad odds – if you are right, you gain nothing, and if you lose, you will pay a lot for following your gut instinct. Lose lose lose! Hope this perspective helps.
And, best of all, these responses from his own lawyer who happened to see the post:
You are currently my client and I already explained this to you. ALL DEBTS MUST BE INCLUDED. I thoroughly explained that all debts means all debts. Also, I explained in detail the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense to a debt after you have been sued and not something for you to arbitrarily determine that a debts is no longer valid. You hired me as counsel and I am directing you to stop seeking advice about your currently active case on open Internet forums! Stop playing internet lawyer and just listen to me, the guy you hired to represent you……or get another lawyer.
His lawyer responded again making this point, “Why anyone would randomly rely upon legal advice in a vacuum from complete strangers over that of an experienced attorney they physically sought out and hired to represent them is beyond me.” Indeed, why?
After practicing bankruptcy law for over 20 years, I know some clients don’t really want the answer, they want a particular answer that aligns with whatever program they happen to be running. (See “Five Things that Will Drive Your Bankruptcy Lawyer Nuts.” Number 3 is “Running Your Own Program.”)
To get the most out of your bankruptcy (or to just get out period) do what your lawyer tells you to do. If you really doubt your bankruptcy lawyer’s advice, then tell her that, and tell her you’d like a second opinion. Any good lawyer has no problem with this. Be upfront and honest. And don’t seek advice on internet forums, especially from lawyers not licensed to practice in your bankruptcy court.