Written by Charleston Bankruptcy Lawyer, Russell A. DeMott
“Meeting Your Bankruptcy Lawyer.” True, maybe I’ll be your bankruptcy lawyer, but I really don’t like the title of this post. It could just as well be, “Meeting Your Financial Messes Lawyer,” or something along those lines.
Because I may not recommend bankruptcy to you. Sometimes when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Many bankruptcy lawyers see two options: (1) filing bankruptcy or (2) filing bankruptcy. You get the picture.
My goal is to find the right solution to your particular financial problems. It’s that simple.
How can I help you do this?
I’m glad you asked.
Prior to coming in for your first appointment, or “initial consultation” as we call it, you’ll be asked to complete a two-page form. Take some time to fill it out completely. It should not take more than fifteen or twenty minutes, but it helps me get an overview of your financial situation (payment amounts, debts, annual income, and whether you are current on your obligations).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with prospective clients where the form is virtually blank. I then have to ask all these questions (“Do you own a home,?” “What are the payments?,” “Is there more than one mortgage?,” “Are you current?,” and so on). This wastes our time together. Rather than spending our time figuring out your options, I spend time filling in the form you should have filled in prior to your initial consultation. Instead, we want to use our time coming up with a plan to address your financial problems.
But I have a spreadsheet
If you want to bring me additional materials, that’s fine. Spreadsheets can be helpful. However, I still need my form filled out. I need certain information and like it in a certain form so I can quickly get the “big picture.”
It needs to be reasonably accurate
I can’t stress this enough: If you change the facts, I will change my answer. My advice to you is heavily (very very very heavily) dependent on the facts of your case. For example, if you tell me that your annual household income is $62,000 a year for your family of four when it’s actually more like $69,000 a year, that messes up my calculations. In this instance, my answer may have gone from, “You will likely qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy” to “you may qualify but we’ll have to run the means test and won’t know for sure until we look at your income and expenses very carefully.” And I can’t tell you how many times this has happened. I want to accurately set your expectations, and to do that, I need accurate information.
I don’t need to know exactly how much you owe on your debts
The exact amount you owe changes daily. Don’t obsess over telling me that your credit card balances are $56,0865.08. That’s fine if you want to be that exact, but you can just tell me, “I owe around $55,000 in credit card debt. ” And it’s the same for mortgage balances.
You should, however, have a fairly accurate idea of what your property is worth. Putting, “don’t know” on the value of your house is not helpful to me. If you don’t know, check your tax appraisal. Tax appraisals are not always accurate, but it’s at least a starting point for me.
Don’t hide things from me
If you think there are some “bad facts” about your case you think I should know about, TELL ME! It won’t help your situation for me to pry it out of you later–and when we get to your next appointment, I will, so tell me when you first meet with me! Most of these situations can be fixed if I know about them. If I don’t find out until it’s too late, well, then it’s too late. I’m here to help you, and you need to be open and honest with me.
Don’t be nervous
I’m a regular guy. I mow my own lawn. I know how to run a vacuum cleaner. I clean my garage. I’m just like you. Some clients get nervous because they have never been in a lawyer’s office. Don’t be. You’ll be treated with dignity and respect. We won’t judge you! We like helping people with financial problems. It’s enormously satisfying hearing from my clients after their cases are closed. I love the thanks-you notes and the compliments. My staff does, too. Everything we do is to help you get through this difficult time, so don’t worry about being judged or embarrassed. There’s no need for that. Even if you’ve made some unwise decisions, we’re here to help you!