Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Bankruptcy Lawyer Speaks

Every once in a while I like to post articles which show other people's perspectives. This one is from a Charleston bankruptcy lawyer and I think it's a good read but you need to read the whole thing in order to get the true tone.

It sounds harsh at first but it's really not. The bankruptcy lawyer illustrates the work that you need to put into your own bankruptcy to have a successful outcome and I think it's important for people to realize that they will need to be involved in the process to ensure that success. The original article can be found here.

Want to File Bankruptcy? Then NO WHINING!
Written by Charleston Bankruptcy Lawyer, Russell A. DeMott

Filing bankruptcy requires some work. Sure, you expect the bankruptcy lawyer to work, but there’s also some work that the client must do.

The straight scoop

If you take time to get to know me, you’ll discover that I’m, well, blunt. As subtle as a Toby Keith song, I like to say. I speak plainly, and I say what I mean. I can take a very complicated concept and break it down so that a six-year-old can understand it.

Most people appreciate that. We live in a world full of spin–a polite way of putting it. And since I keep my blog G-rated, I won’t give it any other names. But I view the attorney-client relationship as important. And in any important relationship, there must be communication and honesty. So here goes.

My Clients: “Bless their hearts”

One of the things I love about the South is that before you say something negative about someone, if you preface it with “bless her heart” or “bless his heart,” then it’s okay to just tell it like it is. (“Bless her heart, but she’s just nothing but a tramp.”) I don’t know who thought of this, but it was brilliant.

Well, bless their hearts, but some of my clients are just whiners. Don’t get upset with me now; I said “bless their hearts!”

I love the vast majority of my bankruptcy clients. I feel bad for them. I genuinely like them. I want to help them. Sometimes, I have to fight back the tears when they tell me what they’ve been going through. I feel their pain. I’ve had financial problems and known the stress. (I wrote about it in the post, “Bankruptcy Fears: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself.”)

But when it comes to getting me what I need to file their cases, you’d think I’m asking some of them for a kidney.

We’ve been over this before

Filing bankruptcy under our new and messed up Bankruptcy Code is maddening at times. The Code requires a lot of work on things it really shouldn’t and which don’t lead to useful information–like the means test form, which I refer to as “the colon of the Bankruptcy Code” because of what it produces. Lots and lots of work and number crunching is involved in that *&*# form, and it just doesn’t yield any useful information. I’m with you on this; it’s frustrating.

To be successful with your bankruptcy, we must get a bit obsessed with documents and information about your finances. I explained all this in “Bankruptcy Documents: It’s a Moving Target” and “Bankruptcy Documents–”Turn the Page.” I also go through the process in great detail in my bankruptcy guide.

But it’s really not that bad

But it’s not that bad. Sure, I’ll need two years tax returns, six month’s pay stubs (plus any received right up until you file bankruptcy), and six months bank statements, just to name a few things.

Think of it this way, though. Say I charge $2,000 as an attorney fee to file a particular bankruptcy. You say, “that’s a good fee.” But wait a second. What if my hypothetical bankruptcy client has $75,000 of debt he’ll be discharging and it takes him 15 hours of work to get through the process (meetings with me, getting documents, filling out forms, going to court, emailing me, making phone calls )? THAT’S $5000 PER HOUR tax free! Not too shabby. That’s way more than I make per hour, more than any bankruptcy judge earns per hour, and more than your trustee or the U.S. Trustee earns per hour. And many clients have significantly more than $75,000 in debt–some $500,000 and some over $1,000,000. You do the math.

It’s all in your perspective

The key is the big picture. Sure, the Code’s a mess. Some of the requirements are odd and illogical, but keep the benefits in mind. $5000 per hour (or $10,000 or $50,000?) isn’t bad–especially when it’s tax free!

So understand that yes, I’m sympathetic. I know you feel ashamed, scared, humiliated. But keep in mind that bankruptcy is a “gift from the federal government” as one of my friends calls it. Don’t take out your frustrations on me or my staff–especially not my staff. Congress didn’t ask me about how to draft the Bankruptcy Code. (They didn’t even ask the bankruptcy judges!) I’m just playing the cards we’ve been dealt.

Always remember this: You’ll get more of a benefit from the bankruptcy system than anyone else will. So act like it and quit whining!

Postscript: The overwhelming majority of my clients are cooperative and get me the information and documents I need to file their cases. This post is directed at the small minority of clients–you know who you are–who expect the benefits of bankruptcy without putting effort into their cases. It just doesn’t work that way, and I hope you appreciate being told the truth about your responsibilities.

So there you have it. The "straight scoop", as he calls it, from an experienced bankruptcy lawyer. Be prepared to do a little work and you will get your fresh start.

Wishing a fresh start to all that need it,



  1. Excellent post, one of the few articles I’ve read today that said something unique! One new subscriber here. :)

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  2. Thanks--wish I could take credit for it, but it is an excellent article from an excellent bankruptcy attorney!