7 Deadly Bankruptcy Sins

teamwork definedWritten by Charleston Bankruptcy Lawyer, Russell A. DeMott

You may think the bankruptcy process consists of dumping information into your bankruptcy lawyer’s lap and having all your problems quickly solved.

Not so.

A successful bankruptcy is a team effort between you, your bankruptcy lawyer, and the lawyer’s staff

I tell clients they should expect to put 15 hours of work into their bankruptcy cases.  This includes providing me documents, filling out the client questionnaire and other forms, communication with my office, reviewing and signing their schedules, and going to court.

For most clients, it won’t take anywhere near 15 hours, but there’s a point to be made here: Don’t expect to come to your bankruptcy lawyer’s office and have your financial problems disappear without some effort on your part.  It’s your debt, so be prepared to put some work into your case.

Here are 7 deadly bankruptcy sins that can hurt your case.

1. You fail to get your lawyer the documents and information he requests. Hey, I’m not asking because I’m curious.  I need to know because all this information must go on your bankruptcy schedules. I don’t live in your house, wear your jewelry, shoot your guns, or have access to your bank accounts. You need to get me this information because when we file your schedules, they are filed under oath, subject to penalty of perjury.

As my college French professor, Madam Boyd liked to remind us: “This is serious business!”  And with no disrespect to Madam Boyd, filing bankruptcy is even more serious business than French class!  N’est pas?

2. You fail to respond to communication from your lawyer’s office.  If you have an email address, then check it! It’s like any other mailbox, stuff gets sent to it, and you shouldn’t be surprised when it does. People expect you read that stuff and respond to it.  Your lawyer is no different. I can’t tell you how many times I email clients for information and get no response.  (This is going on right now with some clients of mine.  Car 54, where are you?)  We then have to call and tell them to check their email. While you’re in bankruptcy, it’s more important than ever to check your email. Don’t hide from your lawyer!

3. You fail to return your lawyer’s phone calls. This is related to #2, but this, too, is a problem.  We call.  We get no response.  We then go into what I call Defcon 4 nag mode.  It’s painful for both sides.  Hey, if you think your creditors can call and harass you, wait until Tonya and Kim get on your  case! Ouch!

If we call, respond.  You have one case in the entire world going on, and it’s not that hard to call back.  And if there’s a problem with your case, remember this: Denial is not just a river in Egypt.  And it won’t make the problem go away if you ignore us.

4. You bring in a plastic bag with all your (usually unopened) documents in it.  While I can’t speak for every other (or any other!) bankruptcy lawyer, I sort of can.  We all hate this.  Clients with plastic bags stuffed with random documents mean one thing–more work.  Sometimes, clients don’t even open the mail stuffed in the plastic bag!


Yep, not just a river in Egypt. Plus, we all charge more when we see you coming.  You’ll require more time and effort on our part. It’s a sign we’ll need to go into Defcon 4 nag mode and take other time-intensive actions.  You may think this is mean, but remember that “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”  That was true when Abraham Lincoln said it, and it’s true today.  If you take more time or advice, you’ll get charged more.

Save yourself some money and get organized!

5. You fail to follow instructions. If our letter says to bring your driver’s license and social security card to your hearing, then….drumroll please….bring your driver’s license and social security card to your hearing, not a copy! I already have a copy! You have the original, and that’s why I asked you to bring it.  If you don’t, the trustee won’t conduct your hearing.

6. You fail to fill out your questionnaire completely.  This is somewhat related to the plastic-bag people issue in #4.  I once had a client fill out the first three pages of a 21-page questionnaire.  As we discussed all the missing information on the questionnaire, I doubled the fee.  “That’s so mean!” you say.  Nope, I should have tripled it.  It took a couple of years to get the case filed and tons of time.

The fact of the matter is that you’ll get charged more because you are lazy and can’t follow instructions.  You take no ownership of your financial mess and will, again, like the plastic-bag people, take more time.  Fill your paperwork out completely!

7. You’re a whiner.  I wrote another post on this, “Want to File Bankruptcy?  Then No Whining!”  Remember, I didn’t make these rules, and neither did your trustee or your bankruptcy judge.  I’m asking you to do these things so that your case is a success.  Take some ownership in the outcome and do what we ask you to do.  The reality is that this process is far more beneficial to you than to me, your trustee, or your bankruptcy judge.  (Read “Bankruptcy Clients Earn More Than Bankruptcy Judges or Bankruptcy Lawyers!“)

In short, always remember what Madam Boyd said: “This is serious business!”

Postscript:  This post is written for the small minority of the bankruptcy clients who need it.  Most of my clients are a delight to work with.  They are responsive, appreciative, and follow instructions.  I love representing them and helping them through their financial problems.  Some of them I will never forget because they were such a joy to work with.  This post, however, is written for those who cause the most problems. 

On an unrelated but interesting note, Abraham Lincoln was a practicing lawyer prior to being elected President in 1860 and handled a large number of debtor/creditor matters, including bankruptcy cases.  He also filed his own bankruptcy after his business partner died and he could not repay his debts.  Bankruptcy can happen to anyone.

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