Interviewer: Can you tell me about the time from the initial client call to schedule a meeting through to the time of the initial consultation with you?
John’s Answer: When anyone calls our office to schedule an appointment, we always try very hard to be sensitive to their level of urgency and to accommodate their schedule. Some people need to meet us after work hours, others need to meet us right away due to a pending foreclosure sale, IRS garnishment, or other collection activity, while others have a more flexible schedule.
When the client comes in to consult with me, I make a special effort at the start of the meeting to help the client feel very comfortable. I recognize that meeting under these circumstances is very difficult for many people (in fact, many will tell me so usually at the beginning of our meeting), and they have come to me only because of the significant financial pressure they are under. We are very sensitive to this and strive to provide all clients with the utmost attention to what they are saying. Indeed, it is by closely paying attention to what the client is saying (and often what they’re not saying) that we can best fashion a solution to their problem.
In some instances, the solution will involve not only bankruptcy but alternative measures. For example, you may file a Chapter 7 for one person to stop an IRS garnishment quickly and to discharge credit card debts and then, after receiving the discharge, file an IRS installment agreement to repay the IRS balance which was not discharged in the Chapter 7 case.
Clients are given sufficient opportunity to ask whatever questions they want. I always listen carefully to see what questions they have and how their questions are phrased because I recognize that sometimes their main question is not asked outright but can be inferred from the questions they are asking. Therefore I not only answer the questions they ask, but also provide any input on what I inferred that they may would like to know.
At the end of the meeting I provide advice as to which Chapter I feel is most suited for the client and I then review the retainer agreement to make sure the clients understands it and can ask questions. Often the client will place a deposit to retain my office to help.
Interviewer: What happens after the client retains your services?
John’s Answer: After my office is retained, we schedule the client for a meeting with my staff to allow us to obtain the additional information required to file the bankruptcy petition. The format is typically the asking of questions by my staff, and the gathering of documents required in order to file the petition. Of course, I am always available throughout this process. Thereafter, we’d set a date for the signing of the petition.
Interviewer: How long does all this take from the time that you meet somebody at the initial consult to the time the petition is signed?
John’s Answer: The time varies, but typically with a motivated client, the time is about 2-3 weeks. I have filed cases in as little as one day where, for example, there was a pending foreclosure sale the next day. This usually requires that my office stop all work on other matters to get the client filed quickly.
Interviewer: Once the petition is signed, what is done with the petition?
John’s Answer: Within a few days thereafter, the petition is filed electronically on our computers with the Bankruptcy Court and, within a matter of a few minutes, we have a bankruptcy case number for the client. The case number signifies that a bankruptcy has been filed and that means that the Automatic Stay provisions of the Bankruptcy law is now in place. The Automatic Stay is very significant and provides that almost all collection activity must stop immediately by the creditors, or the collecting creditor(s) face possible contempt of Bankruptcy Court charges. Most creditors know to stop direct collection proceedings once the petition is filed, except for collection activity before the Bankruptcy Court, such as by means of a claim, etc.
Interviewer: What happens after the petition is filed?
John’s Answer: Within a few days after the petition is filed, the Bankruptcy Court generates a notice called a “341 meeting notice.” The purpose of this notice is to inform the client and creditors when and where the hearing will be held before a designated Trustee to review the petition filed by the client. The Chapter 7 341 meeting is somewhat different than the Chapter 13 341 meeting. In both cases you will meet with a Trustee.
At the Chapter 7 341 meeting, the Trustee will ask questions geared to determine if there are any assets available for creditors in the case. For example, is there a jet ski or snowmobile that might not be protected in bankruptcy that the Trustee could sell to liquidate funds to pay creditors? These kinds of questions are precisely the questions and issues that we would be looking at at the initial consultation and also when we meet to sign the paperwork. What this means for my clients is that we would expect no problem at all with these Trustee meetings because anyting that would be an issue would have already been reviewed with the client ahead of time.
A similar meeting is held in the Chapter 13 context, but in addition to the meeting with the Trustee, there is a meeting about a half an hour later with the bankruptcy judge to review the plan and to make sure that all the bankruptcy rules are complied with. This second meeting with the judge takes about 5 minutes. Most of my clients obtain confirmation of their case at the first meeting, as opposed to needing to adjourn the 341 meeting to correct matters later or address issues arising at the 341 Meeting. We try very hard to avoid the possibility of adjournment because it involves more time for the client as well as for our firm. We find it is better to put in the additional time during the initial phases of the petition process rather than having to adjourn the matter to a later time.
Interviewer: How long does it take to get the discharge?
John’s Answer: In a typical Chapter 7 case the discharge is granted in about three or four months, typically about two months after the 341 meeting. In the Chapter 13, a client makes payments to the bankruptcy Trustee, according to an individual approved payment plan. Most plans take about 3-5 years to complete. Once all the funds are in to the Trustee in the Chapter 13 case, then the case is closed and a discharge is sent.
Interviewer: How do I get judicial liens off of my house?
John’s Answer: Judicial liens are judgments, and sometimes our search of the county records shows that there is one or more judgments against the interest of our clients in their residence. In many cases, the judgment is attaching to equity in the client’s house which is exempt (or protected) in bankruptcy. In such a case a judgment avoidance motion would be prepared and filed. By doing this, we are taking efforts to remove the judgments by requesting an Order from the Bankruptcy Judge. In Chapter 7 cases, the client generally does not need to appear for this motion, and it is the attorney that resolves this on a date different from the 341 Meeting day. In Chapter 13 cases, this motion can be heard on the same date as the 341 Meeting.