By: The NACTT Emeritus Trustee Committeei*
In these times of fewer case filings, it may be helpful to look at ways that debtor attorneys may build and strengthen their chapter 13 bankruptcy practice. The following are some recommendations and ideas from the Emeritus Trustee Committee:
- Develop good relationships and communication with the court, the clerk’s office and your chapter 13 trustee and the trustee office staff. Have an office procedure to timely respond to court and trustee inquiries or requests.
- Participate in your local bankruptcy bar activities. Engage in bankruptcy education programs for the local consumer bar.
- Reach out to your local non-bankruptcy attorneys as a resource which will then generate referrals
- Publish a story about a successful chapter 13 debtor you represented (of course with the client’s permission)
- Include a blog on your website that you update periodically about recent chapter 13 issues of interest
- Be creative, within the bounds of your professional ethics. For instance, a retired trustee recalled that a debtor’s attorney offered a second mortgage holder a small amount for a release of its mortgage. It never hurts to ask. The mortgage holder accepted so making up the arrearage was no longer a factor in the chapter 13 case.
- Have a friendly and welcoming staff that is client service oriented. This is especially important the first time a client calls as many debtors are reluctant to consult about bankruptcy. Make sure your staff knows your policies and preferences as they represent you as to your clients, the court, and the bar.
- Communicate effectively with your clients. One complaint about attorneys generally is that they don’t communicate with clients. That applies to bankruptcy counsel as well – a common criticism. Undoubtedly, there are clients who take this too far, but a middle ground needs to be established. And, perhaps most importantly, there needs to be consistent documentation of such communications, whether in writing or contemporaneous notes. Try to respond to clients within 24-48 hours.
- Schedule your initial consultation as soon as possible. Use the initial consultation to educate and inform the client about chapter 13. Develop a clear and detailed checklist of needed documents such as tax returns, paystubs, insurance proof, copies of deeds and any agreements.
- Be sure to have the client agree to and sign a retention agreement that details what services are covered.
- Have a case management software program that allows you to track client progress on document production (pre-petition and post-petition) and to track documents that are scanned, all emails, correspondence, scheduling and accounting for fees and costs.
- Create rules in your system that manage important emails from the court, chapter 13 trustee, and creditor’s attorneys to avoid missing any deadline and to respond to Motions such as Stay Relief and Motions to Dismiss.
- Honor your commitments to opposing counsel
- Have a process in place to review proofs of claim for accuracy and deficiencies.
- Importantly, have a process to timely file proofs of claim for counsel fees if appropriate in your district.
- Be congenial
[i] *The ETC Committee acknowledges the valuable contribution to this article from William F. Jaworski, Jr, Esquire Chapter 13 Trustee in Delaware. The members of the ETC committee are: Michael Joseph, Mike Fitzgerald, Nancy Grigsby, Robert Wilson, Chuck DeHart, Howard Hu, Bill Miller, Jeff Kellner, Pete Fessenden, Mary Grossman and Tom King.