How to Build and Strengthen Your Chapter 13 Debtor Practice

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Participate in your local bankruptcy bar activities. Engage in bankruptcy education programs for the local consumer bar.
  3. Reach out to your local non-bankruptcy attorneys as a resource which will then generate referrals
  4. Publish a story about a successful chapter 13 debtor you represented (of course with the client’s permission)
  5. Include a blog on your website that you update periodically about recent chapter 13 issues of interest
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Be sure to have the client agree to and sign a retention agreement that details what services are covered.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Honor your commitments to opposing counsel
  14. Have a process in place to review proofs of claim for accuracy and deficiencies.
  15. Importantly, have a process to timely file proofs of claim for counsel fees if appropriate in your district.
  16. Be congenial
Academy Circle Logo Final
Former Chapter 13 Standing Trustees

The NACTT Emeritus Trustee Committee is made up of former Chapter 13 Standing Trustees from all over the country: Michael Joseph, Isabel Balboa, Carl Bekofske, Herb Beskin, Chuck DeHart, Pete Fessenden, Mike Fitzgerald, Nancy Grigsby, Mary Grossman, James Henley, Howard Hu, Jan Johnson, Jeff Kellner, Tom King, Bill Miller, Frank Pees, Jan Hamilton, Denise Pappalardo, George Stevenson, Robert Wilson and Mike Meyer.

Related Articles

June 16, 2019
By Lawrence R. Ahern III, Brown & Ahern (Nashville, TN) Introduction – The Taggart Ruling Last year, the Ninth Circuit in In re Taggart1 ruled that an act in violation of the discharge injunction did not empower a court to find a creditor in contempt, if the creditor believed in good faith that the discharge injunction did not apply—even if...
June 30, 2019
By Lawrence R. Ahern III, Brown & Ahern (Nashville, TN) Introduction In In re Fulton,1 the Seventh Circuit has restated its position on passive violation of the automatic stay, holding that failure by the City of Chicago to turn over impounded vehicles after the owners' bankruptcy filings violated Bankruptcy Code sections 362 and 542. Fulton – Background and Ruling The...
November 15, 2020
Lawrence R. Ahern, III Brown & Ahern Nashville, Tennessee Appendix C Bankruptcy Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule (28 U.S.C § 1930) Effective December 1, 2020 Description Current Fee Adjusted Fee Exemplification $22 $23 Reproduction of audio recording of court proceeding $31 $32 Filing amendment to debtor's schedules $31 $32 Search fee $31 $32 Filing any document that is not related to...
Copy of Hildebrand-2016
It is incumbent upon nonbankruptcy attorneys, including personal injury attorneys, to verify on PACER that their client is not a debtor and that the cause of action as to which they represent their client is not property of the estate; failure to obtain approval of the bankruptcy court for representing a debtor or settlement of a personal injury action is...
August 16, 2020
By Hon. Brian Lynch, Bankruptcy Judge, WAWB “[T]he bankruptcy court has a duty to review fee applications, notwithstanding the absence of objections by the United States trustee (“UST”), creditors, or any other interested party….” In re Busy Beaver Bldg. Ctrs., Inc., 19 F.3d 833, 841 (3d Cir. 1994). In Chapter 13 cases this role is critical because in this judge’s...
January 31, 2021
By Rachel Jones, Staff Attorney to Chapter 13 Standing Trustee Chris Micale, Western District of Virginia (Roanoke) The events of 2020 have had a devastating impact on the very low-income population. The working poor are struggling, particularly those working in sectors such as hospitality and tourism. State and Federal funding and local programs such as food banks and community action...
November 10, 2019
By William Houston Brown, Editor and Adviser, NACTT Academy for Consumer Bankruptcy Education, Inc. Several Official and Director’s Forms related to bankruptcy filings are revised and some are new, with some already taking effect on October 1, 2019, others to take effect December 1, 2019, and others taking effect February 19, 2020. Several forms have already been updated on April...
February 16, 2020
By Lawrence R. Ahern, III, Brown & Ahern (Nashville, TN) Introduction This series has focused on the four bankruptcy-related bills that were enacted during the 116th Congress and signed into law on August 23, 2019. One bill, the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 (SBRA), will be effective February 19, 2020. It appears in its entirety in Appendix B to...
Smith Daryl Trustee 2024
February 4, 2024
Daryl J. Smith, Esq., was appointed as the Chapter 13 Standing Trustee for the Western District of Louisiana on October 1, 2023. Smith’s office is in Shreveport, Louisiana.
September 11, 2022
Consumer bankruptcy attorneys in my experience tend to see appeals as a massively expensive undertaking fraught with unfamiliar rules and the threat of sanctions at every turn. That is not the reality. The purpose of this short article is to allay those fears. It’s a fun and satisfying process; dive in says I. Final order You can only appeal a...

Looking to Become a Member? offers a forum to advance continuing education of consumer bankruptcy via access to insightful articles, informative webinars, and the latest industry news. Join now to benefit from expert resources and stay informed.


These informative sessions are led by industry experts and cover a range of consumer bankruptcy topics.

Member Articles

Written by industry experts, these articles provide in-depth analysis and practical guidance on consumer bankruptcy topics.

Industry News

The Academy is the go-to source for the latest news and analysis in the Chapter 13 bankruptcy industry.

To get started, please let us know which of these best fits your current position: