Bankruptcy law is an incredibly powerful tool to deploy when you engineer and start your personal turnaround story. But it’s much more complex than simply filing a statement with the bankruptcy court.
Before we can even file the case, however, there is so much work that needs to happen, and a lot of it falls on my client’s shoulders, but I have to manage. We have to gather up paystubs, bank statements, go through a silly credit counseling session, get tax returns, fill out eighty plus pages of disclosures, get wet signatures on half a dozen confusing forms, and so on.
Many of my clients get confused as to which form is missing, how to get documents, and what needs to be signed. In the best case, the process is tedious. In the worst case, some clients give up on their personal turnaround without a bankruptcy discharge.
Stress for the client
So there are two problems with this whole process. First, it stresses out the client themselves. Second, it creates tension in the attorney client relationship.
Congress and courts didn’t think about the anxiety they would create in my clients in demanding so much information. They see the process as a colder, more mechanical.
Often it’s a hard mental commitment to file for bankruptcy in the first place. You have to get through promises you’ve made to others, implied moral commitments you’ve made, and promises you’ve made to yourself.
Making the commitment to come see me and go through the process is an admission that life hasn’t turned out the way you hoped, at least not yet.
But there’s usually a little doubt. Maybe you can make it work. Maybe you shouldn’t pull the trigger on bankruptcy.
And when I start asking you for so many documents, it creates new doubts in your decision. You start to really wonder whether you can get through it. In pulling up the information, you sometimes have to face the past few years of financial stress. I’ve had more than one client start crying as we started listing her assets on Schedule B.
There’s got to be a gentler way to do this. I try to help in my practice, but Congress needs to do its part too.
Stress for your bankruptcy lawyer
Second, it creates tension between the client and myself. I have to own it and work through it, but it’s sometimes hard. Here’s why: at the beginning of the case, we decide (or don’t, in some cases) that bankruptcy is an important step in the client’s personal turnaround.
I’m your ally at the beginning, and then I start hounding you for all these docs to get your discharge. That both changes the relationship you have with me and it changes my relationship to you because I often get anxious if you’re having trouble cooperating with me and the clock is ticking.
Worse, the judges or trustees could get mad at me because they say things like, I “can’t control my client,” as if I ever had control over any of them, which is never fun. So that can be a shadow influencing my relationship with my clients.
This is why a lot of lawyers lean on their paralegals to mange the process, but I don’t think that’s a very good solution because it only reduces my stress, not yours.
Long story short, filing for bankruptcy can be a little rough on your mental health–and mine! But if we’re going through the process, then it’s worth it!
We’ll get through it together.
Lately I’ve been really trying to find ways to help clients get through this in a way that’s protective of their mental health.