Mid-Week Bankruptcy Case Review – Issue 6

Issue 06 – December 18, 2010


As an independent paralegal I am often approached by people who want to file bankruptcy but have no clue how to start the process. This is an opportunity for me to provide them with the names of two or three attorneys that I work with, which in turn provides me with an income for doing the paralegal work under the direction of the attorney.

After the clients have signed the retainer agreement and paid their fee, I begin by meeting the clients in a comfortable location (i.e., their home, the office in my home, a quiet area inside Panera Bread, etc.)  If the attorney has no prior experience in bankruptcy he or she will accompany me to this meeting. If not, I provide a written summary of our meeting for the client file.

It was during one of these meetings that I met two very nice people that I grew to like.  In fact, I took a special interest in helping them because the reasons they were filing bankruptcy was through no fault of their own.

Through the post-bankruptcy process I met with both clients two times and made them a part of the entire intake process.  (I live by the rule that an informed client is an easy client to work with.)  We also exchanged numerous phone calls and emails in addition to the meetings.  With all this communication you would think that I would have done a complete and thorough asset search, but I accepted the clients at their word. When they told me they had no additional real property I accepted this statement as fact.

When all the work had been done and we sat down to meet with the attorney to sign the bankruptcy petition, the client said:  Hey, does the land my wife was deeded by her dad matter?  The attorney and I stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other in shock.  The attorney asked several questions which revealed a piece of property worth about $150,000.  Even when the property was divided by thirds, the clients portion was still a whopping $50,000.  This changed the entire petition and all the work I had done would need to be updated, which delayed the petition process.

The lesson here is that no matter how nice, kind, honest and sincere a person is, each person interprets their assets in various ways.  When I asked the clients why they did not tell me about the piece of land before, they said that the wife had not signed the deed so they didn’t think it was in her name.  (Notice how consumers with no legal experience interpret the law.)

Learn from my mistake (which I will never make again):  If you will take the extra second or two to see the world from the perspective of the client, you will save yourself a great deal of time and eliminate a great deal of drama in your law firm operations.  And never forget to do a thorough asset and liability search; the minimum being a PACER search and a search at your local County Recorders office (or tax records office) for additional real property and foreclosures that could be associated with the clients.

Perhaps the links below will help you to protect the clients, the law firm and the bankruptcy system as a whole. Do your part and do a good job, which ultimately saves you time, money and frustration.

Online Resources for Doing Background Checks

Also begin by doing a free search of court records at:

The site below offers links to military records, court records, inmate searches, vital statistics (background checks cost a small fee)

Use of the links on the following site is absolutely free, although some state or county agencies may charge fees for accessing public records.
and http://www.blackbookonline.info/

It also would not hurt to always do a search in the Sex Offender Registry

Paid Services (average price $2 to $60)
Note: I suggest attorneys only utilize paid services for criminal and background checks if you discover assets and liabilities that could constitute fraud by the client(s.)


Disclaimer: This article is written for training purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The author is not an attorney and has never attended law school. The information in this article is written from the 30+ years of knowledge working as a paralegal in the legal industry and from personal experiences working under the direction of licensed bankruptcy attorneys.


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