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September 21, 2011

Ms. Ps and Qs: Prof. Nancy Rapoport

Ask Ms. Ps and Qs*

By Nancy Rapoport, on September 11th, 2011

Beware the bankruptcy lawyer wanna-bes. My hubby, who's also a lawyer, recently forwarded me an email that began with these two rather optimistic lines: You May Not Have to Refer Your Client to Another Attorney. The Bankruptcy Road Map [W]ill Guide You through Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Cases. Yikes! I know that bankruptcy law is trendy these days, and there's a crushing workload for consumer lawyers, given the nation's financial distress. But non-bankruptcy lawyers who think that they can just pick up a book, read it from cover to cover (or worse yet, read just parts of it), and then give competent advice are fooling themselves. Bankruptcy law is an ecosystem. To survive in this ecosystem, a lawyer must understand how the pieces fit together-and not just the bankruptcy law pieces, but also the bankruptcy rules, local rules, and other state and federal law that overlaps with giving competent bankruptcy advice. We have enough problems out there with bad lawyers who do work regularly in bankruptcy law. We don't need wanna-bes mucking things up.

But how can clients (especially those who are already in financial distress) figure out who's going to be a good bankruptcy lawyer and who isn't? There's a part of me that wants to come up with a non-tortious way of stamping "bad" on the foreheads of lawyers who don't know what they're doing and who don't take steps to educate themselves properly.[i]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_edn1>I'd also stamp "bad" on the foreheads of those lawyers who don't take proper care of their clients.[ii]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_edn2>  

On the reasonably well-documented theory that folks who read ethics columns are already on the correct side of the ethics line, here's my plea to you: Make yourselves available to community leaders, so that they get to know you and can recommend you. Speak to community groups about issues in bankruptcy law; write a column for a local newspaper; spend a little bit of time volunteering to do some pro bono work. I know that you know what you're doing when it comes to bankruptcy law. YOU know that you know what you're doing. But clients who have never dealt with the system have no idea how to choose the right lawyer. We all look alike to the non-law-trained eye, at least on paper. And that's scaring me. So, if you don't have time to speak to groups or write a column for the local paper, how about this?  Let's start a checklist that we can pass out to community leaders so that they can help their communities help themselves.

Here's my first cut; let's get your ideas. Five tips for potential clients: how to tell a good lawyer from a not-so-good one 1. If you have access to a computer, go to your state's state bar association page to see if the lawyer you're considering has been disciplined. 1. Find out how long the lawyer has been practicing bankruptcy law. (You might be able to tell from the lawyer's ad or website how long he or she has been doing bankruptcy law; otherwise, it's perfectly ok to call the lawyer's office and ask someone.) 1. If you have friends who have been through bankruptcy recently, ask them what they thought of their lawyers. 1. If you go to the initial consultation with the lawyer, and he or she says any of the following, run away: - "I can help you save your car, your house, your jewelry, and pretty much everything else, no matter how bad your financial condition is." - "You don't need to tell the court about your [insert name of something you really like that you'd hate to lose in a bankruptcy]. That'll be our little secret." - [From a secretary or legal assistant]: "I'm going to fill out all of the paperwork; you're going to sign it; and you'll meet your lawyer after the bankruptcy petition has been filed." - "Don't worry about credit counseling. We can figure that out later." - "I've never lost a case."[iii]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_edn3> 1. Listen to your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable after meeting with the lawyer, even if the lawyer is good, he or she isn't the one for you. What'cha think, readers? Worth a shot? ------------------------------ [i]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_ednref1> On advice of counsel, I'm not doing that. [ii]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_ednref2> For some, I'd run out of forehead with the number of stamps I'd use. [iii]< file:///C:/Users/ClayHmn/Downloads/nacttacademynewcontent91211/MsPsAndQs_9_1 2_11.docx#_ednref3> Even Perry Mason couldn't say that. http://www.answers.com/topic/perry-mason-the-case-of-the-deadly-verdict-tv-e pisode .

*Have a question for Ms. Ps & Qs - Ask her here.*< http://considerchapter13.org/ask-ms-ps-and-qs/> ------------------------------ * * < http://considerchapter13.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Rapoport150.jpg>*Nan cy B. Rapoport*, a/k/a "Ms. Ps & Qs," is the Gordon Silver Professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

 

September 21, 2011 | Permalink

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