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Bankruptcy in California, Part 3

Continued from Bankruptcy in California, Part 2


Pro se considerations

Taking up where we left off, the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California has these words of caution for anyone who would enter the world of bankruptcy without an attorney:
Bankruptcy law can be complicated and debtors should, if possible, obtain information/advice from an attorney or a legal aid service experienced in bankruptcy law. If you are representing yourself without the benefit of an attorney, you are known as a "pro se" debtor. The information contained in this page is not intended to advise you of your legal rights or responsibilities. It merely outlines certain requirements for filing documents with the court.

In addition, the Clerk's Office staff is prohibited from assisting with the preparation of the voluntary petition, schedules or other documents. Deputy clerks cannot provide legal advice. All parties must comply with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the United States Bankruptcy Code, the Northern District of California's Bankruptcy Local Rules, Administrative Procedures and General Orders. Failure to do so could result in the dismissal of your case.

Efficiency outweighs 'pride'

Now, I have to say this: It bugs me whenever anybody says I can't do something, by myself, or on my own. It's particularly disturbing that I can't just show up in court and expect to be able to tell my side of the story and get a fair hearing.

And sometimes I have done that--particularly with traffic tickets. In that arena, I have won some and lost some. But, truth be told? I don't even represent myself with traffic tickets, anymore. I simply send my tickets to the local "traffic-ticket-mill-honcho," and even though he obtains justice (via my tickets' being dismissed) by knowing the system instead of my being able to prove in court that the traffic officer was wrong...well, that no longer matters to me.

What I care about, nowadays, is efficiency. My time. Cost versus reward. Benefit/cost ratio.

In other words, what exactly is the best use of my energy?

Chapter 13 can prevent foreclosure

And I must say, when it came to saving my home, my best choice was hiring a trusted bankruptcy attorney and letting her run the show to file for protection under Chapter 13. Admittedly, my case is highly unusual in its particulars, but then almost everybody is going to feel that way.

Avoiding bankruptcy mills

Which is why I also say--despite my preceding allusion to a traffic-ticket mill--that it is crucially important that you do not get hooked up with a bankruptcy mill, especially if your case has unique elements. And, yes, it's true: Bankruptcy mills do exist. Given the hardships pressed onto the economy by the Wall Street "financial engineers," some law firms have decided to go into bankruptcy much as "handymen" and "travellers" follow storms and, ahem, somehow overnight become experts in roofing.

What to look for in a bankruptcy attorney

No, what you want is a bankruptcy attorney who will:

  1. not only fight for you but also

  2. keep you informed, every reasonable step along the way.

That's not to say that every time you get freaked out ("Am I gonna lose this?" "Can they DO THAT?"),  that it's OK to call your attorney at midnight. No. They have lives, too.

But it is reasonable to expect to have your calls and e-mails returned. In other words, "bankruptcy mills" are characterized by your speaking to the lead attorney for 20 minutes and getting reassured and, basically, getting the "sales pitch," but from then on you get to speak only underlings and the runaround of the answer machine.

Be realistic, but avoid 'being a number'

To summarize: It's unrealistic--especially in this economy--to expect your bankruptcy attorney to respond at your beck and call; on the other hand, you don't want to be "just another case number." Once your case is filed, you should expect timely, clear responses to any questions you might have.

That being said, let's get back to bankruptcy in California.

California provides video series

I got onto this series of videos through the California Courts system:

  • Basics of bankruptcy;

  • Types of bankruptcies (good stuff about the differences among Ch.s 7, 11 and 13);

  • Limits of Bankruptcy (very good info about what's protected and what's not);

  • Filing for bankruptcy (HUGELY important--do not skip this step);

  • Creditors' Meeting (the 341 meeting, [Note: the video is somewhat unrealistic in that rarely do creditors show up for a 341--BUT YOU do have to attend. Having an attorney who attends with your excuses will only delay the process and may result in having your case dismissed] );

  • Bankruptcy fraud (hint: Just Don't Do It--you could be fined AND go to jail);

  • Court hearings (hint: this is especially important if you need a vehicle to get to work. It could apply to other property, but this clip shows exactly how a Bankruptcy Judge might deal with some who's a few payments behind on a necessary vehicle.)

  • The Discharge (legal mumbo-jumbo, but it's important about what can happen and what should happen at the end of your bankruptcy);

  • Legal assistance: (Note: in response to "Do I need a lawyer?": "It is possible to lose all your assets and still come out owing all your debts.")

If that's not an endorsement for hiring a well-trained, experienced bankruptcy attorney, I don't know what is.

Consider free case evaluation

If you're interested in learning more about the power of bankruptcy protection, please, browse our site for more information; if you need help filing for bankruptcy protection for yourself, consider signing up for a free case evaluation.

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