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Bankruptcy in Illinois, Part 3

Continued from Bankruptcy in Illinois, Part 2


Where we left it: the 341 meeting

We left off last time talking about the 341 meeting. I mentioned that it's unlikely that you will get raked over the coals and unmercifully grilled about every little aspect of your financial life.

Let me explain: a little inside skinny from my own bankruptcy experience.

Some personal insights

First, judges can vary just as much as any group of humans, from personable to even friendly, from cold-fish personalities to rigid. It's very likely that the only time you see the judge on your case is in a group setting where she or he addresses a bunch of you in the same boat--namely, you all need a do-over, for any number of reasons ranging from recession-fueled layoffs to medical crises to hanky-panky machinations on the part of your mortgage lender. Listen, these judges have caught up to what's going on in the real world, and although none of them want to enable bankruptcy fraud most are amenable to helping an honest person get a break and a new leg up.

Don't be laid-back casual--this IS federal court

That being said, do not go to that 341 meeting (and, yes, you do have to appear, and sign in, and sit down and be quiet and act like an adult) with a cavalier attitude. Your attorney will attend, but can not appear for you. In my meeting, I was not late but the judge elected to start speaking a little early. So I (and a few others) waited respectfully off to the side as he explained the law from his perspective and ended by wishing everyone a successful filing and solid basis for a fresh start. We had no problems, either with him or the ensuing lecture from a court-appointed speaker who makes the rounds among the various districts.

Do not test the judge

That being said, this same judge reacted immediately, in a preceding session, to a fellow who ignored the court's admonition to shut down cell phones. Mere seconds after the guy answered the phone, the judge had him cut it off and fined him, right there on the spot.

And, yes--the (federal) judge can do that: your initial meeting may not be in a courtroom, per se, but make no mistake: court is in session.

Another example: You can go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. It's not a torture chamber.

But...don't make bad decisions...such as deciding to slip out for a smoke, or go grab a breakfast taco, or just skip out: at the least, you can get bounced and rescheduled and have to come sit through it all, again.

An example, from California

Ok, back to Illinois, via an Internet relay from California. Yes, I know California law does not apply in Illinois, but this warning is pertinent:
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. . .

. . .and, of course, the local rules for your Illinois Bankruptcy Courts (see Part 1 for links).

Take the time to find the right attorney--for YOU

The point here is that no bankruptcy court can give out legal advice. In Part 2, we provided links to the state Legal Aid organization. Bottom line? If you truly can't afford an attorney, contact them. However, be aware, you may be able to roll your attorney's fee into the bankruptcy. That's how I did mine, on instruction from my attorney. Her fee was $3,000 (a standard fee), and she gets paid first, out of my initial payments to the trustee. Only after she is paid do my payments go to my various creditors, including the bank that holds the mortgage on my home.

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 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.

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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