Just as you always suspected, there is a secret formula to a successful self-represented bankruptcy case. Fortunately for bankruptcy attorneys, consumers do not know about these secret steps to pro se bankruptcy success. Around 90% of all Chapter 13 pro se bankruptcy cases are dismissed prior to confirmation and only 4% are still standing after 4 years. However, by following the steps outlined below, you can successfully represent yourself in bankruptcy!
Step 1: Read
You can read, right? Sure you can! Here is a quick “crash course” of the information you need for a successful bankruptcy case:
- Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure
- Federal Bankruptcy Code
- Local Rules of the Bankruptcy Court
- State Debtor/Creditor Statutes
- Applicable Federal (or State) Regulations
- Applicable Federal and State Exemption Laws
That will get you started, although you also need to review federal case law that applies to the rules or statutes in your case. And don’t overlook any state case law that may apply! As you learned during law school, the Erie Doctrine holds that the federal court can decide a state law issue when it has jurisdiction (such as during bankruptcy), but must honor state common law when deciding state law issues. Wait, you didn’t attend three years of law school? Hmmm, better add that to your list too.
Step 2: Get Experience
Experienced consumer bankruptcy attorneys file dozens or even hundreds of cases each year. They are efficient and reasonably priced. However, you can save yourself some dough by getting that same experience yourself! Simply sit through hours and hours of trustee meetings, court hearings, and trials – just like bankruptcy attorneys do! It may not be sexy like Law and Order on TV, but you will learn a great deal, especially how the judge is prone to rule on an issue and how creditor attorneys, the bankruptcy trustees, and the court staff handle cases. Just that knowledge alone could be the difference between a successful bankruptcy case and a failure. You may also pick up a novel strategy or bankruptcy trick!
Step 3: Build Relationships
A successful bankruptcy attorney has spent years cultivating professional relationships with other attorneys, trustees, creditors, local bankers and businessmen, court staff, and even judges. The attorney’s reputation goes a long way in quickly resolving a thorny bankruptcy issue. For instance, when a bankruptcy petition filed by the well-esteemed bankruptcy attorney crosses the trustee’s desk, the trustee has confidence that it is prepared completely and correctly. Unfortunately, a pro se debtor has a big bull’s eye on his or her back and the trustee will dig into the petition and schedules certain that the debtor is concealing something – either innocently or intentionally.
Well, there you have it! A simple guide to filing a pro se bankruptcy case. There is just one last item of legal wisdom to remember: “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Sure, this article is tongue in cheek. It simply points out the obvious: bankruptcy is a complicated process. Statistically, pro se debtors have little or no chance at bankruptcy success. Isn’t it worth paying for experienced legal representation during your bankruptcy case?