In most cases, I talk to the client on the phone before the initial appointment. During our phone conversation I usually go over the following:
1) Do you have good reasons to be considering bankruptcy?
Most often the reason the client has called me about bankruptcy is that he or she has run up more debt on credit cards than the client can reasonably expect to pay off in the foreseeable future. Or maybe the client has had a foreclosure and there was a non-purchase money 2nd or HELOC. Or perhaps the client wants to strip off a second mortgage and pay it off at a discount through a chapter 13 plan.
2) If it looks like the client has good reasons for wanting to file bankruptcy, the next step is to figure out if there is something that will prevent the client from filing for bankruptcy. The main reasons that a client can’t or shouldn’t file bankruptcy are:
a) The client has too much in the way of assets or
b) the client makes too much money under the income ceiling rules
So I will be asking the client about his or her assets. When I say “too much in the way of assets” I mean more assets than the exemptions allow. If the client has more assets than the exemptions allow it is unwise to file for bankruptcy because the client will lose property in the bankruptcy. Fortunately, there are several techniques of dealing with this problem.
Next, we discuss whether the client’s income is too high. We compare the client’s income to the income ceiling rules.
If it looks like the client has good reasons to file bankruptcy and there does not appear to be an impediment then we set up an appointment. Most often the meetings take place in my Encinitas office.
At the meeting, we go over what we talked about over the phone but in more detail.
If we want to go ahead with the bankruptcy filing I ask the client to sign a retainer agreement and a statement of the Rights and Responsibilities of Chapter 7 Debtors and Their Attorneys. There is a different form for chapter 13 debtors.
I ask the client to give me a down payment towards the total agreed-upon fee. Therefore if the client wishes to retain me the client needs to bring a method to pay the down payment. I accept checks and of course cash.
Next, I let the client know how I will obtain the information necessary to complete the bankruptcy forms. I explain that get the information from the following sources:
1) A credit report
2) MyCaseInfo – essentially an online interview form the client fills out
3) Questions I send the client in an email
Next, while the client is in the office, I obtain the credit report. I give the client a copy of the credit report. I ask the client to take the credit report home to review to see if any creditors are left off.
Next, still, while the client is in the office, I set up a MyCaseInfo account for this client. MyCaseInfo is essentially an online interview form. The client receives an email with instructions on how to start imputing information into the online interview form. Once the client gets home he or she can start working on imputing the information into MyCaseInfo.
Once the client completes the MyCaseInfo online interview form he or she clicks on the button “send to attorney”. I then download all the data into my computer program that I use to prepare the bankruptcy papers.
Finally, I prepare a letter to the client with important information about bankruptcy, some additional questions as well as a list of documents I will need from the client. We go over the letter in detail to make sure the client understands the process. Most clients have numerous questions which I answer. I then email the letter to the client.
The first takes an hour or two depending on how complex the case is.
Clients will often ask what they need to bring into the meeting. It is not necessary to bring in any bills, check stubs or any other documents. The client brings those to me later after I give him or her the list of what we need. Really, all the client needs to bring to the first meeting is a check to pay the down payment.