Next to divorce, bankruptcy is probably one of the most emotionally charged fields of law. The practice of bankruptcy law involves more than just filling out forms and sitting with the clients at the meeting of creditors. It also involves a lot of hand-holding and support. That’s one of the reasons lawyers are also called counselors. Not that attorneys are therapists, but we do have to counsel people. Sometimes that means console them as well.
On their first visit most clients show two predominant emotions: fear and sadness, usually in that order. Fear because they are facing the unknown. They’ve heard stories about bankruptcy. How you will lose everything (false). Maybe they’ve heard about the meeting of creditors and have a vision of sitting in a chair while all their creditors show up and berate them for not paying their bills (also false). And they’re afraid that they’ll be branded as BANKRUPT for the rest of their lives, sort of a scarlet letter “B” (false again).
Then there is sadness. Sadness because their version of the American dream isn’t fulfilled, at least not yet. Sadness because they feel they have failed their family. And sadness because they might have to give up some of their material possessions (this might be true).
When clients first come to my office it’s my job to dispel the fear and assuage the sadness. Getting rid of the fear is usually pretty easy. I just explain the bankruptcy process from start to finish. Based on their individual circumstances I tell them what’s likely to happen, which Chapter is most advantageous for them, and what the consequences of filing or not filing are likely to be. Once they learn the truth about bankruptcy, most of the fear is gone.
The sadness is a little harder, especially as it relates to feelings of failure. To these people, I relate how bankruptcy is one of the few laws expressly provided by the Constitution; how it dates back to the 15th Century, and how debt forgiveness was specifically provided for in the Mosaic Law, where every seven years debts between Jews were forgiven and every 50th year all debts were forgiven. I explain that sometimes filing bankruptcy is the most responsible thing you can do.
To those who have a hard time accepting that they might have to give up a boat or snowmobile or even a vacation home, I remind them that by doing this they will be free of perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Usually they see the trade-off is more than fair.
When it’s over, as we walk out of the meeting of creditors, the emotion that I most often see is relief. The clients have realized that it wasn’t as bad as they thought. They understand the peace of mind that comes with not having to duck and dodge creditors, to not have to worry about a process server showing up on the doorstep and having the 10-year old child answer, or finding the car gone in the morning because it was repossessed. It’s the relief that I see that makes consumer bankruptcy law so rewarding.
If you have financial problems and want to discuss bankruptcy, please contact us.