What Do Bankruptcy Lawyers Do?

ab1More than 1.2 million bankruptcy petitions were filed with the federal bankruptcy courts in 2012. Due to the complicated nature of bankruptcy filings, most are completed by bankruptcy lawyers.

The Bankruptcy Consultation

Before beginning work on a bankruptcy petition, the first thing a bankruptcy lawyer does is meet with a potential client to:

  • Review the debtor’s income, debts and assets
  • Determine if bankruptcy is a good course of action
  • Determine which chapter of bankruptcy to file
  • Decide on a filing date
  • Enter into a contract with the client

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The Bankruptcy Petition

The bankruptcy lawyer prepares the petition in 3 steps:

1

Collects information from the client, which includes:

  • Tax returns
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Creditor information and account numbers
  • Credit reports
  • questionnaire detailing assets and obligations
  • Bank statements
  • certificate from a credit counseling agency (the debtor must take an online credit counseling course prior to filing).
2

Enters information into a bankruptcy software program

3

On the appropriate date, files the petition electronically with the court. The date of filing is important because:

  • Any money the debtor has in his bank account on the day of filing may be garnished by the bankruptcy trustee. Most debtors file immediately prior to payday, or right after paying rent, utilities, etc. so that their accounts are depleted.
  • Debtors may only file bankruptcies in certain time increments. If a debtor completed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy 7 years and 11 months ago, he will have to wait until exactly 8 years to file another.

The Bankruptcy Meeting of Creditors

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After the petition is filed, the Court sets a date for a 341 hearing, also called the Meeting of Creditors. The attorney is present, along with the debtor, for that meeting. In the 341 hearing:

  • The bankruptcy trustee questions the debtor, under oath about all aspects of the bankruptcy.
  • Creditors have the opportunity to question the debtor.
  • The debtor’s attorney also provides information regarding the petition and paperwork.

Communication Throughout the Bankruptcy Process

Communication between the bankruptcy attorney, the trustee and the client is crucial during the process of filing bankruptcy and awaiting discharge. Five common issues that bankruptcy lawyers handle during this time include:

1

Requests for more information

The trustee may require the debtor to provide more information, such as additional tax returns or bank statement. Information is provided through the debtor’s bankruptcy attorney.

2

Objections for the bankruptcy trustee

The trustee may object to a debtor’s repayment plan, request for discharge, intent to reaffirm some debts, etc.

3

Motions to dismiss bankruptcy

Motions to dismiss may be made by the trustee when a debtor fails to provide information in a timely manner, or when the trustee finds or suspects fraud.

4

Objections made by creditors

Creditors may object to debts being discharged.

5

Cease and desist

Once bankruptcy is filed, all collection efforts are automatically stayed. If a creditor continues collection activities, the debtor’s attorney writes a “Cease and Desist” letter to the creditor; then asks the Court to enforce the stay if necessary.

Bankruptcy Discharge

The bankruptcy attorney keeps the client updated regarding the confirmation and discharge of the bankruptcy, and ensures that the client meets any obligations required by the bankruptcy trustee. The process between filing bankruptcy and discharge can be as short as a few months (in the case of a Chapter 7) and as long as five years (in the case of a Chapter 13).

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Accident and Injury Lawyers

Accident and injury lawyers, often called “personal injury” lawyers, deal with civil litigation matters involving torts. These attorneys work with a variety of clients who have suffered injuries due to accidents caused by the negligence of others. Here is a broad overview of the kind of work thay do

ac102Civil Litigation

Accident and injury lawyers do not represent plaintiffs or defendants in criminal matters. Instead, they represent plaintiffs who are bringing lawsuits in civil court. Plaintiffs who win their cases may receive:

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Compensatory Damages:

Money awarded to a plaintiff as reimbursement for medical bills, loss of income or property, emotional distress, etc.

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Punitive Damages:

When the defendant is found to have been egregiously careless, juries may award punitive damages to the plaintiff. These awards can be quite large, well into millions of dollars.

Accident and Injury Lawyers and Torts

Attorneys that work with personal injury cases are specialized in an area of law called torts. The word “tort” comes from the French “twisted, or wrongful.” Torts may be separated into three broad categories:

ac1051) Intentional Torts

These are instances when someone deliberately acted in a way that caused another person injury. For instance:

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • Imprisonment
  • Misrepresentation (fraud)
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

ac1062) Negligence

The biggest volume of tort cases are in the negligence category. These cases involve injuries caused by negligence. Four elements must be present in order to prove negligence:

a) Duty of care: The legal obligation of an individual that requires that he maintain a standard of reasonable care while engaging in any acts that could harm other people.

b) Breach of duty: When a person fails to take reasonable care or exhibits unreasonable conduct during an activity that may cause harm to others.

c) Proximate cause: The main cause of an injury.

d) Damages: To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show that damages occurred and that those damages would have been reasonably foreseeable at the time.

ac1073) Specialized Torts

Some law firms specialize in particular types of torts, which may include:

  • Wrongful death
  • Medical malpractice
  • Product liability
  • Class actions

Accident and Injury Lawyers’ Compensation

Due to the nature of personal injury claims, many plaintiffs are unable to pay for an attorney up front. Instead, many claims are handled on a percentage basis: plaintiffs who win their civil suits will pay a percentage of the awarded damages to their attorney.

What to Know About Personal Injury Law

Attorneys who specialized in personal injury cases have complex and often varied cases. Here are some facts about their work:

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  • Accident and injury lawyers often work with private investigators, police, insurance companies and medical professionals.
  • Cases may drag on for years, and may take large amounts of resources.
  • Often, cases are settled out of court (typically by insurance companies).
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How Old is Too Old for Law School?

ac98The average age of first-year law students is 24, so if you’re older than that (say, 30 or even 40 years old), you might think you’re simply too old to go to law school and start a second career. How old is too old for law school—and are you too old? Here are some facts about starting law school as a non-traditional student.

Schools Welcome Students with Experience.

While it’s true that law schools look closely at the GPAs and LSAT scores in students’ applications, relevant experience can carry a lot of weight with admissions committees, too:

  • Older students bring plenty of transferable skills to law school, and to the law profession.
  • Some students have already been working in the justice system, as police officers, paralegals, secretaries, etc. and have direct, working knowledge of the law.
  • Life experience is valuable, too. Older students may have direct experience with many types of law. They also have lived through disappointments and successes that can have relevance to law school.
  • Students with experience bring their knowledge into the classroom, which helps all students.
  • Many law schools have added evening and part-time programs to accommodate older students.

Older Students Are Focused.

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Many younger law students later admit that they attended law school because they didn’t know what else to do with themselves once they completed their undergraduate educations. Older students have some advantages:

  • They are typically embarking on second, or even third, careers.
  • They have had a chance to explore other fields and have a better idea of what they want to do.
  • They often begin law school in order to do what they love; not because they think they’ll make a lot of money.
  • They have reasonable expectations of the career and its requirements.
  • They have contacts outside of school, which allows them to find job placements quickly.
  • They may have more stable personal lives, which allows them more time to study.

Older Students May Struggle with Learning Issues.

Students who enter law school after a long gap may find that learning is more difficult than it was when they were in their early 20’s.

  • Older students struggle more with memorization skills.
  • Older students may find it harder to spend long evenings studying.
  • Older students may have children, who can be distracting during study sessions.
  • Older students may need to learn new technology skills, which can be daunting.
  • Older students may not be available to participate in study groups, due to obligations at home.
  • Older students may not feel as if they fit in with the younger, more traditional students, and may miss out on learning and collaboration opportunities as a result.

The Investment May Not Be Worth It.

ac101Law school is expensive—some students graduate with well over $150,000 in student loans. Is law school a good, or bad investment for older students? It depends.

  • If you’re taking out loans for the full tuition and living expenses, you may not be able to recoup your investment.
  • Older students have a shorter span of years to work in the legal field and pay back loans, or enjoy large salaries.
  • Older students may find that an age bias exists; they may have trouble getting a job.
  • Many older students want to work in the public sector, which doesn’t pay well.
  • Some students will be able to work at existing careers during law school, avoiding excessive student loans.
  • Older students bring diversity to law programs, and may be able to attain scholarships and financial aid to mitigate the financial sacrifice involved.

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