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Limited Scope Representation – The Iceberg Ahead

by Adam Mack, JD

I was recently asked by a prospective client if he could bring in his bankruptcy forms he filled out, have me review them and make any adjustments needed and then allow him to file the bankruptcy himself to save money. I am sensitive to the fact that many of my bankruptcy clients are meeting with me because they are experiencing financial difficulties; but in spite of this fact, I had to respectfully decline. While we parted ways on good terms, I could not help but be concerned as to the perception this man had as to why I would decline to help.
The problem with an attorney skimming over some documents and then tweaking them is that bankruptcy law is far more complex then it appears. It is the metaphorical iceberg floating in front of the Titanic. Yes, the majority of the documents you file are fillable forms accessible on the Court’s website, but the consequences of what you put on those forms (or do not put on those forms) can have far reaching and even devastating consequences. Filling out the forms is the easy part; navigating the minefields along the way is a little more tricky.

To avoid the common mistakes made by others, an experienced attorney will gather together and analyze a great deal of information. He will interview you, ask you questions, pry into your financial affairs, and scrutinize your bank records. Then, and only then, after understanding your particular circumstances, will he fill out the forms. And even after your attorney has filled out the forms, he will strategically determine the right day to file so as to limit your exposure to non-exempt assets, including your paycheck and money in your bank accounts.

So, needless to say, in good conscience could not accept payment, even reduced payment, to only partially protect the prospective client. You would not pay a doctor to perform half of a surgery, or pay a dentist to loosen a tooth so you can go home and finish pulling it yourself. Likewise, it is foolish for a lawyer to review bankruptcy forms without having done the proper analysis to know the consequences that filing the bankruptcy will have on his client.

While a cynical person may read this article and interpret it as a self-serving excuse for an attorney not to budge on his fees, the Kansas bankruptcy court has weighed in on this matter in Standing Order 14-1. In this standing order the Court seems to acknowledge the problematic nature of a partial or limited representation in the complicated context of bankruptcy law when the Court ordered that “any attorney preparing a pleading, motion or other paper for a specific case or matter in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Kansas must enter an appearance and sign the document.”

In other words, we cannot review and modify documents and then send our clients on their way with the expectation that they will navigate their way to the successful conclusion of their bankruptcy case. And for that reason, we either need to enter our appearance (officially notifying the court of our representation) and sign all paperwork, or not be involved at all.

Now, as a result of Standing Order 14-1, it is not only a bad idea for an attorney to provide limited representation in a bankruptcy, but it would be a violation of the Court’s order. There is no question that the financial challenges you face when considering bankruptcy are daunting, and it would be nice to find a cost effective alternative to a bankruptcy lawyer. However, bankruptcy remains one of the most complicated areas of law in American jurisprudence; and, at least in this state, you are required to fully retain a Kansas bankruptcy attorney if you hire one at all. At Mack & Associates we are here to help, and we provide several, flexible payment options. We will assist you in seeking and obtaining the financial relief you need. To learn more about how we can help, contact us for a free consultation at either our Topeka or Kansas City offices.