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In the middle of Chapter 13 and considering firing my attorney

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  • In the middle of Chapter 13 and considering firing my attorney

    It took me several weeks of phone calls before I settled on an attorney and I really thought he was the best person to help me. His firm filed Chapter 13 on my behalf in February. I now have serious regrets and am once again looking at any and all options. What I seemed to have encountered is a firm that just runs these cases through a ‘mill’ and collects the fees.

    I could go into all the details of several serious issues I have had with this firm over the last 2 months, but I don’t think that is relevant to my problem. I just don’t have the confidence they are going to help me and I now have more stress over my attorney than I had before all this started. I wanted an attorney because I felt the issues were far too complex (i have assets) for me to understand. I still believe that to be true but if an attorney isn’t going to help me, then I might be better off handling this myself. I've already had my hearing and the attorney should be meeting with the creditors in about 1 month.

    I’m curious if anyone else with assets has handled their own Chapter 13 and can offer advice. I’ve found some resources online but everything I’ve found seems to be geared towards individuals with no assets.

    Thanks to anyone who can offer advice.

  • #2
    Welcome to bkforum, Danny2014. I moved your post to the Pro Se Filing thread where it may get more attention from pro se filers.

    You might also want to start a thread in the Chap 13 forum about some of the issues you are having. Many people who have trouble with their attorneys and received the benefit of the perspective of bkforum members have been able to improve the relationship with the attorney and move forward to successfully complete their BK case.
    LadyInTheRed is in the black!
    Filed Chap 13 April 2010. Discharged May 2015.
    $143,000 in debt discharged for $36,500, including attorneys fees. Money well spent!


    • #3
      I'm not sure I have great advice... except get it handled pretty quickly. I believe one of the moderators here successfully represented himself in a 13? I can tell you from experience, you do not want an idiot attorney in a Chapter 13. We had a Chapter 13 over 10 years ago, and all was going well, until we had to move out of state. Our attorney dropped the ball on us so badly that our case was dismissed before we were even aware of it. At the time, I was clueless about the BK process and just trusted attorneys to handle it all. I was dealing with other health issues and just needed somebody to handle it for us. She actually left us a voicemail after the dismissal hearing to tell us our case was dismissed for failure to pay our fees. Our attorney TOLD US to stop making payments because we were going to convert to a Chapter 7. Turns out, she never filed the proper paperwork and claims that she never told us to stop paying the fees. Well, we had an email stating otherwise.... but we also had no idea what we were doing...and because of our situation, none of our creditors bothered to deal with us... so everything just kind of sat around for years. It was after I looked in to things a little more that I gained a real education, and by then the SOL to sue our attorney for malpractice was up. We tried anyway, but were told we were basically idiots who should have immediately discovered our attorney's malpractice. Technically, though... we won the case but the court only awarded us the fees we paid to our attorney's firm. All of those medical debts from 10+ years ago still haunted us, and we were just fed up with trying to deal with it, so we just filed the Chap 7 on our own a couple months ago after me doing the research for a good long time and interviewing over 20 lawyers. Obviously, our trust was broken and we just never felt like any of those attorneys wanted to help us aside from take our fee and file paperwork... well, hell.... I can file my own paperwork, so I did. I don't know if I could do it for a 13.... not sure I'm confident enough for that... but I know it's been done before. I do wish you luck though.... and honestly.... if you are already having that gut feeling about your firm, listen to it.


      • #4
        JustBroke did, and I think he converted to a 7, too. And I filed Ch 13 pro se and I have about 3 or 4 months left til my discharge. The paperwork isn't the hardest part, I don't think. It is procedure other than that that is complicated. Notices that YOU have responsibility to send, keeping dates right, knowing how to respond to creditor's claims, and making darn sure you pay what you are supposed to pay when you are supposed to pay it. According to my trustee, if I understood him correctly, just getting to confirmation is difficult for Pro Se filers. Chapter 13 Pro Se is not for the faint of heart, but do-able, yes.


        • #5
          YOU go to your meeting of creditors. You need to be there.


          • #6
            In most of Florida, the Chapter 13 Plan is now a "model" plan. IF that means nothing to you, then you should read a lot more (NoLo) books on Chapter 13s. The Plan is the most difficult, however, putting the right thing(s) on Schedule J is equally important. An attorney helps you to come up with the right budget and Plan for a successful Chapter 13.

            Sure, I would say that most Chapter 13s are cookie cutter but I also would say that those same cases, most of them, can be handled by a so-called Mill. The difficulty comes when it is a "marginal" Chapter 13 or a Chapter 7 disguised as a Chapter 13. There was one attorney that put a person into a Chapter 13 solely to have the attorney paid! (The judge denied confirmation of a plan that only pays the attorney's fees! There were no assets in the case!) Remember, all Chapter 13s are asset cases. There are some other things to consider such as the Chapter 7 liquidation test. These are things that your attorney does to make sure you file a feasible and "good faith" plan. (Some people forget the good faith aspect of Chapter 13 plans.)

            You may want to shop several oter attorneys and think about what you want to do. I never recommend filing Chapter 13 Pro Se, especially if you don't know anything about the District, Standing Trustee, Model Plan (if any), confirmation process, and other standard motions. If you don't, then you are either not ready to file on your own, or will nevrer be able to successfully get a Chapter 13 confirmed. (Most pro se Chapter 13 debtors can't even get a plan confirmed. By most, I mean more than 2/3rds.) In fact, one judge mentioned that over 65% of Chapter 13s fail. The Plan is the most important aspect, but life does happen.

            I would say that the need for an attorney in a Chapter 13 is directly related to exactly what you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to cure arrears, save property, strip liens, cramdown vehicles (or other personal property), and come up with a feasible plan without getting beat up (taken advantage of) by the Standing Trustee, then filing pro se is probably not a good idea. I was only one of several pro se debtors that ever made it to confirmation in my District that quarter. Tigergem is also an exception in their District.

            If we don't know the exact issues, and there are issues that are beyond many debtor's comprehension, then we can't comment on your specific cause of concern with your attorney. A Chapter 13 is a marathon, not a race. There are many things that may not make sense to you. There are many things that may not happen on your perceived timeline. As I like to put it, a Chapter 13 Plan is more a settlement between the debtor, the Standing Trustee, and the debtor's creditors. If no one likes the Plan (of reorganization), ti's probably a good settlement.
            Chapter 7 (No Asset/Non-Consumer) Filed (Pro Se) 7/08 (converted from Chapter 13 - 2/10)
            Status: (Auto) Discharged and Closed! 5/10
            Visit My BKForum Blog: justbroke's Blog

            I am not an attorney. Any advice provided is not legal advice.


            • #7
              Wow, I didn’t realize there were any responses to my original post, I thought I had this set up to receive email notifications if any comments were left. Thanks to all who have commented, there was a lot of good info provided.

              I was in a precarious position a month ago with this Chapter 13 with another hearing pending but no response from my attorney on a few questions I had regarding documentation I was required to submit. This is the way it has been since day 1. When I have questions it takes the offices days to respond, if they respond at all. I have had numerous emails or phone calls go unanswered. I never contact them to ‘chat’, all contact has been regarding how to fill out paperwork or to make sure I fully understand what is required of me. On the other hand, the office has called me a few times requesting documentation and tells me they need it within a few hours so they can submit it to someone else. The exchange of information has not been a 2 way street. I really wanted to cut them loose but I decided to light them up a month ago and it helped. They have been more responsive as of late.

              I never thought of Chapter 13 cases as all being ‘asset cases’. I have assets that are modest, but I also have a good portion of my assets in investments which I expect to pay off well several years down the road and this was my primary reason for moving to protect them now. One of the creditors had a judgment they were looking to enforce with 80% of the amount being interest only, and in dispute. I had moved prior to the suit and had no notice they had even filed suit or won a judgment. Were it not for this one creditor, I would not have been put in a position to file Chapter 13. I made a settlement offer to them (prior to filing) but they never responded and I felt I had no choice but to move to protect my assets.

              Justbroke, I guess I had 2 concerns about handling this myself, the first is the obvious need to meet all the filing requirements, timelines, etc.. I know if I make one mistake, it could open a window that would allow the one creditor to move forward with enforcing the judgment. The 2nd issue I have is simply time; I doubt there is any way I could take enough time off from work to handle this properly. I am afraid that even if I only make 1 mistake on 100 items, that 1 mistake could cost me dearly.

              I do know it is a ‘marathon’ as you described it and my guess is that I am halfway through the legal process and I hope to have payment plan set in place with the next 2 or 3 months. For now, I’m going to stay with this attorney, but I have a list of other attorneys to contact in the event these people drop the ball or disappear on me again.

              Thanks again to all who have responded to my OP.


              • #8
                If you ever really need to speak with your attorney, setup an appointment and go to their office. When you do things by telephone, you invite very terse conversations. You also, unknowingly, invite the lack of return phone calls. My Chapter 13 Trustee's office never once returned my calls for 20 months, until my case was converted! I later understood that they are in Court everyday (or holding a 341 Meeting), and there was a precise day and time to call (Fridays after lunch). Understanding your attorney's schedule is very important.

                If I were you, I might ask for a sit down appointment to review everything one final time, before confirmation. That way, you hopefully understand everything. As I said, sometimes things don't move as fast as we want them to, in bankruptcy, and I would be the first person to tell you that even I get nervous or antsy when things look like they are wrong.
                Chapter 7 (No Asset/Non-Consumer) Filed (Pro Se) 7/08 (converted from Chapter 13 - 2/10)
                Status: (Auto) Discharged and Closed! 5/10
                Visit My BKForum Blog: justbroke's Blog

                I am not an attorney. Any advice provided is not legal advice.


                • #9
                  Justbroke, I live about 1 ½ hours drive from the office and I also travel often for work so it is not always easy to get to their office. I also make an effort to NOT be a pain and it is my opinion that email offers them a way to respond when they have time. I shouldn’t have to go sit on their doorstep every time I have a question, but I’ll keep your suggestion in mind. From what they have told me they have everything ready for the confirmation hearing and it received approval to take place. It looks like someone (Trustee?) had to review all the documentation first and give approval for the hearing but they have one scheduled.

                  When I do manage to get a reply or phone call (extremely rare) they are actually very polite and helpful. Getting their attention is the hard part. When I first began this journey, they indicated it would take about 6 months total until they had a plan in place and so far, that looks to be holding true. My first concern was to protect my assets and they accomplished that, but I also know there are still a lot of processes that need to take place and I will still need to supply information regarding certain aspects of my case or finances. I just need them to respond when I am uncertain as to what they need, and to that end, they have failed miserably.


                  • #10
                    I both hear and understand your frustration. If this is a so-called "mill" understand that they probably have hundreds and maybe over 1,000 other clients. I also understand the distance thing as well. My courthouse and Trustee were some 90 miles from my house.

                    If they are otherwise being nice, then I would just say to chalk it up to their busy caseload. I hope that it all works out for you!
                    Chapter 7 (No Asset/Non-Consumer) Filed (Pro Se) 7/08 (converted from Chapter 13 - 2/10)
                    Status: (Auto) Discharged and Closed! 5/10
                    Visit My BKForum Blog: justbroke's Blog

                    I am not an attorney. Any advice provided is not legal advice.


                    • #11
                      I too understand your frustration. Our attorney was MIA on several important occasions. You can do a search on my username, or that of my DH, AngelinaCaHub, for further info. I am not going to regurgitate it now.

                      If I were you, I would do as JB suggests--work with the attorney and situation. It is not easy to fire an attorney and find a new one. For one thing, you have to petition the BK Court to dismiss the attorney and substitute new counsel. Furthermore, most attorneys are very unwilling to step into another attorney's case (or mess). If you find one willing to do it, be prepared to part with some major bucks.

                      Good wishes to you!
                      "To go bravely forward is to invite a miracle."

                      "Worry is the darkroom where negatives are formed."


                      • #12
                        You can do it (maybe)

                        My husband and I filed Ch. 13 pro se in 2004, received confirmation, and then voluntarily dismissed in 2005, after we had our finances rearranged. (Unfortunately, a job loss necessitated a Ch. 7 in 2008, which we also did successfully pro se.) I am self-employed and had to submit monthly P&L statements along with our payments. We had no assets, but did have a car that qualified for cram-down under the Ch. 13 plan and a repayment plan to the IRS, which was finished 100% by the time we dismissed. I won't say it was the easiest thing ever, but we did it with only a few mistakes. First, we didn't make the proposed payment within the first thirty days of filing. Our trustee gave us a tongue-lashing, but not much else. We also didn't commit all of our DMI to the original budget (left $38 unaccounted for) and had to amend the plan. We left off one creditor and had to amend the plan. Just little things. If yours is complex, I wouldn't recommend going it alone, but if it's fairly straightforward, and you have good comprehension skills, you can do it. Just follow the instructions explicitly. (Also, our Ch. 13 was before the BK 2005 screw-over from Congress, so it might be more complex now.)
                        Filed No Asset Ch. 7, pro se, 08/18/2008
                        341 meeting is 09/25/2008
                        Last day for objections is 11/24/2008
                        Discharged: 11/28/2008


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