Treat my staff with respect.
They know what they are doing. If they tell you that they can’t give you certain information over the phone, they are following office policy and procedures. You can probably find the information you are seeking at National Data Center or 13Network. Both are free to debtors’ counsel, 13 Network is free to creditor’s counsel as well, and NDC is free to debtors. We give each debtor a brochure with instructions on accessing NDC at the meeting of creditors.
Throwing together something to get it filed doesn’t progress the case—whether it’s sloppy schedules, a plan that won’t work, an incomplete proof of claim, or an inaccurate motion for stay relief. You may have met a deadline, but you’ve created more work for yourself, in all likelihood, since sloppy work delays confirmation, generates objections and counter-pleadings, and hearings.
If you are debtor’s counsel, BAPCPA requires more personal knowledge. You can’t simply rely on what the debtor-client told you. Apply common-sense when you review schedules. Why does a couple with two children under 5 years of age have a cell phone bill In excess of $450.00? The Trustee’s inquiring mind will want to know. If you are creditor’s counsel and are forwarded information for a motion for stay relief, look at more than what your client sent you. Check out the plan, and if it provides that the trustee is to make the payments on that secured claim, check it out. Some creditors seem to have a difficult time applying payments. Better to deal with the condescension of the creditor’s employee than explain to the Judge in open court why you didn’t check out the trustee’s payments which are available to you online before you filed.
Review the documents you are required to provide/file.
Compare it to the information you put in the schedules, plan and Statement of Financial Affairs. The car value should be the same on the schedules and the plan. Tax returns frequently show greater income than the schedules or show omitted sources of income. We actually look at the returns. So should counsel.
Tax returns are due 7 days prior to the meeting of creditors.
This should not be a surprise. BAPCPA went into effect in 2006. It’s not “new law.”
Evaluate the case.
Not everyone, as much as it pains me to write this, can perform in a Chapter 13 case. Nor, sad to say, does everyone who qualifies for a Chapter 13 want to be there. As a trustee, I want to see more filings, but not more non-productive cases.
Enlist the aid of a calculator.
I use base 10 for our numerical calculations. Many plans appear to use another numerical system.
No shifting responsibilities.
Some things are part of the representation of the debtors. The trustee cannot represent the debtors. The trustee is required to assist the debtor in completing the plan—not replace counsel. What I try to do is give the debtors and their counsel tools to use, such as written recommendations in advance of the hearings, worksheets which show how I calculate what the plan will pay, and making that worksheet available online to counsel filing notices of plan payment changes as necessary and even motions to dismiss to show that the debtors are not keeping up with payments. The trustee is specifically prohibited from giving legal advice to any party, including creditors.
The plan as you fill it out;
The pleadings which are filed; (I personally think you should read the recommendation and review the workup which is filed prior to the confirmation hearing. I feel like a babysitter when I have to read these to counsel, whom I presume know how to read.)
The pleadings you file and the orders you write. The relief set forth in the order you draft should match what the Court granted in a hearing, or, if a default order, what was sought in the motion/objection.
Understand what can and can’t be done in your client’s case.
Filing plans/pleadings which seek to something that is prohibited by the Code make you appear to be gaming the system, playing “catch me if you can” with the trustee, opposing counsel, and the Court. You may slip a few past everyone; but if it appears to be a pattern, I and my staff attorney, at least, will scrutinize everything you file.
Rules of procedure change. Court policies change. Stay current.
If you want to do something that is unorthodox, explain why you want/need to do it and give as much authority as you can muster. Disclosure goes a long way! A secured creditor who doesn’t want the collateral back may be willing to accept your proposal if it is fact specific enough that the creditor doesn’t run the risk of dealing with this issue in every case.
Say “The trustee is right.”
Say it often and on the record, if possible.