Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saving Money

I'm sitting in a bankruptcy hearing listening to a pro se case. A pro se case is one where the filer is not represented by an attorney. This lady found the forms online and filled them out herself.

By not using an attorney, she has likely saved herself about $1,000.

However, due to a quirk in our state's laws, she is about to lose $6,000 in assets and has no idea. Not only does she not have any idea, she only has a few days to find out and get it right. She doesn't know that either.

Apparently, there are also several things wrong with her filing, because the court has issued a "show cause" asking her to defend herself against a possible contempt charge. She has no idea what that means, and has moved, so it appears that she is not getting letters from the court. A hearing date has been set for that, but again, she says she knows nothing about it.

Finally, she filed a separate motion with the court and was granted a hearing date. She is supposed to file a notice of the hearing. She has not done so and will soon run out of time. She filed that motion because the forms were online. Not only was the motion not necessary in the first place, but it will likely not be heard since she does not have a clue she has to file the notice. Since the motion will not be heard, it may affect the closing of her case.

All this for what appears to to be a routine case.

But at least she saved $1,000!


Sailorcurt said...

And you don't see this as a problem?

Is the issue that the lady made a bad decision for attempting to represent herself, or that our laws and court systems are so ridiculously complex, full of red tape, and indecipherable that your average citizen of average intelligence is incapable of navigating it without paying hundreds of dollars an hour for an attorney?

Personally, I'd vote for the latter.

But, I guess that's what we get when we elect primarily lawyers to write the laws.

Job security for lawyers.

Sailorcurt said...

Oh...and as an aside...sometimes it's not a matter of "saving money" but a matter of not having the money to begin with.

There are a lot of decisions we make on a daily basis that may make things more expensive in the long run, but if you don't have the money to do the "smart" thing in the short run, it really doesn't matter what the implications will be.

Old NFO said...

The court system and laws are so complicated, the odds of her being successful are microscopic at best...

Lawyer said...

Sailor Curt: Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate your insight. To answer your questions, Yes. It's a combination of both. I posted this from my phone just before my case was called, so I didn't really go into detail. This was her second bite at the apple. She filed another case earlier this year, and had that case dismissed because of a missed deadline. At this, her second attempt, she shows up with no more sense of urgency than she did the first time. I'm certainly not upset that she did not use an attorney the first time. As I mentioned, it should be a relatively straightforward case. I do believe she should have at least consulted an attorney the second time. She has not learned the lessons from the first case, and does not appear to be in a hurry to handle her business the second time. That is what prompted my post.

As for the complexity of the law, I wholeheartedly agree. For this particular matter, bankruptcy, debtor's attorneys fought the 2005 change in law for 8 years before losing. Although the law was billed by the press as an answer to abusive filings, all it did was create a lot more work for all involved, including the attorneys. Thus, a case which would have run about $300 in the summer of 2005 will now cost about 4 times as much. Very little of that is due to inflation.

We are in an era where laws and regulations are outpacing our ability keep up. In the end, no one wins.

Old NFO: That is correct, to a learge extent. However, if she would just take some extra time and pay attention to some basic details (all of which are on the forms provided by the court), this would have been a different outcome.

Murphy's Law said...

Pro se litigants are usually fun to watch...unless you are opposing them because judges usually give them massive amounts of deferential treatment until finally they prove themselves to be total bozos.

WV: Comode. Well that's a pretty crappy WV, even if it is short one M.

Sailorcurt said...

"judges usually give them massive amounts of deferential treatment until finally they prove themselves to be total bozos."

I have to admit a severe lack of experience here, but what experience I do have doesn't support that statement.

I've never been through civil court, but I've sat through many, many misdemeanor hearings in General District (Traffic) court. In the military, in most cases military members must take a command representative with them any time they go to court. That generally ended up being their

In traffic court, people who paid for a lawyer were shown MUCH more leniency than those who had not, even in very similar cases with the same points raised. When it was a lawyer asking the questions, the judge seemed to place much more weight on the question and the answer than if the individual was representing himself asking the same questions.

Inevitably, when found guilty, those with lawyers paid much lower fines and often had their charges reduced to defective equipment or other charges which added no points to their license and wouldn't reflect on their insurance rates.

After several years of witnessing such instances, I came to the inescapable conclusion that it is worth it to pay the lawyer, not just because they'd be able to better navigate the legal "system", but because the "good 'ole boys" network was alive and well and you would be rewarded for supporting it.

Which, in my mind, is no less corrupt than just offering bribes for preferential treatment.

Lawyer said...

Sailor Curt: Once you get to the "courts of record," you can often see the bias toward pro-se litigants. Just this year, we have had several cases where our clients incurred costs and fees because the pro-se litigant on the other side was allowed to survive what would have normally been a fatal error in their case.