What do you think of, when you think of the Constitution? Freedom of speech? Right to Bear Arms? Unlawful Search and Seizure? None of these are in the Constitution – they were added later, in the Bill of Rights.
But you know what IS in the original draft? The right to Bankruptcy. Article I, section 8, Oversight of Bankruptcy is a required duty of Congress. The ability to start over, with a financial clean slate was so important, it was in the original draft – before freedom of speech, before the right to bear arms, before the guarantee of a jury trial, the framers made sure you could declare bankruptcy. Please keep that in mind.
You have a right to get the protection of the court against your creditors. In a lot of situations, you can have your debts eliminated, and you will have an opportunity to renegotiate the repayment, and at least get a break from the harassment. With so much debt collection abuse – why don’t more people take advantage of the Bankruptcy process? Yes, it’s complicated, but not more difficult than most other legal procedures. I think it’s the stigma – the shame of having to surrender, or the feeling that you have failed in your obligation by not repaying the debt.
If you are avoiding the phone because of creditors, you may be able to get some help before the holidays. The process was established in this Nation by the Founders; it is your absolute right. This
process may be the way you can start over, get a grip on your finances, or just give you some room to negotiate. Your creditors know you can get protection from the court, so they aren’t going to make deals with you until you do.
Here’s some insight on Creditors:
- High Interest Rates are the reward the lender gets for taking the risk that you will default. If you were guaranteed not to default, your interest rate would be tiny – like the kind of interest you get on a Treasury Note or US Savings Bond. High Interest means that they assume some are going to default, so they are getting their piece with every interest payment.
- Your Credit Score is a very complex calculation, and it takes into consideration what kind of debts you have, and what assets you have. If you have a lot of debt that can be discharged in a bankruptcy, and you don’t have substantial assets (like a house, or investments), then you are a candidate for an easy Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The system then ASSUMES you are going to file for a Chapter 7, and it’s the reason your score is so low. The credit reporting agency is telling potential lenders that you will likely file, and once you do file, your score will go up.
- Bankruptcy will do a lot to protect you, but it’s still going to change your life. If you are still paying on a car loan, you may be able to get out of the loan – but you will likely lose the car. Yes, it gets rid of the debt, but if that debt has collateral, like a lien on the car title, you could lose that asset. There are ways to keep the car – so this isn’t an absolute rule, but you need to know how to keep the asset, and plan for it.
- Chapter 7 is a cleaner way to do it, as it will wipe out many different kinds of debt, but you can only do this once every 8 years. So if you declared a chapter 7 a few years ago, and disaster struck again, you can still file for Chapter 13. This is a much more complex process, and it’s going to cost more to do it – but if you have been backed into a corner again, it’s an option you can exercise.
- When you file for Bankruptcy, the creditors have to stop their collection efforts, and deal with your attorney.
If you are in the Greater Phoenix area, the Potter Law Firm may be able to help you. “We’ll get you through it.”
“We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relied under the bankruptcy code.”
Trouble is expensive – whether it’s car trouble, health trouble, or legal trouble, it’s going to cost you. Knowing how expensive it is, and knowing how little you have in the bank for such emergencies, makes most reasonable people want to hide under the blankets and hope it goes away. Most of the time, the trouble doesn’t go away – it usually gets worse. It can be a toothache, a funny rattle under the hood, or process server handing you papers; you know it’s going to be an expensive problem.
The median hourly rate for an attorney in Arizona is $255 per hour. Just knowing this is enough to discourage a lot of people from even picking up the phone for a free consultation. And then there is the advance deposit, which could be more than a year’s worth of discretionary income. Some matters can be dealt with using a contingency fee arrangement (where the payment is made only after the case is resolved), but this is only available in some areas of law. Family law and criminal matters cannot be paid for on contingency. If you do make it through the consult, the payment options may leave you feeling that legal help is out of your range. You do have options – maybe more than you think.
If you are indigent, living below the poverty line, then there are legal aid organizations that can help you. But these groups rely on state funding, and are seeing their budgets reduced every year – which makes it hard to qualify if you are only *somewhat* desperate. But what about people who are working, and just aren’t making that much money? Well, since wages have been stagnant for my entire adult life, this is a common situation. You have different options, depending on where you are on the income scale.
The Working Poor – those people who are not homeless, but make under 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, can qualify for the Modest Means project. Modest Means isn’t in every state, but it’s a widely available resource. If your income qualifies (that’s an annual income of $60,624 for a family of four), you can get a low price, one-hour consult with an attorney practicing in the area you need. In Arizona, that one hour costs only $75. If you are prepared, have done your research, and have your questions ready, you can get a lot out of an hour with an attorney. The consult is usually done at the lawyers office, so you are just like any other client, getting that same level of counsel for your troubles.
After the hour consult, the attorney may offer to take on your case. If the attorney makes this offer, the representation will continue at the modest means rate ($75/hr, here in Arizona). Not every lawyer will make the offer, but there’s no harm in asking. At the very least, you can ask for another 1-hour consult later on.
Modest Means is just one way that your local state bar and legal education organization are trying to bring good legal counsel within reach of working families. And you may be surprised by the caliber of professional you are getting for this low price. Many experienced lawyers are a part of Modest Means – it’s a way to give back and to promote better access to the law.
If you don’t qualify for Modest Means, or if your state doesn’t have such a program, what do you do? There are still ways to get legal assistance in solving your problems – and dealing with trouble is a better plan than hiding under the covers. More strategies for getting good advice for less will continue in the next post.
-Trail Potter, Esq.
2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/15poverty.cfm
Arizona Modest Means Project: http://www.azflse.org/modestmeans/
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
- Dick the Butcher, Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78
It’s no secret lawyers are disliked by a lot of people. A lot of that dislike seems to be linked to a sense that lawyers can’t be trusted. When something very cool – like Astronaut Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie on the International Space Station – gets a take-down notice and is removed from you-tube, its lawyers ruining the fun. Lawyers write those credit-card agreements you can’t understand. When something really bad happens to you, there’s a good chance a lawyer is involved with telling you how bad it’s going to be. They are often the bearer of bad news, and frequently speak in a language that sounds like English, but doesn’t make any sense. It’s why the line from Dick the Butcher is still around, despite no one ever seeing a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI since it premiered around the year 1600.
Admittedly, what lawyers do is widely misunderstood, and I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in this short essay. However, it may help if you know that in nearly every instance where a lawyer is doing something – they aren’t doing it for themselves. We defend and protect the rights of others, even when protecting that right means delivering bad news, or taking down an amazing version of a great song sung in outer space. Somebody else (maybe someone mean and greedy) had a right and called an attorney to enforce that right. Lawyers serve others; it’s what we do.
A Lawyer must always put their client’s needs above their own as a requirement of the profession. Always, every single time, the client interest comes first. If a lawyer intentionally misleads a client for profit, that lawyer loses his or her license – they are thrown out of the profession. Who throws them out? Other lawyers – not the police, not some government regulatory authority, not the legislature, but the other lawyers in the state will kick the bad attorney out.
Compare that to the other hired professionals you trust: your stockbroker can sell you a garbage stock, knowing it’s garbage, lie to you about how good it is, then make money while you lose money. Did any broker lose their license during the credit-default swap crisis? Or during the dot-com crash ten years before that? No, they continued to show commercials about how your investment advisor is your good friend. Just like your “good neighbor” insurance company – are they putting your interests above their own profits? Or do you have to fight with them over your legitimate claim for damage to your home, car, or body? Insurance wants to take your money, not give it back. Investment banks want to make money, not protect your interests.
A lot of investment advisors are on your side, by choice. A few people out there have had nothing but good experiences with the insurance provider, perhaps more by luck. But only your Doctor and your Lawyer have an absolute requirement of their license to protect you first – to protect your rights as best they can. Most people either have a doctor they see regularly, or they know they should have one. You probably have an insurance agent, maybe even an investment advisor – but do you have an attorney? Is it because you feel like you can’t trust lawyers? Here’s one more question: Who benefits from you NOT seeking legal advice? Does your insurance company benefit when you don’t call a lawyer? Your investment broker?
Shakespeare’s Dick the Butcher was responding to a plan to overthrow the government, take away all property rights from private ownership and turn the land into a communist utopia. Dick was correct, the only way to do that, would be to take out those who protect people’s rights. Remove the safe-guards, the people who ensure a fair trial, that you were read your rights, that you get to vote, that you can’t be imprisoned without trial, and that your property rights are enforced. To take all those constitutional guarantees away, the first thing is to kill all the lawyers.
So who has your best interest?
The Potter Law Firm has your best interest. We’ll get you through it.
Before I began a sole practice in earnest, I worked a contract for the Arizona Dept. of Child Safety – more often known by their former letters: CPS. It’s close to the IRS for most maligned state agency (although the National Security Agency is trying), and like the IRS, it’s a necessity. I still don’t know the inner workings of the tax collectors, but my 9 months inside DCS gave me an insight to how the agency works, and the people who do a very hard and often thankless job. I’ve also had a view of the failings and flaws in their work. Now that my work there is done, I want to address a rare but dangerous problem: false reporting.
DCS exists to protect children from dangerous environments created directly by, or due to the neglect of, the parents or guardians of the child. This power to take a child away from the parents is in constant tension with the parents rights over and to their own child. No one is happy to have a government official take away anything of theirs, but to take away a child leaves parents scared and desperate. Often, these are temporary custody situations, where the child is placed with a relative guardian while the danger is assessed, and often returned to the parents. Many times, this danger is from drugs, and DCS provides rehab, counseling, and resources for parents who need help.
Let me assure you – there are very dangerous situations for children in the city of Phoenix, and there are parents whose behavior would terrify you. The people inside DCS all know how bad it can be – and whenever a child dies while under DCS investigation, every single employee of the agency is sent an email of what happened. It’s a constant reminder of what is at stake. Yet with so much riding on this, DCS budgets are always on the chopping block – case managers and parent aids are stretched thin and over-worked. Our new governor, Doug Ducey, has promised to cut the budgets further, leaving more children in danger, and fewer investigators to work on cases.
Although it is rare, sometimes these investigations are triggered by one of the parents against the other parent, during or after divorce, without a legitimate basis. The intent is often to use a DCS case to influence a custody outcome in family court – to move the ball closer to the goal. Sometimes this is done after a divorce, as part of a strategy to petition the court for a change in custody – and other times it’s done while a divorce is pending.
I’ve spent time preparing court documents in these cases, and it doesn’t work. A report can trigger an investigation, but the process will uncover a false report over substantial danger to a child. This discovery will be reported to the judge and any court appointed advisors in the family law case – in other words, it’s going to cause a lot of pain, expense, trauma for the entire family, and will mostly likely backfire. Filing a false report with DCS is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802.) I’ve seen this happen.
The greater tragedy is that each false report takes attention away from real danger to children in frightening circumstances. As resources are stretched thin, the time it takes to uncover a false report drains the time and budget that should be used on cases where there is an ongoing danger to the child’s physical or emotional well being. DCS is there for the children of this state, not to be a used as a tool for parents working out their anger. Additionally, a DCS investigation won’t just stop once it’s been started, so the children will also be dealing with investigations, examinations, case workers asking them a lot of questions, and you ultimately run the risk of having the child removed from both parents, and placed into foster care.
If you are in a divorce, or have an existing custody agreement, and you have problems with the other parent – how they live or who they live with – there are other options. Mediation is a way parents can work through problems without court involvement. Private mediators can find resolutions for a lower cost than court involvement, and they can do it faster – which saves in the emotional costs to you and the children. Look into mediation before doing something you may regret. Think twice before filing a false report with DCS.
REMINDER: Mediators are NOT certified in Arizona – so ask about your mediator’s background and training. Are they knowledgeable in child issues? Are they a licensed attorney? Do they have a behavioral health background? Some conflicts are more about legal issues, and some are more about the psychology of the parents – so choose the right mediator for the problem. I am a Texas certified mediator with a high resolution rate in both civil and family matters. Contact the Potter Law Firm, we can help.
-Trail T. Potter, Esq.