You just spent hours on a flight to or from some wonderful destination. You exit the airport and proceed towards the outside world on what sometimes feels like a “red carpet” for travelers.
You look around and you see limousine drivers everywhere holding tiny signs with names printed (or written) across them. Perhaps one of those names is even yours.
Most likely, you have never met your limousine driver before so the sign identification method is pretty efficient and makes perfect sense.
Upon exiting the airport you spot your name, shake hands, hand over your bags and the driver/passenger relationship has sprouted.
Unfortunately, many bankruptcy attorneys and bankruptcy law firms operate with the limousine driver method of client relations.
“Are you My Attorney?”
Last week, I arrived at a 341 Meeting of Creditors very early and was hanging out. Yes, that’s what I do sometimes.
I was approached by a woman and she asked me, “Are you my attorney?”
Now, many quirky responses shuffled through my head before I responded with a polite, “I’m sorry, but I’m not.”
In a way, I felt sorry for this woman knowing that at this very stressful and scary time in her life, she was unsure who was representing her financial interests.
Of course, this is not the first time this has happened to me.
In fact, it is not uncommon here in the Eastern District of New York to see a “Where’s Waldo” type atmosphere in the Bankruptcy Court. Attorneys frequently walk around calling out names to try to locate and identify clients they have never met.
Many debtors wander around seeking an “appearance attorney” hired by the law firm they hired to represent them.
I don’t like passing judgement on this practice, but unfortunately I do.
Avoid Limousine Drivers
I mean no disrespect to drivers, but as attorneys, we are held to a very high standard. It is our duty and responsibility to represent our clients to the absolute best of our ability.
I have talked about the importance of hiring the right bankruptcy attorney to get you out of debt.
In my opinion, if you are meeting your attorney for the very first time at your court hearing, something went wrong.
I have always said that bankruptcy, more than any other area of law is a collaborative effort between the attorney and the client. Clients have certain responsibilities in bankruptcy as do attorneys.
Those attorney responsibilities extend far beyond simply discharging debt through a court proceeding. In fact, I define my success as a bankruptcy lawyer by the relationships I am able to build with my clients and the emotional burden I am able to lift from their shoulders.
This process starts with the initial consultation and continues indefinitely.
Passing off a client to another attorney does nothing to foster a successful relationship and case outcome. It can only hurt.
I sit here and shudder thinking of a day when attorneys will be standing outside hearing rooms at court with “their” clients’ names printed on small identification signs.
Image courtesy of aldenjewell (Flickr).
I agree 100%. Here in the Western District of Wisconsin, I see debtors every week meeting “their attorney” for the first time. I’ll fill in for a colleague now and then if he/she has a conflict and just can’t make the meeting. But I personally dislike the practice of routinely passing clients off to someone else.
Bret, I agree. I am not referring to attorneys that do this because of emergencies or other obligations that may arise. Like you said, it is the routine practice that bothers me.
It is always better to know your attorneys by making a background check on them to make sure that they are reliable. Lawyers can manipulate every situation to put into their favor so it is very important to see to it that you hire the right one.