On Friday, June 7, inside the Donna E. Shalala Student Center at University of Miami, students, attorneys, professors, and law clerks met for the 29th Bankruptcy Skills Workshop. University of Miami School of Law hosted the conference, partnered with The Bankruptcy Bar Association for the Southern District of Florida and Dade County Bar Put Something Back.
Our day began with Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Individuals, corporations, and partnerships can file Chapter 7 (often called “liquidation bankruptcy”). Its solution: sell what you can so creditors can get as much return on unsecured debt as debtors can pay. Unlike a mortgage on a house, unsecured debt has no immediate collateral (e.g. credit card debt). Chapter 7 allows individuals—and only individuals—to discharge their unsecured debt; a judgement on a car insurance incident, perhaps, might be discharged so the debtor is not liable for it. But there is no guarantee: not all unsecured debts can be discharged, and not all property can be liquidated. Chapter 7 is tricky. Hence the conference and the need for James Schwitalla, Esq., from the counsel for debtors, and Scott Weiss, Esq., from counsel for creditors, to clarify when attorneys and debtors should or should not file Chapter 7. Can, for instance, student loan and child support debt be discharged? (Answer: no.) Moderator Eric Silver, Esq., explained with Hayley Harrison, Esq., counsel for trustees, and Steven D. Schneiderman, Esq., trial counsel for the Office of the United States Trustee.
Albeit questions are often answered indirectly. Panelists talk about why to file at the right time or what the right time is or how to avoid getting a case dismissed. On the way they answer questions about student loans, child support, insurance, and car crash judgments, sometimes without saying so. Lawyers debate details—at a conference or in a firm, technicalities guide attorneys. Case in point: Chapter 13 Plan Form Guides. People who file Chapter 13 bankruptcy create three-to-five year plans to pay their secured debt. Our next panel centered on the forms that help make these plans. They change, and so too do answers to questions like, What if someone changes their mind? Say a creditor decides the created plan isn’t sufficient. What then? By way of discussing updates to the Plan Form Guide, Nancy K. Neidich, Esq., Standing Chapter 13 Trustee for Monroe and Miami-Dade County Division, and Robin R. Weiner, Esq., Standing Chapter 13 Trustee for Broward and West Palm Beach County Division, talked also of these complications.
After drinking more coffee and enjoying the third floor view of the student center, people sat down to hear United States Bankruptcy Court Judges for the Southern District of Florida. They discussed issues in consumer bankruptcy they saw from the bench. Their central question: What is making consumer bankruptcy harder for lawyers, their clients, and judges? The Hon. Laurel M. Isicoff, Chief Judge, The Hon. A. Jay Cristol, The Hon. Catherine Peek McEwen, and The Hon. Mindy A. Mora discussed what troubles the consumer (who are only sometimes clients, and are often also judges and attorneys).
Bankruptcy professors, judges, and attorneys teach, adjudicate, and practice to navigate the nebulous problems facing consumers and all the people for or against them. Then we have conferences to learn to see and solve new problems for clients. People go to the Annual Bankruptcy Skills Workshop as students, and then they return to litigate and learn. Clerk of Court, Courtroom Deputies, renowned professors join to teach what to notice and how best to practice as the courtroom and all that goes through it changes. Part and parcel to staying alert of the law and those who practice it, this conference reminds all who go of those who need it: we learn of malpractice, ethics, and how to best use advancing technology so clients can be served fairly and efficiently. Thanks to Sabrina Segura people can keep coming back to share the new glitches and gleams they find.
Yet some people can’t attend conferences—most people don’t. Where there is credit, there are people with more debt than they can pay; some don’t know how to file bankruptcy or if they need a bankruptcy attorney. But beyond the beautiful fountain in front of University of Miami’s student center there are efforts like the free clinics offered at Bankruptcy Court. People there can ask questions to Pro Bono attorneys after watching a tutorial on the ins and outs of filing for bankruptcy. The next one is on Friday, July 12 from noon to two. For more information: http://www.dadelegalaid.org/bankruptcy-project/. Volunteer to help (attorneys) or come to learn—perhaps next year you’ll have something new to add to the annual conference. (please see photos below from the workshop)