Today on Riverside Trustee Robert Whitmore’s calendar the US Trustee Interviewed a pro se debtor who had his petition prepared by an attorney. The attorney charged more than the “pro se” petition preparers rate of $200.00.
The US Trustee’s representative asked if the debtor had met with the attorney. The debtor said “no”. Mr. Whitmore then asked if the debtor had talked to the debtor over the phone? The Debtor said “no”. The US Trustee’s representative closed his investigation for the time being and the matter was concluded to another day.
The attorney will probably be contacted and given an opportunity to give his side of the story. Sometimes debtors forget who they meet at the law office.
This story highlights that there is floating around the Central District of California a movement to have attorneys and debtors sign a Rights and Responsibility Agreement like the one that is sign in chapter 13. In chapter 13, the local rules state that an attorney has to sign a Rights and Responsibility Agreement in order to have the ability among other things to qualify for the “no look fee” in supplemental fee applications. While this may not be a concern in chapter 7, the language in the agreement may be imported to chapter 7.
One of the highlights of the Rights and Responsibilities Agreement is that the Attorney must meet with his/her client.
On Local Form 3015-1.7 RARA the following language appears:
‘BEFORE THE CASE IS FILED, THE ATTORNEY AGREES TO PROVIDE AT LEAST THE FOLLOWING LEGAL SERVICES:
As used herein, the term “Personally” means that the described service shall be performed only by an attorney who is a member in good standing of the State Bar of California and admitted to practice before this court. The service shall not be performed by a non-attorney even if such individual is employed by the attorney and under the direct supervision and control of such attorney.
Personally meet with the Debtor to review the Debtor’s assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. “
It seems odd to have to place this in a local rule, but there were a sufficient number of attorneys not meeting their clients in chapter 13 cases. The Agreement list many other requirements and duties. Check out out the form on the Central District of California District website at cacb.uscourts.gov.
Now there is a movement in the Central District to have chapter 7 attorneys and their clients sign a similar agreement in chapter 7 cases. The requirement has not been made as of yet, but in the future this agreement may be a local rule.
Practice Pointer: Meet with your client personally!