Attorneys often try to hide a client’s information, disclosing as little as possible. This legal strategy sometimes has comical effects, as in this exchange I heard in a deposition:

Q:       Do you remember where the main office for Gas del Lagarto  was located?
A:         Even though I was the officer and president of Gas del Lagarto at that time, four years ago today, I don’t recall if we had our main offices in El Paso or Ciudad Juarez.
Q:         How is it that you do you not recall whether the offices were in Texas or Mexico?
A:         You have to approach life like a movie: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Here is another highly amusing dramatization of hiding information. 

This kind of “hide the ball” mentality is incredibly frustrating for the questioning attorney, and litigants use it mostly to psych out the other side. It doesn’t make the witness look credible at all, and it benefits litigation attorneys handsomely because it drives legal fees up.

There is no place for “hide the ball” in bankruptcy. The debtor comes to the court seeking a release from his debts. In exchange, he needs to provide documentation that he has nothing to pay them with (more details on the process are here). If anyone on the opposing side of the debtor –  creditors, the bankruptcy Trustee, the judge – believes the debtor is only selectively providing information or hiding something, then the debtor can only be hurt. Penalties for failing to divulge required information in bankruptcy range from the trivial to the criminal. But, such tactics always put the discharge — the ability to have the debts extinguished – at risk.

As a debtor, you should expect that a good bankruptcy attorney will give you advice on when and how to file bankruptcy. You should not expect that the attorney will dig you out of a hole you made by failing to provide documentation or information when you were asked for it. I have been able to help debtors who thought it was to their advantage to hide information. I usually counsel them to determine a coherent narrative that explains all the documentary facts, discloses information, and advances the narrative. It works much better than trying to frustrate the other side.

October 15, 2012

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