Whether your tech start-up is looking to venture into a new technology application or you already work with bankruptcy technology, the economic impact of the pandemic and social distancing has created opportunities for you to innovate and expand your product line.
There are already successful companies occupying the space where petition preparation software lives. Regardless, as people file bankruptcy due to financial trouble caused by the coronavirus, so too will more attorneys expand their practices to include consumer representation in bankruptcy. Those attorneys new to bankruptcy need help to learn the practice area. Those clients concerned about contagion will insist on meeting with their attorney remotely. And finally, clients wishing to represent themselves pro se in a bankruptcy case will want to prepare their petition and schedules from home.
Do you already create educational software? Do you have bankruptcy preparation software in your product line? Can you create an online platform that guides new bankruptcy practitioners through the process of preparing and filing a bankruptcy case? Do you already have a videoconferencing platform that could be adapted to facilitate bankruptcy attorney-client meetings? Could you adapt any of your technology to help pro se debtors prepare their bankruptcy cases?
Here are three opportunities to expand your product line, from the office of a noted Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney.
Educational Software for New Bankruptcy Practitioners
There are scads of continuing legal education courses out there for bankruptcy practitioners, even brand new ones. But is there software available to help new practitioners learn the nuts-and-bolts of bankruptcy law while exposing them to the various forms that a debtor must complete?
Whether this is cloud-based, web-based, or downloaded, the opportunity exists to create a bankruptcy-specific program that guides a new practitioner through the law and through the forms. It should be searchable to answer specific questions an attorney new to the practice of bankruptcy law might have. It might also be organized by bankruptcy case timeline, such as:
- The initial consultation: what questions an attorney should ask and why (link to law or forms)
- Potential red flags in a new client
- A sample Retainer Agreement that can be modified
- What documents and information should you tell clients to send you?
- Bankruptcy forms including a narrative of potential pitfalls
- An explanation of the federal and state exemptions (provide a choice of state)
- A list of questions that a Chapter 7 Trustee will ask at the 341(a) Meeting of Creditors and potential pitfalls etc.
All that is required to realize this opportunity is a willing tech company and a legal advisor. Of course, any creation should include a caveat that it is not legal advice and that the new practitioner is responsible for any filings and the result thereof. Including that disclaimer as well as links to the relevant statutes will put the onus on the practitioner.
Videoconferencing Platforms Specifically for Bankruptcy Attorneys and Their Clients
While Facetime and Zoom readily meet the needs of many wishing to communicate remotely, bankruptcy practitioners need something more specific, namely, something that will show both the attorney and the client the forms being discussed. Those forms should also be able to be edited by the client or the attorney in real-time.
There is no doubt that more initial consultations and more meetings to review and correct a bankruptcy filing will be conducted remotely due to the coronavirus. The videoconferencing platforms currently available fall short of what the practice of bankruptcy needs.
Sure, an attorney can share a computer screen with a client, but that is not a good idea. It is too easy to inadvertently give that client a look at what else might be on that computer, and that could constitute an ethical violation on the part of the attorney.
An attorney might also email a draft of the petition and schedules to a client, but how secure is that email? Current case law and ethics opinions suggest that sending sensitive information or documents over email is an ethical violation. Attorneys get around this by encryption, but there is no way for an attorney and their client to view and change a draft together in real-time.
Both attorneys and clients need a platform they can sign into securely, view and discuss the draft petition, and make changes to that draft. Has your tech company already created something similar to this that might be adapted to the practice of bankruptcy law?
Online Platforms for Pro Se Debtors
The bankruptcy courts have already started down this path by making downloads of fillable .pdfs of bankruptcy forms available on their websites. What is needed now is a virtual bankruptcy petition preparation platform, something akin to those popular online tax preparation platforms.
Do-it-yourself bankruptcy software does exist, however, the first problem with that software is that it is not updateable. With a virtual platform, the creator can easily update aspects of it for all users when any bankruptcy law is amended.
The second problem with the existing bankruptcy preparation software for pro se debtors is that right now, it requires a disc or a download and installation. Not every debtor has access to a secure computer at home, and if they do not, they will use the library or a friend’s computer. If a tech company created an online platform that users could sign into, securely, from any computer, including a smartphone, that would serve the entirety of the pro se debtor pool regardless of access to technology.
If your tech company is involved in any tangential software or platforms that could be adapted to these three bankruptcy purposes, you have the opportunity to innovate and meet these new needs. Good luck!
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with David Offen, Esq., a busy bankruptcy lawyer in Philadelphia.