Featured Attorneys

NJ Bankruptcy Lawyer

NJ bankruptcy lawyer, Laura NevilleToday’s Featured Attorney Interview is with NJ Bankruptcy lawyer, Laura J. Neville of The Neville Law Firm, LLC.

NJLB:      Laura, I know you have quite a diverse background and you worked as a music teacher in the New Jersey public schools for many years. Tell me how being a former teacher benefits your clients.

LJN:  That’s true, in fact, I still teach privately and play trumpet and bagpipes professionally, as time allows.  But to answer your question, I believe that coming to the practice of law after teaching for some time provides me with a unique perspective as well as some skills not taught in law school, but rather gained through life experience.  Working in an education environment with all sorts of people coming from all sorts of situations was a valuable experience, and I attribute my ability to communicate effectively with clients and prospective clients to my years spent in the classroom.  And, just as every student has a unique style of learning that must be recognized and used to advantage by effective teachers, every client has unique problems that must be recognized and addressed strategically.  It is my job to determine what approach or approaches will work best in achieving the goals of the client.  In other words, in terms of the communication and analytic skills required, teaching music and practicing bankruptcy law have more in common than one would think.

Most importantly, though, I just enjoy helping people and both teaching and practicing bankruptcy law have allowed me to do that.  I have a great deal of empathy and respect for a person who has taken stock of his or her situation, decided that the situation is unacceptable and cannot continue, and who is taking the courageous step of seeking out an attorney’s help to change that situation.  I feel privileged to be in a position to help someone like that achieve a fresh start in his or her financial life.

NJLB:      You’ve also worked with creditors in the past. How is that experience now helping you represent those on the other side?

LJN:  My experience representing creditors in debt-collection litigation and in bankruptcy has been very helpful in my consumer bankruptcy practice.  Consumer debtors are often unaware of the extent and nature of the debt obligations they incur, and because I know how creditors approach collecting on those debts in and out of a bankruptcy context, I can prepare my clients for all possible creditor actions.  Using this sort of foresight, I am often able to resolve or avoid altogether the complications in a bankruptcy filing that creditors may cause while pursuing their claims.  And when a client comes to me having been sued in state court by a creditor, I am often able to reach favorable settlement terms and avoid further litigation.

I derive a great deal of satisfaction from resolving creditor issues efficiently and keeping legal costs low for my clients.  My former corporate clients demanded that, and I have carried that priority over to my consumer practice.  I think it goes without saying that it is important for consumer clients to keep legal costs low what with the high cost of living these days.

NJLB:         You also blog about Bankruptcy Law. I’m a big fan of blogging when it comes to getting information out there. Do you think your blogs may actually help someone out there in financial trouble?

LJN:  I hope so!  My purpose in blogging is to raise awareness about bankruptcy as an option for resolving untenable debt situations.  Folks are very internet-savy these days, and while it is important for someone considering filing to eventually meet with an attorney to discuss his or her particular debt situation, it is a simple matter for that person to first search the web to get some basic information.  My blog and the articles on my website provide an effective introduction to basic bankruptcy concepts and current issues in bankruptcy, foreclosure and debt collection.

I think that the word “bankruptcy” has become part of the common lexicon due to the economic situation we all now face, and understandably, people are curious about it.  In these difficult economic times, we have cities, major symphony orchestras and automobile manufacturers filing for bankruptcy protection, and most people have at least one friend or relative who has filed.  In my experience folks want to how and why this is happening, and seem eager to learn more about the reasons for filing as well as the procedure and ramifications of filing.  Of course, they also might want to know if filing bankruptcy can help them too.  I enjoy working with an educated client, because once a person knows something of the basics of filing a bankruptcy petition we can have a conversation about the facts of his or her particular situation and how bankruptcy can help.

NJLB:         I’ve heard it said many times that bankruptcy lawyers can make their clients feel like they’re just part of a bankruptcy mill. I know you’re passionate about fighting this stigma. What approach does your firm take?

LJN:  Donna, as you know I have heard that too from clients and it is a disappointing fact that this opinion is out there.  Simply put, bankruptcy cannot be an effective “cookie cutter” practice because every client’s debt and asset situation is unique, requiring individual attention.  I am aware of a few “high volume” law practices where clients work primarily with legal assistants and paralegals to prepare their filing and then meet an attorney for the first time on the day of their 341(a) hearing.   To my way of thinking, this short-changes the client in that there is no way to know whether all legal options and ramifications have been explored as pertains to the facts of that client’s particular situation.  It is important for a client to get what he or she pays for, which is the sound advice and effective representation of an experienced attorney – that is my goal and the reason why I started my own firm.

I am happy to say that while this “stigma” as you say is certainly out there, on the whole, bankruptcy attorneys in New Jersey are very conscientious and spend the appropriate amount of time meeting with and communicating with their clients before and during their bankruptcy case.  Also, most bankruptcy practitioners are committed to pro bono work and to continuing education.  This means that your bankruptcy attorney should be service-oriented as well as aware of the latest developments in bankruptcy law.

As with any other type of purchase of a service or any other commodity, the client should take a “caveat emptor” approach to retaining an attorney.  My advice to a potential client is this:  with all of the information available on the web these days, it is prudent for you to visit an attorney’s website, read the client reviews, and meet with an attorney personally prior to retaining that attorney to ensure that you’ve retained a person you have confidence in and with whom you can work comfortably.

NJLB:         Lastly, what advice would you give someone who is considering bankruptcy?

LJN:  I’m glad you asked this, because at the initial consultation, a bankruptcy attorney’s job is to assess the debt situation of a potential client and then counsel that potential client as to his or her options for resolution and the ramifications of exercising each option.  Seems simple enough, but there are many people out there who are in financial distress, but who are on the fence about whether they need or want to schedule a consultation with an attorney about their debt situation.  Here is what I would tell them:

First, be honest with yourself.  It may be that you are considering bankruptcy because you are being sued or you have been threatened with foreclosure or repossession, but these events are often signs of an underlying problem with debt, namely, that your expenses have exceeded your income, and perhaps that has been the case for some time. Take stock of your debt situation as a whole – if you find that it is unacceptable to you, you should then consult with an attorney and commit yourself to the solution you and your attorney devise, whether it be filing a bankruptcy petition or engaging in some form of debt settlement.  Life is short – take charge of your debt problems sooner rather than later, and let an attorney help you.

Second, be gentle with yourself.  Many clients have told me that they feel embarrassed about their debt situation, which caused them to wait longer than they should have to be honest with themselves about it and seek professional help.  However, by recognizing that there is problem and seeking the advice of an experienced debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney, you are taking charge of your situation.   Clients report to me that they feel much better once they have taken charge in this way.

Overwhelming debt is an all-too-common problem these days due to job loss, large medical bills or an expensive divorce.  The Bankruptcy Code was created by Congress for “the honest but unfortunate debtor,” in other words, for people who find themselves in an untenable debt situation through no fault of their own.  Bankruptcy is not the solution to everyone’s debt situation, but for those for whom its appropriate, it is a powerful tool to resolve outstanding debts and move on the a fresh start.  This is true not just for you, but for your creditors, because when a bankruptcy petition is filed, creditors then get notice of the status of their claim and can cease expending time and money trying to collect from you or sue you.  Filing bankruptcy can be considered the responsible choice, in that way.

Third, be optimistic.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  You have taken the first important steps in taking charge of your debt situation by being honest with yourself about that situation and then seeking out an attorney’s advice as to how to resolve it.  Now it is up to you to make the most of your consultation.  At that consultation, you will have the opportunity to explain your debt situation to your attorney.  Your attorney will then assess your debt situation and offer you options for resolving it.  Together with your attorney, you will create a plan of action, and once you start to execute your plan, you will be well on your way to a fresh start.

Visit the website and Blog of The Neville Law Firm LLC, NJ Bankruptcy lawyer.

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