By Cindy Atoji Keene
For bankruptcy attorney Neil Warrenband, the downturn in the economy has brought an uptick in business. Warrenband, a Boston-based sole practitioner, has seen a flood in bankruptcy filings, foreclosing procedures, card card debt, and other cases, as his clients typically attempt to juggle their financial obligations and find themselves at the mercy of creditors. “They’re hardworking individuals or couples who have fallen upon hard times and have burned through their life savings and retirement funds. They’re stressed out, scared, embarrassed and puzzled that they find themselves in this situation.”
Bankruptcy is not a D.I.Y. proposition. Although the bankruptcy court has set up a “pro se” help desk (pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself”), Warrenband says there are a lot of pitfalls, especially in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves the liquidation of much of the debtor’s property. “There are a lot of landmines that one can step on if they don’t know the field. I’ve been doing this 19 years and I’m still learning every day.”
Although some news reports say that top bankruptcy lawyers are charging up to $1,000 or more for company restructurings, these rates are reserved for firms that represent the largest of commercial debtors, such as the Exxons, Chryslers, and GMs of the world. A seasoned attorney like Warrenband charges between $400-$600 an hour, depending on the complexity of the case.
Q: How did you get into this line of work?
A: Ironically, after law school, I worked for a few firms that went out of business or filed for bankruptcy. But while I was working for them, they had no one there who was practicing bankruptcy, so any related issues fell into my lap. After a few years, I decided to take my show on the road by myself.
Q: Who are some clients that you’ve seen lately?
A: I’ve taken on some small business cases – one person was an in-home daycare provider, another had a home renovation business and a third was a small-time real estate developer. All were impacted by the downturn in the economy, and saw a reduction in income, layoff, death in family, divorce, or illness that impacted their ability to earn a living.
Q: What are the pros and cons of being a bankruptcy attorney?
A: When you can help someone who sees no way out, and assist them in turning their life around, it’s a good feeling. On the other hand, one of the pitfalls of this occupation is that you are part therapist, part lawyer. You need to do a lot of hand holding. Many of the people come into my office are emotional wrecks.
Q: What guidance would you give to someone who was considering going into this line of work?
A: You need to go to law school, of course, and then my advice would be to work alongside someone who knows what they’re doing and learn the ropes. There is a lot of law there.
Q: What do you do when you’re not filing claims and representing people in court?
A: I’m dad to five children and four English bulldogs – a dog that I first saw while walking down State Street, where my office is located.
Q: As an attorney, what would you do if one of your dogs bit someone?
A: I would know how to handle the litigation – or it would be so expensive that I would have to file for bankruptcy myself.
I’m only kidding, of course.