When you decide to file a bankruptcy it is easy to think of the entire process as something between you and your attorney. You meet with one of the attorneys usually a few times and draft your case for filing. After the case is filed you often you only have one court hearing and might meet the bankruptcy trustee for five minutes. You do a credit counseling class before filing and a debtor education class afterwards.
These are the things you can see. You are directly involved in them. What you cannot see are all the people behind the scenes that make the system work. Like a car, if you look under the hood it suddenly becomes apparent there is a lot more going on.
In our office there are several staffers that help run the office and your case and we rely on them to keep everything moving. Your case has a paralegal that is assigned to make sure all the proper paperwork is turned in to the clerk’s office and to the bankruptcy trustee. They will check the court dates, make sure you have proper notice of all the hearings and reach out to you to help you complete any additional paperwork. In addition we have a receptionist, bookkeeper, and a computer technician to make sure everything is working.
The bankruptcy clerk’s office assigns a case number and prepares the initial notices that are sent out to your creditors. They track all the documents filed in the case. If there are any mistakes or corrections that need to be made they send out notices that let your attorney know what is missing or still needs to be done. They produce a large number of the documents in the case and they organize the dockets for the court. They are the backbone of the federal bankruptcy system. There is a chief clerk for the state and a head clerk for each office as well as numerous support staff. They support the court and provide all the required administrative work to make sure things run smoothly.
There is a bankruptcy trustee that manages your case. In chapter 7 cases they sit on a panel and they are contractors. In chapter 13 cases they are salaried people who are quasi-federal employees. Chapter 7 and chapter 13 trustees answer to the US Trustee’s office which is a branch of the Department of Justice. The US Trustee’s office in Kansas has several staff and attorneys that help manage the cases and protect everyone from bankruptcy fraud. The staff in all of theses offices help glide the cases through to completion and make sure everything that needs to be done on a case is being done. In a chapter 7 trustee’s office there is often a paralegal or case manager that helps the trustee and there might be other office staff as well. In a chapter 13 trustee’s office there might be paralegals or case managers, accountants, bookkeepers, technicians and other attorneys that help manage everything. Without all of these people the system would come to a grinding halt.
The bankruptcy Judge is the person that ultimately signs off on court orders (including the bankruptcy discharge) and decides what will happen when there are disputes. If your creditors or the trustee disagree with the way things are being handled they can file an objection or a motion and request a hearing before the judge. The bankruptcy judge is a neutral party, bound to interpret the law and decide what should be done when the people in a case cannot agree on how to move forward. The bankruptcy judges often have a clerk that is an attorney that helps them with research on cases and they have administrative support staff as well.
As you can see there are dozens of people that involved in every bankruptcy case that gets filed. There is an entire system that runs because of all the people involved. In an average chapter 7 case I think there are at least 14 people that will be involved either directly or indirectly in the management and completion of the case. This is what is under the hood of a bankruptcy and the reason the system work so smoothly despite how much work gets done.