Why Is My Questionnaire So Long?
I meet with potential clients every day. In each case, I ask that the client fill out two questionnaires, a short, two-page form that we go over at our initial meeting, and a second, much longer one, to help me in drafting the Schedules for filing with the Court. (I keep trying to make the Questionnaires shorter, but the Court and Trustees keep asking for more information.)
These questionnaires, even the short one, take a lot of time and effort for my clients to fill out. Many of my clients do not like to do this. Sometimes, they bring in copies of bills, lists of monthly payments, spreadsheets, etc. instead. If they do this in addition to filling out the questionnaire, it may help me (although, as discussed below, it usually does not). But if they bring in this information instead of completing the questionnaire, I may not meet with them, or the preparation and filing of their case may be significantly delayed. Why would I act this way? The answer lies primarily in time.
In our initial consultation, I want to spend as much time as possible talking about the client's case, the options that are available, fees, and how things are likely to proceed. I wrote the questionnaire to give me the information I need to evaluate the client's circumstances and let me do this as quickly and efficiently as I can.
I've been practicing law for over 35 years, and know just what information I need. The questionnaire is designed to give me precisely that information in a layout and format I am very familiar with. If I have to spend time looking at the client's list of what he or she thinks is important, it may not be what I think is important (for example, the monthly payments on credit cards are generally irrelevant to anything in the bankruptcy case, although they are very important to the client), and certainly is not in a format that I can quickly and accurately analyze. Reviewing my standard questionnaire lets us spend most of our time talking about what my client is really interested in: what I think will happen in their case.
When it comes to the longer and more detailed questionnaire, the benefits of using my standard form are even greater. My staff uses the questionnaire to enter data into the computer for inclusion on the schedules that will be filed with the Court. They are used to seeing information laid out in a particular manner in a particular order in a particular place on a particular form. This allows them to enter the data quickly and correctly. If they are faced with a spreadsheet or stack of bills instead of the form they are used to seeing, it takes them much longer to find what they need, be sure that it has all of the information that the court requires (and which is requested in my questionnaire), and enter it in the appropriate place in the software. The result: delay. Instead of it taking three hours to draft your schedules, it may take seven or eight hours. And my staff will normally need to call to get the information you didn't include, delaying things yet further.
As a result, I will generally instruct my staff not even to start a case where the questionnaire isn't completed properly, and have been known to decline to represent clients who won't "do it my way." I know that it may be more difficult or time-consuming for you to get the information I need in the format I ask. But this lets me hold down my costs, and thus my fees.