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Bankruptcy’s Impact? 11/09

I am considering filing for bankruptcy. Would it affect my standing with the bar?

We certainly have seen attorneys here who had filed for bankruptcy and were still practicing. But to better answer this question we really must refer you to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers. They offer a call-in Ethics hotline at 617-728-8750. (Last time we checked, it was available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.)

Financially “Treading Water” 10/09

I am not behind on any of my payments to credit cards or other bills. However, I feel like I’m just treading water and if anything ever happened it would be a financial disaster. I am currently a student, so I don’t have any real income coming in. I also have no family help. Do you think that credit counseling would be of any help?

Although in the past we referred a number of lawyers to one of the best known credit counseling agencies, feedback from several of those we referred suggests that the primary function of such agencies (and beware of some that may be unsavory) is to negotiate a payment plan to permit the consumer to pay off large balances. In some cases, where it is clear that no plan agreeable to the banks is feasible for the consumer, they have recommended (probably appropriately) filing for bankruptcy. Apparently, either course of action can affect your credit report.

It sounds like you are in a different position, not caught up in unmanageable debt but seeing the potential for a problem if you had an unanticipated major expense. In fact, you might be forced to incur more debt in such a situation, and of course it would be highly desirable to minimize the extent of this debt that goes to credit cards, which have such high interest rates. It would be worth investigating whether there are other types of loans that may be available to you as a student for expenses not directly related to school – these would likely not be subsidized, and would incur interest from the start, but (if available) might offer more reasonable interest rates – the hope, of course, being that you will be in a better position to pay your debt after graduation (especially if the economy improves by then).

For starters, we would recommend that you confer with someone at your school’s financial aid office. Your bank or credit union may also offer advice (at no cost) on maintaining good credit and managing/preventing debt. Depending on what you learn from those free sources, it could also be useful to meet with a financial planner or counselor – this can cost several hundred dollars, or you might be able to find someone who works on commission from investments (obviously you have nothing to invest right now, but someone might be interested in establishing a relationship with you based on hopes for future investments). If you are a Massachusetts law student, feel free to arrange a (free) interview with us at LCL, and we can help a bit in sorting through resources (though we ourselves are not financial planners or counselors).

There is also good advice to be found in books by reputable financial advice authors such as Suze Orman and David Bach, and on their web sites. It’s a good idea to flip through the books at a bookstore to see which ones comprehensibly address your concerns (and probably best to favor those put out by established publishers). If you choose an expensive book, however, you may find that you can purchase a used copy on-line for just a few dollars.

Mentally Ill & Homeless 9/09

homeless mentally ill lawyer needss help finding housing. can you help?

Our major contribution for people with mental illness would be to try to ascertain that they have an adequate treatment plan in place. If not, we would explore resources and make the best referral we can.

With regard to housing, this is not our specialty, but we would seek to identify agencies that do focus on this area, and attempt to make a referral. We do not provide funds for housing.

Speaking of funding, these kinds of agencies are often under-funded, and it can take quite a while to access their services. But some of them in our resource file are:

• Project Place, Boston, 617-262-3740
• HomeStart, Inc., Boston, 617-542-1454
• Middlesex Human Services, Waltham 781-894-6110
• Family Services of Central Massachusetts, Worcester, 508-756-4646
• Merrimack Valley Catholic Charities, Lowell, 978-452-1421
• Advocates Community Counseling, Framingham, 508-628-6642
• Mental Health Association, Inc., Springfield, 413-734-5376

Paralyzed with Anxiety about Retirement Planning 3/02

My general practice has been successful for many years. Although I did well in supporting my family and financing my children’s education, I now find I did not adequately take care of longer-term retirement needs for myself and my wife. With retirement looming in the very near future, I need to take some action but I feel very stuck, almost paralyzed with anxiety. There must be others in my situation. What would you suggest?

Retirement is a multifaceted (and emotionally charged) transition in an individual’s life. The financial “facet” that you raise here is a major concern for many. Lack of financial preparedness for retirement is unfortunate but not uncommon, especially for sole practitioners, and for some members of law firms, as well. In contrast to corporate or government lawyers, who walk into existing benefit structures, planning for something as seemingly remote as retirement often gets less attention than the more immediate demands of practice management.

To address immobilizing, anxiety-laden situations of any kind, these three steps usually prove helpful: (1) Acquire pertinent information, but don’t flood yourself with more than the essentials. (2) Involve another person in reviewing the situation, especially someone with relevant expertise. (3) Break the task into very small steps (which you take one at a time – taking one step is a successful day). As you go through this process, your anxiety will inch downward while your sense of control increases.

Achieving a sense of control over your financial situation is probably the most important thing you can do. This means clarifying your current status, your current and projected needs and sources of income, and devising a plan for managing your expenses. Although it may cost you some money, it is worth considering an accountant or certified financial planner (CFP) who can guide you in gathering the necessary information and then do some number crunching for you. It’s important to be precise about what you want before writing that check. The planners who work for “free” get a commission from funds into which they place your savings. Independent planners charge you for their time and may be considered more objective. Many books and on-line resources are available if you want to try to do-it-yourself, but there may be more anxiety (and avoidance) in that approach. Ultimately, you will sleep better once you have gained a clear idea of the big picture and have developed a strategy, even if it means that your retirement looks different than what you had imagined. LCL is available to assist you in starting this process and searching for helpful resources. [SEE ALSO LCL’S NEWSLETTER, “BRIEFINGS” — SPRING 2002 ISSUE ON RETIREMENT.]

Severe Financial Problems After Taking Time for Treatment of Mood Disorder 11/01

 I have been out of work for nearly year. I have been applying for jobs, and not being hired. I am being treated for bipolar disorder. I have simplified my life greatly, yet still do not have enough money to pay for my daily necessities. My rent, electric, oil, phone, car, insurance, etc. are all in arrears or in jeopardy of same. I am receiving food stamps and EAEDC. Does LCL have any monies or suggestions on resources who may assist with daily necessities? Additionally, is there help available through LCL for payment of the annual attorney registration fee, or does LCL have suggestions on how to get the fee waived?

We would suggest that you come in, sit down with one of our clinicians, and review the whole treatment and financial picture. Although LCL has an Endowment Fund to assist with treatment and certain other expenses, these funds are in the form of a loan, which may not serve your needs. But it sounds as if you may be eligible for additional disability-oriented state and federal programs. There is no fee to meet with us, and we may come up with other ideas on who could give you further information. If you meet with us (no fee), we may also come up with other resources to advise you.

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