New Year, New Bankruptcy Laws?
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The Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2020 promises to pull the bankruptcy courts into the 21st century, by allowing e-signatures and remote appearances at 341 meetings.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 17, 2021
With the introduction of the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2020 earlier this month, the new year may just bring “new things” to the bankruptcy courts. “New” things like electronic signatures and virtual meetings, that is.
With a few limited exceptions (and coronavirus accommodations notwithstanding), a debtor has to physically sign their petition, schedules, and statements. For those represented by an attorney, that typically means meeting with the attorney, going over all of the documents and signing where indicated. Usually, the attorney prints everything out in preparation for the meeting.
Pro se filers don’t have an attorney to print out paperwork for them. Since they have to send originally signed documents to the court, they have to print everything (60+ pages), then sign it and mail it. All at their own expense.
Either way, it’s kind of a pain and given the various and secure e-signature options, a relic of the past. For those concerned about using the debtor’s signature for “evidentiary purposes” - know that most electronic signature systems verify the signer’s signature more than any human ever could (or does). So, your chain of evidence is preserved.
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Remote Appearances at Creditors’ Meetings
The 341 meeting is the one time all debtors have to go to court. Under the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act, the added stress and cost that come with taking time off from work to travel to court and finding affordable parking are eliminated. Remote appearances - so by video or phone - at the 341 meeting are explicitly allowed under the CBRA. As is the idea that financially strapped debtors shouldn’t have to take time off work to participate in their meetings.
Until now, this has been up to the Office of the U.S. Trustee and work is generally not an excuse to miss it. At the moment, they’re allowing remote appearance by video or telephone to minimize interpersonal contact in light of the ongoing pandemic. From what I hear, everyone is enjoying the remote 341 meetings (for the most part). So, this is definitely one of the provisions of the CBRA that I think (and hope) will survive the legislative process.
While it’s true that law and courts are famously slow to modernize, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced courts to make adjustments quickly and enter the 21st century in a more meaningful way.
Amending the Bankruptcy Code to allow for e-signatures and remote 341 meetings would be a most welcome way to implement some of the lessons the pandemic taught us. Especially if there is - as they say - a tsunami of bankruptcy filings coming any day now...
Now, if we could only get all bankruptcy courts to adopt a way for pro se debtors to submit their electronically signed petitions, electronically. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple document upload portal and some good instructions should do the trick. Just ask Coloradoans!
We'll publish more thoughts and impressions of the CBRA on Thursdays, so stay tuned for more in the new year!