Cite as: Keith M. Lundin, Lundin On Chapter 13, § 53.1, at ¶ ____, LundinOnChapter13.com (last visited __________).
The standing trustee is the focal point of Chapter 13 practice in most jurisdictions. Because most courts have only one or two standing trustees who serve in all Chapter 13 cases, it is inevitable that debtors’ and creditors’ counsel will have to deal repeatedly with the same folks.
The trustee’s role spans the many competing interests in Chapter 13 cases. The trustee in a Chapter 13 case works with everyone and for no one. The trustee has many rights and powers that can be exercised for or against the debtor or a creditor.
Chapter 13 practitioners survive and prosper in the long run only if they learn the operating procedures of the trustee. All standing trustees use computers, but there are many different hardware and software configurations in use. As courts across the country implement electronic case filing (ECF), forms and procedures in Chapter 13 cases become less visible but not less complicated. Chapter 13 trustees are struggling to make their information systems compatible with the various iterations of ECF that have been implemented by the bankruptcy courts. Chapter 13 practitioners have to mesh their use of technology with the patchwork of systems at the courts and at the trustee’s office. Not just any law office bankruptcy forms generator will work in this context. The vendors of bankruptcy software for law offices are racing to produce ECF-compatible products, and not all have succeeded.
Acquiring the right forms (electronic or paper) and using those forms correctly will determine whether the trustee can handle the debtor or a creditor routinely or whether special attention is required. Chapter 13 trustees must handle thousands of cases with great efficiency. There is a premium on knowing and playing by the rules.
Debtors and creditors must pick their fights carefully. The Chapter 13 trustee has little incentive to become involved in creditor versus debtor litigation unless the issue is generic to Chapter 13 cases in a district. Taking on the trustee only when the stakes are substantial can earn you respect. Making an enemy of the trustee in many small ways is likely to get what you give—trouble over things that don’t really matter.
The U.S. trustee is increasingly involved in the administration of Chapter 13 programs across the country. The local standing trustee may be required to involve the U.S. trustee in policy decisions such as committing resources to litigation and fashioning standard procedures for the Chapter 13 trustee’s office. Only through familiarity with those procedures can debtors and creditors efficiently maneuver through the Chapter 13 program in a district.
Because of the volume of Chapter 13 cases, the Chapter 13 trustee often appears before the court more than any other individual in the district. The trustee will be well known to the court and vice versa. The trustee’s opinion of what the court is likely to do in a particular Chapter 13 case is usually worthy of attention.
Chapter 13 trustees often offer local seminars. Don’t pass up the offer. Experienced trustees invest substantial resources in educating debtors’ and creditors’ representatives in groups and in individual offices in the details of Chapter 13 practice. Chapter 13 trustees want debtors and creditors to know exactly how to do things right the first time—how to prepare petitions, statements, schedules, plans, proofs of claim—all the papers that eventually have to be digested by the trustee’s office.
Chapter 13 trustees across the country talk to each other. They have a national organization, the National Association of Chapter 13 Trustees.1 NACTT sponsors an annual seminar packed with educational sessions for debtors’ lawyers, creditors’ lawyers and trustees. Serious practitioners on all sides of Chapter 13 cases don’t miss this meeting. The operating procedures in your Chapter 13 trustee’s office today are almost certainly the product of collective wisdom shared in the hallways at NACTT meetings.
1 The National Association of Chapter 13 Trustees can be contacted as follows: NACTT Headquarters, 1 Windsor Court, Suite 305, Columbia, SC 29223; (800) 445-8629; (803) 252-5646; Fax (803) 765-0860, Web site: http://www.nactt.com.