Christmas is that wonderful time of the year that allows us the opportunity to reflect on our lives and the many blessings that we have. I am truly blessed to have a loving, caring wife, two wonderful Boxer dogs (all three of which I have the privilege of working with everyday). I have a warm place to sleep on these cold December nights, plenty to eat….The list goes on. But perhaps the thing I am most grateful for is that I work for Bond, Botes & Lawson and that I get to help people file for bankruptcy.
I know, I know, how cheesy is that? But its true and I’ll explain. You see, very few people actually get the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in a person’s life. I am afforded that opportunity every day. On the surface, bankruptcy is certainly not as glamorous or sexy as some other careers. I seriously doubt that any child every laid in the bed at night and dreamed of working for a bankruptcy office. But below the surface, helping people file for bankruptcy is one of the most rewarding and important things I could ever do. This fact became very clear to me about three and a half years ago.
A True and Special Story
Like most days, I was in my office working and my phone rings. “Thank you for calling Bond, Botes & Lawson, may I help you?” I said The person on the line was a client. She and her husband had filed bankruptcy through our office about six months before. She was calling to tell me that a creditor was still contacting her and she wanted to know if we could help. I told her that this was not necessarily uncommon and that I would certain make the creditor stop contacting her. I got from her the needed information and just before we hung up, I asked her, as I ask all clients that call after they file their bankruptcy, “So, how are things going?” I ask this question every chance I get after the bankruptcy is filed because I want to know that what I do for a living makes a difference. At the time of the bankruptcy, most people are not themselves. They are stressed, depressed, angry; you name it, they are just not themselves. But once the bankruptcy is filed and all of those pressures are gone, it is nice for me to see how things are going for them now. Thus, I innocently asked this client “So, how are things going?” The line went silent and I thought that maybe she had not heard me. I said, “Maam?” She apologized and said that she was there, but her voice was breaking. She was crying. I now apologized, but she said “No, I am glad you asked. Things are better now than I could ever have imagined”, she said. Whew, I thought. I mean, anytime a women starts crying, I instantly freeze. It’s ten times worse if it’s a client. She then proceeded to tell me her story of how and why she filed for bankruptcy and why her life now was better than she could have imagined.
“You see”, she said, “before we came to see you, my husband and I tried everything”. “We sold one of our cars, turned off the cable, quit eating out…..we even stopped buying our two kids new school clothes, but nothing seemed to help.” “We were too far gone, she continued. No matter what we did, it wasn’t enough. The bills continued to pile up, the collection letters, the unceasing string of nasty collection calls and finally the lawsuits. One night,” she said, “I woke up during the middle of the night and realized my husband wasn’t in bed. I got up and went downstairs and found him sitting on the couch with his pistol in his mouth”, she said through tears. She pleaded with him to stop. But he was convinced there was no other way out. She said he felt like a complete failure, both as a husband and a father. He had researched his life insurance and found that he was outside of his “suicide clause”, meaning his life insurance would pay his policy even if he committed suicide. I just sat completely silent in my chair, floored by the story I was hearing. She continued to plead with her husband that there had to be another way. Because they were being sued, our office had sent them a letter to see if we could help. She begged him to let her call our office in the morning and make an appointment “just to talk” and see if we really could help.
“A few hours later”, she said, “I called your office and made the appointment .” “A couple of weeks ago”, she said, “I woke again during the middle of the night and my husband wasn’t there. I rushed downstairs to find him on the couch with a book on his chest, sound asleep. I am glad you asked me how I was doing”, she said, “because I have wanted to tell you this story, but could not find a way to call you up and tell it to you.” By now I was not just floored, I was crying as well.
I finished up the call, somewhat shell-shocked, and just sat in my office for about twenty minutes. I always knew that through bankruptcy, I had tremendous power; I can stop foreclosures, wage garnishments, repossessions, lawsuits, etc. This was the first time that it ever hit just how important what I do actually is.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this client. Every time the phone rings and a potential client is calling to schedule their first appointment with us, I think of her. Every time a client calls panicking about a collection letter, phone call or whatever, I think of her. Every time I get frustrated with a client for not doing what they need to do, I think of her. When this client called our office to schedule an appointment, the receptionist answering the call had no idea that her kind, comforting words could have such a profound impact on this client’s life. When Mrs. Lawson initially met with them “just to talk”, she had no idea her warm handshake and gentle, reassuring smile made the difference between the client hiring us or walking out the door. When I met with them to gather the needed paperwork, I had no idea that my couple of jokes and attempts to make them smile would make them comfortable enough to continue the process.
“I like helping people”
Since that day, I no longer look at my job or my clients the same way I did. I am constantly asked, especially with my background and education, “Why do you work for a bankruptcy office?” I usually just shrug and say that I like helping people. The real reason that I help people file for bankruptcy is that phone call about three and half years ago.
On behalf of everyone at Bond & Botes, I sincerely wish you a very Merry Christmas. Take a moment to let those around you know how special they are and how much you appreciate them being a part of your life. Also take a moment to find someone that you have become at odds with and try to make amends.
Don Lawson is the Office Manager of the Bond & Botes Law Offices location in Knoxville, Tennessee. He holds degrees in both Accounting and Finance that he’s put to use analyzing complex business bankruptcy cases for the firm. Read his full bio here.