Profile: Mary ''Becky'' Rolland, paralegal at Heller, Draper, Hayden, Patrick & Horn, LLC
by Regan Morris
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<<Mary "Becky" Rolland, who was recently named one of the top paralegals in the nation by paralegal author Carole Bruno, is worried and excited about a tough new bankruptcy law which takes effect on Oct. 17.
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention & Consumer Protection Act, signed by President George W. Bush in April, will make it more difficult for people to start fresh, as bankruptcies have long intended. Most experts agree the law will be hardest on low-income debtors and Ms. Rolland is gearing up for the changes.
In Chapter 7 bankruptcies, people are generally allowed to cancel some debt and start fresh. Chapter 13 bankruptcies work out a payment plan for individuals and Chapter 7 bankruptcies are a more extensive and costly reorganization, generally used by businesses. Ms. Rolland, a paralegal with at Heller, Draper, Hayden, Patrick & Horn, LLC in New Orleans focuses on Chapter 11 bankruptcies at her office. But she is an expert in Chapter 13 and Chapter 7s from her past jobs in law firms and Trustee's offices in Massachusetts.
In 1990, Ms. Rolland was working in Boston for her family's safe business when a customer from the Chapter 13 Trustee's office came in to get a set of keys cut. He asked Ms. Rolland if she ever considered becoming a paralegal and offered her a job.
She received a paralegal certificate from the National Academy of Paralegal Studies in 1992 and became an active member of the Massachusetts Paralegal Association. She stayed with the Chapter 13 office for seven years.
In 1997, Ms. Rolland started her own business — Freelance Paralegal Services — preparing Chapter 7 and 13 petitions, motions and plans for various attorneys. She loved running her own business and working in Boston, but personal reasons brought her back to Louisiana in 2002, where she initially worked for her brother, an environment attorney.
"Bankruptcy law is unique because we have to do all of our filing electronically. You can't just go into court any more, you have to know electronic filing," she said. "So I took my brother to the electronic filing class to try and get him involved. And he said well I don't know if you can teach an old dog new tricks."
And Ms. Rolland had a passion for bankruptcy law so she joined Heller Draper in 2003, where she could complete her expertise in the area by mastering Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Now Ms. Rolland is considering opening her freelance business again, perhaps with employees to run it while she remains working for the firm. Since her business would focus on Chapter 7s and 13s and Heller Draper only does Chapter 11s, they are supportive of her plans.
She fears the new bankruptcy laws will make it too expensive for mom and pop businesses to start again if they get into trouble and she wants to help. Under the new laws, many debtors will have to seek counseling. And most people will no longer qualify for Chapter 7 relief under the new laws, so Chapter 13s (Ms. Rolland's specialty) will become more prevalent.
"I've always been on the debtor's side of the game," she said. "I've always worked for debtor's attorneys. So the creditor's attorney is going to try and make you feel sorry for the credit card companies. But I know as a bankruptcy paralegal that my debtors, the moment they got out of bankruptcy, were given credit cards again. So they don't get my sympathy. Because if they're whining because they didn't get paid, then why are they sending out credit cards?"
Ms. Rolland said many politicians are painting the new bankruptcy law as a moral issue, arguing that people who file for bankruptcy are bad people seeking a free ride.
"In my 15 years of being a paralegal I have seen one percent of fraud," she said. "It's generally people that just made bad decisions. In Massachusetts, they had the real estate boom and then bust. So when real estate was booming a lot of these families bought a second home so they could rent it out and make extra income. So it was the American dream. And what happened? One of my bosses actually said the American dream became the American nightmare."
In the early 1990s, the real estate boom busted and people were stuck with two mortgages and no renters. Many filed for bankruptcy.
Under the new law, attorneys could be held liable if their client lies to them in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, so many attorneys may shy away from representing people. And the terms of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can take up to five years, so Ms. Rolland believes bankruptcies will no longer come under a flat fee and could soar to outrageous prices — not exactly what a person in debt needs.
"The problem with Chapter 13s is that they call it a bad marriage," she said. "Usually bankruptcies were a flat fee and now I don't know what. They're going to be outrageous. Because it's a five year marriage between attorney and debtor."
If the bankrupt client loses their job, becomes ill or gets fired, their legal fees will continue to mount as their attorney has to show up in court explaining why they can't make the payments on time.
Ms. Rolland is an expert in claims reviews, scouring through documents from the debtor and creditor, making sure things add up and suggesting ways to save a case if things are falling apart and the numbers don't add up.
Ms. Rolland said Heller Draper has been the most supportive firm imaginable. They hired her even when she told them she needed to make caring for her sick mother a priority. The firm was flexible while Ms. Rolland went through a terrible year with her mom, who passed away in 2003.
Although Ms. Rolland said she could not imagine working for a better firm, she misses working in Chapter 13s, which will become more common under the new law.
"I know 13s like the back of my hand and I have talked to them about starting up my own business again," she said. "But I have not done it yet. I've only set up a Website. www.writer-paralegal.com ."
Her Website, for now, features many of the articles she has written on bankruptcy law.
"Even though I love them (Heller Draper) and they love me, they know that I'm on the threshold of the world changing and the thing that I know the best is what bankruptcy law is going to be primarily," she said. "Anybody who's ever been self employed, you know it's hard to go back 9 to 5. So I'm looking at a three to five year goal, I'm not looking at tomorrow."
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