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July 23 – Chief Judge approves higher guaranteed rate for Bankruptcy Attorneys as of tomorrow, July 24

Coastal Empire News Staff Report

July 23, 2017 – The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District, which covers the Savannah, Dublin and Brunswick metro areas, has approved a higher guaranteed compensation level for debtor’s attorneys in Chapter 13 cases.

According to an order signed by the Chief Judge Susan D. Barrett, the Court periodically reviews the reasonableness of compensation awarded by the Court to counsel representing Chapter 13 debtors, but rates had not been reviewed for the past six years. 

“The Court has not reviewed the relevant factors regarding compensation of Chapter 13 debtors' counsel in over six years, she wrote in her June 30.2017 order.

The judges in  this district  held an en bane hearing at which evidence and arguments were presented which establishes “that  the prevailing  hourly  rate for counsel  practicing in the Southern District of Georgia for attorneys of comparable skill,  expertise,  and reputation has increased a significant amount since the last time what is termed the “no look fee” was considered.

“The evidence further establishes that amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and Bankruptcy Forms as well as changes to local procedures have increased the amount of time and expense attorneys must devote to represent Chapter 13 debtors  in a  professional manner,” she wrote.

As a result, effective in all Chapter 13 cases filed on or after Ju)y 24, 2017, a claim for attorney's fees for services rendered and expenses advanced to a Chapter 13 debtor will be deemed automatically approved by the Court. in the absence of an objection, so long as said claim does not exceed the sum of four thousand five hundred dollars ($4,500.00) (commonly referred to as the no look fee).

The fee is expected to provide for payment of costs and expenses (other than the initial case filin fee) and for all services rendered to the debtor from the filing of the petition to the closing of the case.

The fee contemplates appearance by counsel of record for the debtor at the §341 meeting and all hearings and contemplates the new responsibilities placed upon debtors' counsel with respect to the amendments to the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure taking effect December 1, 2017.

Also, Debtors' attorneys were directed by the Court to file written statements pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 329 and Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 2016(b) disclosing the fee arrangements with their clients. This Order does not establish a minimum foe for the representation of Chapter 13 debtors in this district.  Debtors' attorneys may represent debtors for a Jower fee, and the Court  urges attorneys  to do so when circumstances  indicate that  the  result  will  be a less susstantial expenditure, according to the Court.

If an attorney determines that $4,500 does not “adequately compensate the attorney for legal services rendered, the attorney may petition for reasonable attorney’s fees disclosing all time expended in such representation from the beginning of the case, the Court stated.

And, the Court may also reduce an attorney’s fees for cause if the Court determines the work performed does not justify the $4,500 amount.  

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