What's all this about "CM/ECF"?
If you visit any bankruptcy court website, you will see prominent notices
about mandatory "CM/ECF" which stands for "Case Management/Electronic Case
Files." If you are representing yourself (filing without a lawyer),
don't worry about this -- it applies only to lawyers (although most sites
fail to mention that important fact).
If you're a lawyer, you must file your client's bankruptcy forms electronically
and receive training on how to do it. Electronic filing simply means
filing your forms as PDF (Acrobat) files via the internet or CD-ROM.
Creating PDF files does not require special software. Any software that
can print can also produce PDF files with the proper
software add-ons. There are some specialized attorneys' bankruptcy
software that will produce PDFs from data you enter.
Most downloadable official forms these days are PDFs with fillable fields and most computers can "print" a filled-in form to a PDF file. (See the Free Bankruptcy Forms page for more info)
Dealing with "legalese"
Why don't (some) bankruptcy court websites speak plain English?
Courts should serve all taxpayers, not just lawyers. Filing requirements
should be clear and accessible to everyone. After all, everyone must
follow the law, so why not make the rules clear and in plain English?
Unfortunately, not all courts provide clear, simple instructions for filing bankruptcy
forms. It takes some effort to translate legalese into plain English,
and some courts just don't bother. In fact, many courts call information
for non-lawyers "pro se" (a Latin term) information. They
just don't get it.
Fortunately, more and more courts are starting to "get it" and are providing information to help non-attorneys get find relevant information and lay out clear timelines of essential procedures and explain requirements in a clear, easy to follow manner.
Courts That Do a Good Job Of Helping Debtors Who Don't Have An Attorney
In our first review of 90 bankruptcy court websites nationwide in 2007, LegalConsumer.com
found only a handful that provided clear, well-organized filing
information for those who don't speak legalese. A few courts showed what
could be done if all courts would bother to take the time to help the
general public, and so we created a "Hall of Fame" of good government, to show what could be done by a court with taxpayer's money and a little extra effort, organizaion, and plain English. All bankruptcy courts should follow their example.
In more recent reviews, we've discovered a promising trend: many court websites showed significant improvement from 2007 to 2009.
If your court's website isn't helpful, check out one of these sites....
Bankruptcy courts that do a good job of explaining procedures to non-lawyers
Here are the best of the best. Court websites can and do change -- hopefully for the better, but not always.
Note: Links go directly to the court's info for non-lawyers, rather than the court home page.
Note: As you will see if you look at several of these, most of the information you find is
general and applies regardless of which court you're filing
However, some procedures are "local" and deadlines and forms can vary from court to court.
Always confirm that you are complying with your own court's local rules and procedures.