law office of Noel Shillito

Moving Beyond Bankruptcy

News Tribune Article

Laurie Shillito - Thursday, August 28, 2014
A few years ago, we were interviewed by the Tacoma News Tribune. We would have put it on our blog and on our social media sites, but up until recently, we didn’t even have email addresses. A lot has changed in the past 5 years; we now have computers and email, but no matter how times may change us, we are still in the business of helping you. Please take some time and read the article, as our steadfast values and dedication are what we pride ourselves on.

Tacoma News Tribune, January 28,2008
Noel Shillito News Tribune Article

Section: Business
Page: B06
He gets lives back on track


Business attorney Noel Shillito works from the second floor of a North End Tacoma office, his large wood desk occupied by a phone, a pen and a yellow legal pad.

No computer of any kind; he’s never had one. Shillito got rid of his cell phone five years ago. His 70-hour weeks are spent largely with a gray headset fixed to his ear, talking to clients.

“I enjoy what I do, and I stick with what I’m good at,” said Shillito, 58, who’s been a lawyer for more than 30 years. “I have no intention of retiring anytime soon. It gets better every year. You ought to have joy in what you’re doing.”

About three-quarters of Shillito’s practice involves bankruptcy cases. Shillito sat down with The News Tribune on a recent afternoon to talk about how today’s housing market is impacting his business and how consumers can avoid bankruptcy.

Have you always worked in the bankruptcy arena? 

Almost. I was appointed a Chapter 7 trustee in February 1977. A now-retired but very distinguished judge, Robert Skidmore, he was kind enough to appoint me to that job, because I wasn’t qualified. He helped train me. I was a trustee until 1984.

What does a trustee do?

Right now we have six types of bankruptcy and three types of trustees. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a straight liquidation, the most popular bankruptcy, two-thirds of all bankruptcies . . . the trustees job is twofold. Number one, make sure the debtor doesn’t keep more than they’re allowed to keep, and the second purpose is to make sure the debtor hasn’t done anything wrong or bad prior to filing. For example, quit claiming five acres to his sister-in-law and pretending to be broke when they file. The most common problem is people have repaid old debts to friends or family prior to filing.

What appealed to you about working in bankruptcy law?

I enjoy it; I just thrive on it. What I like most is helping people overcome their financial obstacles, and it’s very challenging. It’s hard work in this sense: Pretend you’re a lawyer for a bank or a lender. You’ve got all the laws on your side. The challenge is, how do you do a lot with so little?

How do you help your clients overcome their financial obstacles?

Number one, you have to listen. Everyone has a story. You can’t make up what people have done. What I’ve learned is people, when they come in here all fear-based and emotionally paralyzed, they can’t and won’t listen to you until they’ve had a chance to vent and feel they’ve been heard. It’s no different than anything else, but nobody teaches you this at school. My initial meeting with a financially stressed-out person takes a long time. The first thing, you listen, and then you take the fear of the unknown out of their life, so they can stop hyperventilating.

Given today’s housing market, are you seeing an impact on your business?

Absolutely. Business has never been better.

What kind of situations are you seeing?

In the month of January, I’ve had three long-time Realtors come see me. They’ll be making bankruptcy filings. Two mortgage brokers, one who had 25 employees a year ago, and two builders. On the other side you’ve got all the consumers. Many of my clients have admitted to me they were leveraged high and they were taking a risk, but they figured they could refinance. But the market hasn’t kept up. And this is what’s really bad about our economy is that in the U.S. one of the primary pillars of our economy and financial stability is middle-class homeownership. If I can get into a home with no real investment, then I’m more likely to walk when the times get tight. And I’m seeing more of that than I have in my 31 years.

Is a person’s house protected when he or she files for bankruptcy?

Very few people lose their homes because a bankruptcy is filed. If they lose it, it’s because they can’t service the underlying debt.

Do you see common pitfalls among your clients on the road to bankruptcy?

Number one is lack of financial education. Number two is normally it’s a slow spiral. Loss of a job, even temporarily will throw most households in a panic. They start getting more and more behind and using credit cards for survival. Medical issues can trigger the same thing. Another class would be a catastrophic accident and they didn’t have any insurance or not enough. I’ve never seen anything in my 31 years that contradicts that people live paycheck to paycheck. In America, we’re optimistic. It’s a form of denial, but it’s the way we are.

Do you have advice for people who’d like to avoid bankruptcy?

Most people need to start saving money. They don’t. Better education and planning is the key in my book.

Devona Wells: 253-720-8935
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