Need to learn more about the bankruptcy process? Refer to our FAQs, listen to Orson share more about the process, or read the full audio transcript.
Tish: Today, we will continue our three-part interview with Mr. Orson Woodall, attorney, owner, and founder of Woodall and Woodall. With more than 34 years of bankruptcy experience helping Georgians find relief from debt through bankruptcy. And this second podcast, we discover the process that Orson Woodall takes his clients through and the true purpose of bankruptcy. I continue by asking Orson Woodall the following question:
If someone was going through a bankruptcy or needing to really face the music and say, "Okay. I don't know what else to do. I'm at the end of my rope. I've done everything I know to do. I didn't expect all these medical bills or this accident." Or whatever happened in their life. And all of a sudden they're faced with having to make decisions. How would you take them through that?
Orson Woodall: Well, the truth is, the first thing normally people say to me is, "This is the last place I ever thought I would be." And it is because they never thought they would be in the financial hardship that they're in. And they thought that they could always find another way out of it. Another short story, a guy told me one time, "You cannot borrow your way out of debt." So, eventually, if you're having to borrow money to live, you get to my doorstep. And quite often I'm able to tell clients that, "Look, you don't need to file a bankruptcy. You need to do A, B, C, and D." And we kinda lay out a path of things they can do without having to file.
But what we do is, when somebody comes in, I sit down. I talk to them a little bit, find out a little bit about themselves, where they work, what they do, what's important in life to them. And then we start going through the kind of debt they have. And after I go through all the debt, talk to them, having done 22,000 of these things, I can get to the bottom line very quickly. Tish, I could I talk to you for 30 minutes, ask you 30 minutes worth of questions, and tell you everything about your life.
Orson Woodall: So, I've got the kind of a find science on how to get information from people. But once we get the information, we then come up with a plan of reorganization. Either we can reorganize debt and lower payments, or possibly we just straight discharge debts in a chapter 7 bankruptcy and get them back on a path to where they don't have to spend all of their money on debt retirement. What I would say to people in this podcast is this, if you don't wanna come talk to us initially, that's fine. I understand it. It's a difficult thing to make yourself take that step.
But if you don't wanna come talk to an attorney about bankruptcy, me or someone else, it doesn't matter, talk to your minister if you have one. Go talk to your faith-based leader and get some advice from them. If you don't go to a church, find somebody that you hold in respect that's fairly successful, and go talk to them because one of the hardest things people have to do is come to the realization that, "Look. I got a problem. The problem is not going away. It isn't gonna be any better six months from now. If I borrow money from momma and daddy or my friends, all I'm doing is prolonging the problem and it'll still be there. It'll be worse, in fact, down the road because I'm gonna run out of people I can borrow money from." You're better off facing the problem now and holding the family members that do have some resources in reserve who, if something bad happens to you later, you can call them.
So, we talk to them. We come up with a plan of attack, a solution to the problem, and then we move forward from there. Bankruptcy is kinda funny. People think it's a real complex situation and it is, but we do the heavy lifting for people. Ultimately you go to one hearing that lasts two or three minutes. It's a very simple process. You generally never see the judge. It's pretty rare when any of my clients is in front of the judge in a bankruptcy case. Once the case is filed, we go to one hearing. About 60 days later in a chapter 7, they receive the discharge, move on with their lives. In a chapter 13, we've restructured debt on cars. We're catching up past due payments on the house. We've taken care of the IRS. We've taken care of furniture bills. Whatever the case may be. And they make monthly payments for a period of three to five years. And then they're debt-free. So, it's a process that you shepard the people through. You create a plan of reorganization and then you pray that they stick to it and they're successful with it.
Tish: Now you see, you said a very important thing. It's a process you shepard the people through. And, I guess that's a recurring theme in your legacy. We're talking about a legacy of years of ways that you have been helping people and the way Woodall and Woodall, as a firm, has helped people. And it sounds like the process you shepard people through has been really valuable and also, I love that you encourage people to approach a faith-based leader or to talk to someone and not go through the problem alone. That is also very, very helpful and very important for people that are looking for a way to get out. Or a way to, not just get out. I think one of the things we wanna emphasize too, and I guess that's what I'm hearing you say is, there's a path that you have created or that you have learned that is a way that will strengthen someone to end stronger than what they started with, given the current crisis a person is in. Would you say that to be true?
Orson Woodall: That is absolutely true. When you go talk to someone, whether it be me or someone else, it helps clarify your mind. It helps you come to a conclusion of what you need to do. And truthfully, when I'm talking to clients, sometimes at the beginning of the interview I'm thinking they ought to do A, B. And by the interview, I'm thinking they ought to do C, D. And it's an evolving process while I'm talking to them because bankruptcy is as much an art as it is a set of legal principles. You've got to be able to massage the debt in a manner that is workable for your client. You have to be very creative. And one of the things I've found in a lot of attorneys, they're just not creative. And I guess with the background I had in advertising and helping people create campaigns. I'm a problem-solver. And it comes kinda natural to me. And it comes natural to my son.
Tish: So, what is the greatest thing you've taken from practicing bankruptcy in the last, almost 30 years?
Orson Woodall: Well, there's several things that have been really wonderful to me. I've been successful and recognized by my peers. One of the best awards I ever received was from the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project. And pro bono means that you do legal work at no charge to people and you help them out. And I've been recognized for that. Will has also been recognized for that. But I think the greatest thing that has happened to me is to be able to see people come into my office in just absolute total stress, and leave with all the weight off their shoulders. And it makes you feel so good to be able to do that. Of course, I enjoy the financial rewards I receive, but I never doubted I'd have that. I always had confidence that it didn't matter where I was, what I was doing, I'd be financially okay. But to be able to make new friends of the people that we help, and they are our friends, and to see them be able to regain their life, that is the most rewarding thing that a man can have.
Tish: Wow. Powerful statement. I love that. Now, the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project, can you elaborate a little more on that?
Orson Woodall: Well, the State Bar gives awards out on a yearly basis to attorneys throughout the state that go above and beyond in helping people that can't help themselves. And it's called the Pro Bono Project. And I was recognized as one of those attorneys a few years back, as was Will. And I take great pride in that award. I was also recognized by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys with the highest award they give nationwide for the work that we do, not only in representing clients, but in helping talk to the congressional delegations and to the congressional leaders about changes that are necessary in bankruptcy and the bankruptcy laws. I've been to Washington two or three times. I've served on the Georgia Bar's Bankruptcy Board. Those things are rewarding.
Tish: Wow. So, some of those credentials then that kind of underscore some of the influence that you've been granted, that's a stewardship as well, to be able to influence people's lives. You said, in Washington ... You've been to Washington several times. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Orson Woodall: Yes. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, not every year, but quite often will have what they call Legislative Days where maybe two or three hundred attorneys from around the country will come from various states and go in mass to senators and congressmen, basically from their states, talking about the things that are necessary to make bankruptcy more affective for the people that need it. I'll give you an example. Right now, student loan debt is just outrageous.
I've got a client that owes a quarter of a million dollars in student load debts. And she can't find a job paying enough. She was a psychology major. Child psychology. You just can't make a lot of money doing that. She's got a doctorate in it, but there's just no big paydays in child psychology unless you're a, I guess, a big shrink in New York City that's nationally recognized. She had to file a chapter 13 bankruptcy just to keep the student loan people away from her. They can't collect while you're in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. So, every five years we file for her. What we're trying to get congress to do is create a discharge for student loans. 30 years ago you could discharge a student loan debt if it was over three years old, but they changed that about 11 or 12 years ago to where they were non-dischargeable. We have created over a trillion dollars in student loan debt in the last five years.
Tish: Wow, that is-
Orson Woodall: There is no-
Tish: Mind boggling.
Orson Woodall: There's ... We have more student loan debt than credit card debt in the United States today. And there's no way people can discharge the debt. I had a lady in my office two days ago. Great woman. Just a terrific lady. She's got a good job with state DFCS people and she does private counseling on the side. But she owes about a $120,000 in student loan debt and she makes $42,000 a year with no prospect of ever making more because her job description will not allow it. I mean, there's just not any jobs out there where she can make $100,000 or $200,000 a year. And that's like a house payment for her. It's just impossible for somebody. It's not that she doesn't wanna pay it. She can't pay it. She's got two children, she's a single mom, she's got a house payment, utilities, and the money's just not there to amortize that kind of debt. So, I've been writing congressmen and things of that nature, concerning that. And we'll be going back to Washington pretty soon. It's a hard sell, but we're trying to make it.
Tish: Wow. That's like putting a noose around somebody's neck, isn't it? Having all that debt and way to get through that. For a single mom, or someone that is trying to make advances in the education and provide for their family and to have that, that is, that's tremendous stress.
Orson Woodall: Well, something you just said is very true. It is a noose around your neck. And one of the objectives of bankruptcy is to, not only get people out of debt, is to get them back to where they are productive members of society. Where they're not scared to go get a job because it will get garnished. To where they are not scared to move and take an advancement because if the creditors find them, they're gonna be right back on them again. So, the whole purpose of bankruptcy is not to discharge debt. The whole purpose of bankruptcy is to get people in a position to where they can be an asset to society by paying taxes in a timely fashion. By being able to consume and pay their bills. That's the whole purpose of bankruptcy. It's not to discharge debt. It's to make people productive.
Tish: That is amazing. That's gonna be so beneficial to everybody listening to this podcast. Being a productive citizen and being able to manage your resources on that level will completely change the trajectory of a person's life.
Orson Woodall: Not only will it change their life, they'll be able to advance because they're not consumed with worry. They'll be able to advance in their job. As a result of that, they pay more taxes. As a result of that, the government is better off. As a result of increased earning capacity, they can buy cars now. Not having to worry about somebody taking it from them. They can buy furniture. They can buy the kind of groceries they need for the family. They can become a consumer that's beneficial for all of us. If people don't spend money, none of us would be working.
Tish: You can see the domino effect in all these different areas just from making these simple choices. And to those of you who would like to advance and become more productive and break free from worry, as Orson is talking about, reach out to Orson Woodall by going to www.OrsonWoodall.com. Or call 229-247-1211. And be sure to ask for a free copy of Orson Woodall's book called Bankruptcy in Georgia, the Truth.