I have never had to file bankruptcy.
If I had known when I was in my early forties what I know now, I probably should have. Like many of the people I now help every day, I made some decisions that jumped up and bit me. Today, that story is part of my "WHY." In other words, my own experience helped shape what I do today to help others who find themselves struggling under similar undesirable condition.
My family was in the broadcasting business – small market radio. I went to college, but after finishing my undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, I didn't go to law school. I was young, and started buying, operating and managing small market radio stations. At one time, I had about 15 radio stations and was running all over the country killing myself trying to make a living in the exciting world of broadcasting.
I made some bad investments buying some stations. In the mid-1980s, I lost everything when a radio station I bought – the biggest purchase I ever made – went south.
Everything was gone. I blew it all.
I was 40 years old, and I sat around thinking, "I'm a great salesman. People will start beating the doors down for me to come and work with them." But the phone just didn't ring.
I needed to find something I could do. I got to thinking that I could do a better job than any of the attorneys I had ever hired. I was a voracious reader, and at that time in my life, I thought attorneys read books all day long.
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I took my brainstorm to my wife and said, "Baby, we're fixin' to give the house back." (She already knew this) and "We're fixin' to lose the cars." (She knew this, too.). "And, you've got to go back to teaching school." (She had already decided herself that this was going to be necessary.)
Finally, I laid the last bombshell on her: "And we're moving in with your Mama and Daddy."
Amazingly, she agreed to my plan and before long, I applied to law school. I took the LSAT and threw some kind of quirky answer on some test that I'd run out of time on. I scored in the top 5 percent in the nation.
Next stop was law school, and with that, I went. At that time, my son who now practices with me, was about 13 or 14 years old. He was moved into his grandparents' home along with my wife. I went off to school up in Macon, Georgia – about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. I would come home every weekend, and I would call home every night to talk to both of them. My wife was under great strain through this difficult time because of everything hanging in limbo, and I remember listening to her cry.
As I explained, my son was not a small child. He was a young teen who had to deal with the social ramifications of his friends knowing or not knowing where his family was financially. He lived through moving in with his grandparents and saw his mom return to teaching. His whole world was turned upside down.
It was a tough time, but together as a family, we got through it. The challenging change was worth it, I am happy to say, and we've been very well-rewarded today.
When I got out of law school, I was 44 years old and got my first job as an attorney working with a multi-practice firm. However, it didn't take me long to see that there was a need in the community for better debtor representation. I decided I was the man to do it, and I went out on my own.
There's an adage reminding all successful people: "Never forget where you came from," and I remember it every day. I've got a lot of compassion for the people who are filing. I've been there. I know what it's like to sit in a room and just stare at the corner. Experiencing that kind of disappointment and struggle can suck the life out of you. You may stay up all night long with your eyes wide open in bed, gazing at the ceiling with worry.
"What the heck can I do to get out of this problem?"
Sometimes there just aren't any answers.
These experiences built a strong sense of empathy within me. Today, I truly feel that filing bankruptcy would have been a better decision for me than struggling as long as I did. It would have freed me from a lot of that pain.
And that's how I got started in bankruptcy.
I understand what it's like to be beat on by creditors. I know what it's like to have that elephant sitting on your chest, the burden so heavy that a man can barely breathe. After I talk to clients, they tell me, "I feel like a weight has been lifted off my life."
Besides the fact that I offer a sound service that helps people every day, I love what I do because I learned something else about law: bankruptcy is the only practice of law where your client ends up absolutely loving you.