In a Nutshell: Bankruptcy is a hardship for consumers, and it’s also a challenge for the attorneys who deal with the courts and paperwork. NextChapter is a cloud-based platform that automates much of the bankruptcy workload, making the process easier for attorneys and their clients. The software eliminates much of the manual data entry that comes with bankruptcy cases with a credit report integration and online client intake. Clients also have access to support from a dedicated Customer Success team and can hire virtual paralegal attorneys to handle their caseload.
Despite a recession, widespread unemployment, and lower earnings caused by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people filed for bankruptcy in the fiscal year ending in June. In fact, the total number of bankruptcy cases in the U.S. fell 11.8% for the 12-month period ending June 30 of this year, according to the United States Courts.
While the drop in bankruptcy filings is good news, a significant number of people still face strained financial situations with few viable options. Bankruptcy is often the final recourse to relieve ongoing consumer hardship. For the attorneys who draw up reams of paperwork in a bankruptcy, the process is complex, to say the least.
NextChapter is a cloud-based software for bankruptcy attorneys of all experience levels with guided forms, automation tools, case management features. It offers a clean, simple user interface that eases the work of preparing a bankruptcy petition.
“There are several schedules in the petition, many of which ask for the same information multiple times,” said Jaime Houssami, Lead Marketing Specialist at NextChapter. “Preparing the forms manually can be repetitive and time-consuming.”
NextChapter simplifies the process with a suite of tools and access to additional resources, including credit report integration and freelance paralegals.
“We have a team of people who handle customer success and support,” Houssami said. “And we don’t just help users through technical issues; we make sure when someone comes into our app, they’re going to be successful from day one.”
Automated Workflow and Updates for Cases in All 50 States
NextChapter Managing Director and Founder Janine Sickmeyer describes the app as “Turbo Tax for attorneys.” Thanks to its linear workflows, attorneys only need to enter information once, and the software puts it in the appropriate petition fields.
“It just makes things a lot easier,” Houssami said. “Attorneys can prepare cases more efficiently, in less time, and save manpower and money.”
Of course, bankruptcy paperwork and procedures are not uniform across the United States. That’s why NextChapter supports bankruptcy forms and processes in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico.
“Each district is slightly different since bankruptcy cases are handled in federal courts, there are standard forms,” Houssami said. “We’re always adding new local forms and enhancements for other district courts.”
In addition to automating the bankruptcy filing process, NextChapter helps attorneys run a digital practice. Going paperless is possible, even when gathering information and documents from bankruptcy clients.
“We have a client intake portal where an attorney can send a bankruptcy questionnaire online,” Houssami said. “The client can fill it out, send it to the attorney for review, and then the attorney can click a button and import it into NextChapter. The attorney won’t even have to manually enter that information into the bankruptcy schedules, which saves a lot of time. ”
This feature further reduces the workload for attorneys and their paralegals. Another tool, NextMessage, allows for automated text reminders for clients regarding dates and deadlines.
A law firm can set up a text reminder based on a 341 Hearing Date or signing date, and it will apply to all of their cases in NextChapter. With this feature, attorneys don’t have to contact clients individually, ” Houssami said.
Credit Report Integration Eases the Process for Attorneys
NextChapter integrates client credit reports, which are an essential component for any bankruptcy filing. Attorneys can quickly pull tri-merge reports from all three major credit bureaus in NextChapter’s app through a partnership with Universal Credit Services.
“Law firms can get held up on bankruptcy form prep while waiting for their client to obtain a free credit report. So much of the data on the credit report is necessary for filling out the bankruptcy petition,” Houssami said. “An attorney can obtain a copy of the credit report, and the data is imported into the appropriate sections in NextChapter. You can also print out a copy for your client or to keep for your law firm.”
There is a required on-site mandated by the credit bureaus, which includes a one-time $75 setup fee for that feature. The service costs $35 per report and $55 for joint filings.
It’s free to sign up for NextChapter, and an attorney is charged when they download or file a case, or upgrade to an annual subscription. The software offers pricing options for large, high filing firms, attorneys just dabbling in bankruptcy law, and everyone in between.
“Using NextChapter on a per-case basis is nice for people who don’t file bankruptcy often or are just trying out the software,” Houssami said. “For example, if you primarily practice immigration law, and one of your past immigration clients wants to file for bankruptcy. If you are familiar with NextChapter, you can take them on instead of referring them to someone else.”
Robust Support and Virtual Paralegals Keep Cases Moving
The NextChapter app development process began with close consultation, testing, and feedback from attorneys. That coordination continues to play a crucial role in building additional features.
NextChapter provides training webinars to customers for free to promote user success. Non-customers who are curious about the software can also access those resources. Users receive direct access to customer support, but the team doesn’t wait around until a problem or question arises.
“We are dedicated to providing great user experience and support and have happiness processes in place,” Houssami said.
NextChapter also offers access to virtual paralegals. Attorneys can hire these professionals on a per-case or hourly basis to help manage their workloads. All NextChapter paralegals are highly skilled with years of experience working in law firms and are now offering their services through NextChapter.
“We have a highly-qualified network of virtual paralegals who were interviewed and trained by our Paralegal Operations team,” Houssami said. “Our paralegals are available to take on any scope of legal work. They can fill out all the paperwork, and submit it to an attorney for review. It’s just like working with an in-house paralegal, but without the added costs.”
NextChapter: Innovating to Meet Modern Needs
NextChapter provides a more convenient way to file bankruptcy paperwork. Its online platform also offers additional benefits, especially in a time of ongoing public health concerns.
“I think that’s the biggest advantage, especially right now,” Houssami said. “A lot of states are reentering stay at home orders, and some clients might not feel comfortable meeting in the office. That’s probably top of mind.”
The platform’s benefits may also extend to people working in other areas of law. Although NextChapter does not provide workflows or support document integration outside of bankruptcy, any attorney can use its case management features.
“You can use the texting,” Houssami said. “Or hire a virtual paralegal to help you with a case in any area of law. And you can use our tasks lists, our checklists, and our document storage.”
Another such feature is NextChapter’s Doc Creator. This document assembly tool allows attorneys to upload forms, make templates, and add tags that the software will use to auto-fill the necessary information. Those forms may include a happy birthday letter to a client or a motion to file with the court.
“It’s great for those looking for a document automation tool to make any document in any area of law,” Houssami said. “We recently launched Version 2 and have even more exciting things planned for 2021.”
The same is true of NextChapter’s overall scope. The development team focuses on expansion and positioning the software to support attorneys in many areas. NextChapter aims to provide them with access to tools that will ease their workloads, save them time and money, and help them provide the best service to clients.