Law Firm Under Fire For Mistakes Made On Bankruptcy Petitions

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Bankruptcy filings are soaring in the Chicago area and more people are looking for legal help from low-cost law firms. CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman checked out mistakes made by a law firm that claims to be one of the largest in the country.

Tracy Diaz was shocked when she saw someone else’s debts on a draft version of her bankruptcy petition prepared by a law firm.

“We found that they had pulled the wrong credit information,” she said. “I think that’s a huge mistake. We paid for a service that we didn’t get.”

After another client, who asked us to conceal his identity, corrected mistakes on a draft the law firm prepared for his bankruptcy petition, “Lo and behold, we show up to court and none of these corrections had been made,” the client said. “The income figures were way off.”

Both had used the law firm of Macey and Aleman, which markets itself as Legal Helpers. Its website says Legal Helpers provides clients with “great service” for “low fees” and “experienced” attorneys.

But former clients told us the high volume firm headquartered at Willis Tower repeatedly lost documents they had to submit over and over again, like pay stubs and other records needed to file their bankruptcy petition.

And, clients said, they constantly had lots of trouble even talking with an attorney.

The Better Business Bureau has given Legal Helpers an “F” rating based on all kinds of complaints it has received in the last three years from 136 clients of Legal Helpers.

“I was devastated,” said Doris Just.

Devastated, she says, because she was misled from the beginning when she inquired about filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy petition to repay $80,000 in debts.

“They said it was going to be interest-free, which is why I went with them,” she said.

But her final five-year plan required her to pay 8.25 percent interest and 100 percent of her debt, because the home appraisal used by Legal Helpers was done online and obviously erroneous.

And Legal Helpers failed to revise her plan after additional creditors filed claims.

“We had really a tragedy of errors,” said David P. Leibowitz, an experienced bankruptcy attorney, who reviewed the case for us.

“Bottom line here is we just had a systemic failure from start to finish. The valuation was wrong, the plan didn’t add up. And then no one caught it for four years,” said Leibowitz, who also said it’s a problem that could have been caught in the first few months of the case.

Over those four years, Just made every payment required by the bankruptcy court: a total of $63,000 of the $80,000 she owed.

But a bankruptcy trustee realized that she could not possibly finish the plan within the five years allowed, and the case was dismissed.

Because of all that interest, she’s now left owing $47,000 to credit card companies that can now charge her much higher interest.

“So she might be finding herself even in a bigger hole than she was four years ago,” Leibowitz said.

When she heard what happened, Just said, “I’m like, ‘oh my God, what am I going to do here?’ I have been in tears for the last month.”

After reviewing the file, Richard Gustafson, a partner in the law firm of Macey and Aleman, told CBS that Legal Helpers would file a new bankruptcy petition to help Doris Just free of charge and “make things right.”

In a written statement, Gustafson also said Legal Helpers “has addressed every complaint and has taken all reasonable steps to accommodate and satisfy all clients and former clients whenever possible.”

He said Legal Helpers “takes seriously its professional obligations to the courts and its clients, including the obligation to refund money to clients who decide not to proceed with their cases, whatever the reason.”

For example, he said Legal Helpers gave Tracy Diaz a $730 refund, out of the $1,600 in fees she had paid.

After corrections were made on the bankruptcy petition filed by the other client in this report, he continued to use the firm.

Gustafson noted that Legal Helpers periodically uses client satisfaction surveys, which show they “overwhelmingly rate their experience with Legal Helpers as ‘very good’ to ‘excellent.’”
And he said, “Legal Helpers has been successfully representing consumers in bankruptcy since 1994 and has filed more than 182,000 bankruptcy cases across 20 states. He said it has also “given valuable legal advice and services to over 351,000 consumers.”

Experts say that regardless of which attorney you hire to handle a bankruptcy, you should carefully read all papers prepared for you to be sure there are no errors, and if there is something that concerns you, consult with your attorney immediately.

For websites that can provide valuable information on bankruptcy, click the links below.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission handles complaints about attorneys. You can reach them at (312) 565-2600.

More from 2 Investigators
  • Lisa Marroquin

    I am relieved to hear someone finally spoke out about Legal Helpers. I also, have had nothing but problems with there service. Actually, they were paid in full and I still havent heard from them. I received my paperwork back from them to only see many mistakes. If any see this or can Help me Please contact me

    • Richard Gustafson

      Ms. Marroquin,

      We will be contacting you today to discuss your paperwork. As the instruction sheet indicates, the documents are a draft and we expect to discuss them with you and update them. There are likely to be additional pieces of information we need to complete them anyway at this stage.

      We will talk to you soon.

    • Extremely Satisfied - Filed 2010

      I have to say that my experience with Legal Helpers was flawless. Everything from the initial consultation, the entire BK process, the on-going customer response (before, during and after the BK) and the ultimate success of the results, exceeded my expectations. These guys are ethical pros with a strong eye on customer service. They handled everything, were always available and delivered on every promise.

      • Esther

        To Extremly Satiesfied-Filed 2010, only Legal Helpers refers to bankruptcy as BK. Wow, how low managers and partners of Legal Helpers. As someone who also worked there, I can verify that every negative comment on here is true. They are more focused on revenue than on customer service.

  • Dolores Kostrzewa

    I too have had multiple problems with them never notifying anyone regarding the 341 hearing. Creditors I don’t owe are on the list..creditors I do owe are Not on the list. I have filed a complaint and asked for a review by the state licensure board and waiting to hear. In the mean time I am being squeezed to death with them and the trustee having collected almost $25,000 which the trustee is just holding–paying out nothing but 1 auto loan and his fee. Try and talk to another bankruptcy attorney and no one will talk to you! What am I and my husband to do???

  • Richard Gustafson

    Ms. Marroquin – We will call you today! The instructions that were mailed to you along with your paperwork identify the fact that the document is a draft that we need to discuss and update. In fact, the instructions invited you in for a signing appointment where we can update all this information and likely provided you a list of other information needed to file your case. We will talk today.

    Ms. Kostrzewa – You and your husband appeared at your meeting of creditors in June and your case was confirmed in August. We have been in constant contact with you during this process including numerous amendments required because of changes to your circumstances. We will call you again today to discuss the chapter 13 trustee disbursement procedures so you have a good understanding of them and hopefully put your mind at ease. We are happy to discuss and address any creditor notice issues as well.

    • Former Attorney

      Do you really think it is appropriate to address these clients’ concerns here? I understand you are trying to save face and show the public that you are concerned for your clients and working on their cases but I think this is crossing the line. Your comments are only undermining your arguments.

      • Dolores Kostrzewa

        Thank you former attorney. This is Ms. Kostrzewa and this is the most inappropriate formm to answer complaints which in fact I believe violates privacy as well as ethic issues. By the way, MR. Gustafson, who are you? Maybe you should be addressing your attorneys to do their job and stop raking us over. Had the job been done correctly in the first place, there would not have been need to have amendments. We shall shortly be homeless with no money to pay rent because you take every penny that we have and still have paid no one but yourselves and the trustee. Hum!! wonder how that really works? Legal helpers has not heard the last of me yet!!

  • oh come on...

    The last line of the report got it right. “YOU should carefully read all papers prepared for you to be sure there are no errors.” Ultimately you as the client are the one signing under penalty of perjury that all your documents are correct.

    No matter what law firm you look at, every firm will have 1% upset clients. People don’t get the result they wanted and then they figure it’s their lawyer’s fault. If this is the largest firm in the country and they have 40,000 clients a year, of course you will be able to find 2 or 3 unhappy ones.

    • former attorney

      The problem with Legal Helpers is that you never see a finalized copy of your bankruptcy petition before it is filed (depending on which state you live in) You tell them what corrections are to be made, you then sign incomplete forms, and they assure you they will make the necessary changes. Sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. That cannot be blamed on the client. Especially when they ask to meet with an attorney to review the papers and are told that is not necessary.

  • Former Employee

    As a former employee I can testify that the alleged statements made on behalf of the firm are for the most part false. This is not a reliable firm. The firm is operated like a call center full of legally inexperienced individuals with minimal training prior to helping clients out. It is by far one of the most unprofessional organizations I have ever been a part of. On various occasions I was forewarned that hitting micro-managed calls per day was more important than actually helping clients solve their life-altering dilemas such as foreclosures, disconnection of essential utilities, vehicles, etc.

    I personally spoke with more than 50 clients throughout the course of one of my many months employed there who called in scared & nervous because no attorney was present nor ever bothered to show up to court.

    Overall Legal Helpers is an insult to the legal profession and should not be allowed to practice law anywhere in the U.S. The partners run the firm like a call center as opposed to a law firm that actually caters to the specific needs of individuals. I refuse to ever recommend their services to anyone.

    What is Pam Zeckman’s email? Id like to provide more info for her.

  • Richard Gustafson

    Former Employee – Please identify yourself as your statements are false and misleading. Please take responsibility for your statements.

    Every client’s case is individually evaluated on numerous occassions throughout the process. The call center is there to allow clients to reach professionals who are trained to help them with their situation. Employees at the firm have numerous ways to reach partners and members of management to address problems and issues immediately!

    If you weren’t doing these things as an employee of the firm, then you weren’t doing your job!

  • Chester T. Coolguy

    Former Employee’s statements are accurate. The proof is in the ridiculously high turnover rate at the “firm”. If you want to be successful at Legal Helpers, you have to cast your morals to the side. If not, the ridiculously fickle partners will come up with a reason to fire you. Especially Shobmonster.

  • Another Former Employee

    Mr. Gustafson,

    Please do not even attempt to tell the former employee that he was not doing his or her job. He or she was probably following direct orders from the pod managers who yell over the intercom every five minutes to “pick up the first”. Do you not think the clients could overhear? As another former employee, I am glad that Legal Helpers is receiving negative publicity. I agree 100% with the negative comments agains the company. I dare you to spend 1 day on the phones and hear for yourself the horrible experience clients go through. We were doing our job right. We did our job how your managers wanted us to do it. And that is go line to line and not really care for the problems clients were going through. Oh, and do not forget that we had to pick up the first.; even if the current client really needed help, screw them and take a message.

  • Richard Gustafson

    Chester Coolguy is another fictitious name. The turnover rate at the firm is due to making sure our clients are treated right! If you want to be successful at Legal Helpers, the formula is simple: be reliable, be compassionate, utilize the tools your were given, including the knowledge base all around you, be responsible to follow-up on your job duties, and do a good job. That’s it. If someone is not able to do that, then for the protection of the firm’s clients, unfortunate decisions often must be made.

    Please identify yourself.

  • Chester T. Coolguy

    I feel bad for Richard. For the most part, he’s the only partner at the firm with any integrity. Too bad they have him doing damage control. Maybe they should get someone scuzzier/used car salesman type lawyer like Aleman attempt to save face.

  • Charlie Bob

    Way to go Former Employee and Chester Coolguy. I 100% agree with you and couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about time the truth started coming out about this firm.

  • Shannon F.

    Well, maybe they are afraid to identify themselves, but I’m not. I’ve had no problem with you Mr. Gustafson and if anything, you were the only good thing part of that firm. However, what the previous employee’s claim is true and that we do have to hit a certain call number a day. I have been pulled into partners offices for not hitting that number and actually faxing more than I should, even though it was extremely important it got done. I’ve also been denied raises for not hitting a certain amount of calls but most of the time we are on the phone fixing the attorneys or doc chasers mistakes. Take it easy on the call center employee’s because they are the ones who will actually help the clients. Plain and simple, there are mistakes on bankruptcy’s all across the country under this firm that easily could have been avoided.

  • FR

    Dissatisfied should look up – Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission.

  • kelly

    Legal helpers is the worst law firm ever. I used to work there they treat their clients like garbage. They only care about the money . Do not file bk with them they only care about you until you give them the retainer fee then you can never speak to your attorney again.

  • Richard Gustafson

    Shannon F – what you describe are not mistakes. You are describing a situation where you took a call in the process of completing the paperwork and took action to make sure mistakes were avoided. By discussing with clients their documentation requirements, their changed circumstances, their updated situations, inaccurate credit reporting information, etc… we are able to adjust their paperwork so that it is accurate. This is exactly what should happen in order to avoid mistakes in paperwork filed with the court.

    • Legal Helpers Sucks

      Too bad no Legal Helpers employee in the Willis Tower aside from doc chasers and petitionistsm, EVER got to see a SINGLE document from a client. If you want your above prescribed procedure to be practiced then eliminate “going line to line” and also be sure exclude that from the contract YOU FORCE NEW EMPLOYEES INDICATING THAT THEYLL GO “LINE TO LINE! “

  • Richard Gustafson

    Kelly (if that’s even your real name) – If you truly worked here and listened to what you were taught during your training, you know what you are saying is completely false. Shame on you.

    If you treated firm clients like garbage, shame on you twice and I’m glad you no longer work here. I don’t treat clients like garbage. Good employees don’t treat clients like garbage and if I get wind of someone treating a client like garbage they won’t be working here anymore…

  • Richard Gustafson

    Shannon F – The process you describe where a client calls in with questions/concerns/comments about their draft documents is exactly the process law firms across the world use to avoid mistakes in paperwork that gets filed with courts, in any arena. Drafts are sent, clients review the drafts, provide documentation, discuss issues with their attorney(s), documents are changed, final review and signature occurs and documents get filed. You don’t describe “mistakes,” you describe the process for preventing mistakes.

  • dawn

    Legal Helpers were fantastic! They were fast and on it!

    They really helped me out!

    They are the best and I tell everyone I know to use them!
    Thats to them I’m back on my feet!


    • Kelly

      “Dawn” is probaly Shob Jeff or VU.

    • Dont worry about my name

      Hi Shob

  • Anti-Legal Helpers


    I feel bad that you are the one who has to be assigned clean-up duty. Indeed Shannon,Kelly, & Chester T. Coolguy are not lying. The firm is a disgrace. Money is the number one thing on a MAJORITY of the partners mind. Notice the word majority which excludes the very few like yourself that do care but unfortunately you alone can not prevent the tragedies that take place throughout the whole firm. If you are so certain of the firm’s reliability why is that you refused to speak to Channel 2 News. Yes some of us former employees stay in communication and know of the atrocities that continue to happen in Willis Tower. Richard you are a good man you should stop helping these snobs and walk away from this organization.

  • anonyomous

    Rick you were a fair and good manager and a knowledgeable attorney. But I don’t think I will ever have another manager or associate as unpleasant and unbearable to work with then Shob…period, and I have been in the workforce for 20 years. She seemed to thrive on making employees miserable and unhappy, that effected their work.

  • kelly

    Rick I never said it was the csrs who treated the clients like garbage its the partners. The partners are the ones who kept saying first time callers come before the current callers and get rid of the current ones

  • Former Attorney

    As a former attorney for Legal Helpers (although not the Chicago office) I can confirm that the information contained in this article is true. I want to clarify though and state that it is through no fault of legal counsel that clients are having these problems. We worked as best we could with the business model we were given. As part of one of the outlying offices, I always gave my clients the local office number (even though I was repeatedly told by the partners not to) because of the complaints I received from the clients regarding the treatment they received when calling the call center. It was not the Customer Service Reps that were the problem….it was again the business model they were given to work with. I was often forced to make clients sign up for services they did not want (due diligence package) and to bully them in to allowing us to take fees out of their bank accounts when they were very uncomfortable with it. Despite direction from the partners, I refused to allow the Chicago office to prepare my clients bankruptcy petitions and often worked 70-80 hours per week to do them on my own because I knew that the documents would not be completed correctly. Again, not the fault of the staff preparing them….it was that they were overwhelmed and dealing with a business model that did not permit them to complete work correctly, only quickly. It is unfortunate that it is the clients that suffer from a business model that makes it impossible to do good legal work.

  • Dont worry about my name

    If Zekman interviwed the former employees and they gave their opinions of the “firm” on the news, the place would be closed in a year. and SRK would be mentioned in 99% of their complaints.

    • Abby


  • Chester T. Coolguy

    I bet Dawn is a Legal Helpers employee.

    • Kelly

      I agrre

      • Kelly

        I agree

  • Former Client

    I am a former client. This report makes way too many generalizations. Any attorney is going to have some clients upset because they didn’t get the final result they wanted. How much were that lady’s interest rates before she filed? 29%…now she pays 8%….still a huge savings!

    The article says Legal Helpers has filed hundreds of thousands of bankruptcy cases. If only 136 people filed complaints, that’s an awesome rate of happy clients. The BBB doesn’t take into account how many customers a business has when deciding what’s “too many” complaints.

    The story says the reason the one lady had to pay back her debts was because the valuation on her house was wrong. Well did she look at the value on her bankruptcy documents and point out that was not the right value? How is her attorney supposed to know how much her house is worth? Bottom line, if you are filing bankruptcy, you need to READ the documents your attorney prepares. It’s your signature going on the documents saying they are true an accurate.

    • Former Attorney

      Now this I know is one of the partners. Come on guys….

    • Willing to Testify Against Legal Helpers

      Hello Shob! first of all you must realize that Legal Helper clients are typically not as forthcoming as the rest of the individuals willing to step up to leave comments about this firm. Not to mention the reality that over 60% of clients who hired legal helpers were in too tough of a financial situation to afford a computer let alone know of one single news agency willing to take the steps to investigate the firm via the internet. So maybe you should put your stats to the side and if you’re so confident on the firm, allow Channel 2 News to interview you but you obviously won’t because you and Richard have been denying their calls for quite some time now. What do you have to say about that “Former Client” aka ShobMonster!

    • Fired Helper

      This is not a client….not fooling anyone.

    • Ex-Helper

      First of all, and I think someone already pointed this out, the client doesn’t get to see a final copy of the petition before it’s filed…so how can they point out the mistake?
      Second, it’s easy to get the value of a house from a recent tax bill.

      I hope the partners learned something from this. Word has it, the Milwaukee office is falling apart. HA.

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