Interview with Jennifer L. Johnson on a Career in Bankruptcy Law

Jennifer L. Johnson is a bankruptcy attorney at Long, Burnett, and Johnson, PLLC in Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and then Nashville School of Law. She practices consumer debtor’s bankruptcy law. She loves attending soccer tournaments with her 13-year-old son and enjoys spending time with her family, who all happen to live close by.

How Long Have You Been a Bankruptcy Attorney?

I began working as a legal assistant for a bankruptcy attorney while I was in law school, which is where my passion grew for bankruptcy.  After graduation and passing the bar exam, I set up my own law office practicing bankruptcy in July of 2012.  

What Do You Enjoy Most about Your Job?

Helping people. I help people keep their home that otherwise would have gone to foreclosure. I help people get out from under mounds of medical debt, wage garnishments, and get back on track.  My clients are the most grateful clients.  It is a pleasure to make a difference in their lives and help them get back on their feet.

What’s Most Challenging about a Career in Bankruptcy Law?

Currently, mortgage companies are the most difficult problem posed in the bankruptcy community.  Since 2008, we’ve discovered that mortgages, and their servicers, have problems with showing who is the holder of the Note, recording the Deed of Trust, charging excessive fees, and problems with basic math to determine the balance owed by the homeowner.

This is further complicated in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan where a debtor is trying to pay their ongoing mortgage payment and cure the arrearages.  However, when the mortgage company fails to prove they are the proper party to be paid, or that the balance owed is accurate, then litigation within a bankruptcy begins.

How Did Your Interest in Law Lead to Bankruptcy?

Prior to working in bankruptcy, I worked in a Creditors Rights firm.  My primary duties were to collect on defaulted contracts, sue, obtain judgments, and post-judgment collections.  After two years, I pursued working for an attorney whose practice was half probate and estate planning and half bankruptcy.

While I wanted to focus on probate and estate planning, he hired me as the bankruptcy legal assistant, with the promise that he would eventually show me both areas of the practice.  It only took a couple of weeks to know that I was hooked on bankruptcy.  While he did show me both areas of practice, bankruptcy is my joy!  

Has Being a Woman Posed Any Challenges in Your Bankruptcy Career?

It is quite possible that I grew up in a bubble where gender was not a divisive factor in my life.  I was never told that I could or couldn’t do anything because I am female.  Or maybe, if it was said, I never heard it. (Except for that time in the fifth grade when my teacher told me I couldn’t be President because I was female.) Which is why I am surprised that this issue comes up on occasion.

When I began my new firm and went to court for the first time, the members of the bar were quite kind and helpful. Just like most attorneys, I had to find my way through negotiations with opposing counsel.  Some are easier to deal with than others.  I find those that are the most difficult to deal with are not treating me different because I am female, they are like that with everyone male and female.

However, it was a couple of females who made me feel unwelcome, not men. Another example: Usually the male spouse is listed first on the bankruptcy petition, then the female spouse. However, on occasion, the female spouse will be listed first for one reason or another.

There is no rule, law, or otherwise that says the male should be listed before the female.  I’ve been to court several times in front of male trustees that never mentioned a problem with the female spouse being listed first.  However, the one time it was brought up, was by a female trustee.  Even she could not give me a reason why she was chastising me for swapping the male and female spouses.  Honestly, most of the gender issues brought up to me, however few they have been, have been by women. 

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