This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Online Chat Improves Service to Public
Peruse the website of the U.S. Bankruptcy
Court for the District of Arizona and
you will find all kinds of information
for filers, from bankruptcy forms and publications,
to instructions on how to file. As
the on-line welcome notes, the court is
committed to providing "the greatest level of
public service, access and information."
That access also comes with a question—
and an invitation—on its webpage: "Have a
Question? Chat with Us Live!"
The Arizona Bankruptcy Court was the first
bankruptcy court in the nation to offer information
seekers the option of an on-line chat.
"The court started live chat several years
ago, as a result of a strategic plan initiative
to better inform and educate the
public," said Arizona Bankruptcy
Clerk of Court Brian D. Karth.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for
the District of New Mexico was
the second bankruptcy court
nationwide to offer visitors the
option of an on-line chat. Two
years ago, Bankruptcy Clerk of
Court Norman Meyer, with some
of his staff, attended a planning
seminar at which they identified
enhanced service to the public,
particularly for pro se filers, as a court goal.
The on-line chat was one in a range of
things to accomplish.
Meyer was familiar with live chat options,
as most Internet users are who have
purchased from on-line retailers, or perhaps
made an on-line appointment. He'd also
seen the Arizona bankruptcy court's chat
"You see them on retail websites all the
time," said Meyer. "I thought, 'Why don't we
Rather than voice messages, users send
and receive text messages. It's convenient and
immediate. Users are already on-line, and
texting in a chat becomes part of their
"If a paralegal is having trouble in the
electronic case files system, they can click
and have a chat with a representative who
will answer their question," said Meyer.
"You don't need someone assigned specifically
to the chat live. We already have a
staff member on call. A window appears
on their screen notifying them of a chat
request." The court's goal is to respond to a
chat request within 30 seconds.
Meyer sent a team to the Arizona
Bankruptcy Court to see how the chat line
worked, and the team also culled information
from state and county courts that
used the software behind live chat.
Mary A. Schott, Bankruptcy Clerk of
Court for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for
the District of Nevada, also looked to the
Arizona and New Mexico bankruptcy
courts for inspiration. Schott's court will
go live with an on-line chat option in
"Our district is number one for per
capita filings in the country and at the top
for foreclosures," said Schott. "We have a
lot of attorneys with procedural questions
who've never handled a bankruptcy case
before. We have a lot of pro se filers. We
have so many people calling in, live chat is
another way for us to handle the requests
The hours the Nevada bankruptcy
court's live chat is available will be posted
on the website. During off hours, visitors
will be unable to click on the live chat
icon. That eliminates what might be a
frustrating wait for a response when the
service is unavailable.
"I was surprised at the number of
attorneys who use our live chat to ask
questions," said Karth. "This has been
particularly true in the past two years
as many real estate lawyers expand into
the field of bankruptcy law and have
questions as inexperienced practitioners.
They said it was more convenient than
waiting on the phone for someone to
answer a question—they could work while
they waited for a reply."
Last month, the Arizona bankruptcy
court averaged 12 live chats per day, with
a high per day of 25. The average chat
lasts nearly nine minutes.
Karth also noted that many users like
that a chat reply can include a direct link
to the location of information on the
court's website. "One advantage live chat
offers is the ability to quickly cut and paste
webpage links in response to questions,
rather than talk a caller through various
bankruptcy issues over the phone," he said.
Live chat visitors also can refer back to the
written response and avoid call backs.
According to Meyer, the New Mexico
bankruptcy chat line is in fairly regular
use. Law offices ask about filings. Pro se
filers get help on bankruptcy chapters
and filing. At the end of the conversation,
a transcript of the chat is retained and
the system keeps a log of the chats. "We
can go back and check information,"
said Meyer. The application itself is
inexpensive, costing $75 per month for
use by three operators.
More bankruptcy courts are considering
adding live chat to their websites.
"We're looking at how it potentially could
improve our customer service," said
Bankruptcy Clerk of Court Ken Gardner
in the Northern District of Illinois. And in
a recently conducted survey of attorneys
in the Central District of California, the
bankruptcy court found that 73 percent of
the respondents wanted an on-line chat
feature for Case Management/Electronic
Case Files system assistance.
"Live chat is a nice tool," said Meyer.
"While it's not the answer to every
question, it does help us serve the public,
especially a generation that is used to
digital and mobile applications. It's one way
we can increase service to the public."