Chattanooga Bankruptcy Lawyers

A Personal Message From Kenneth Rannick:

You might want to know a few things about me and our office to understand what makes us tick and why I passionately believe in Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

I grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee (about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville). I graduated from Science Hill in 1973 and went to a small college there called Milligan College. While there, I met a girl. Her dad’s job was ending and her scholarship was being cut. She had to move back home to Southern California. I was ready for adventure and decided to transfer to another college with her.

We went to Long Beach State for a semester. I was miserable in school there. I hated my pre-med courses. I took advantage of the aptitude testing that was available and discovered that I was perfectly suited to be a lawyer, but refused to consider law at that time. (In those days, lawyers were portrayed on television as sneaky liars and I didn’t want to be like that.)

I decided to drop out of school and get married. The plan was that I would work and put her through school and then she would work and I would come back to finish my last year of school.

At first, the plan worked well. I started working and she continued her education. Then things began unraveling. I became sick with ulcerative colitis. It is a very serious autoimmune disease where your body attacks your colon and your gut literally starts bleeding and rotting away. Over the course of a year, I became sicker and sicker. I had health insurance and zero debt. My car and furniture were paid for. I had $5,000 in the bank. I was sick and had to go on bed rest in July 1977. By September 1977, I was in the hospital and we were consuming our savings. I wasted away to 134 pounds (and I am a big guy). In October, my colon was removed. To this day I wear an ostomy bag. That stress rocked my world.

While I was in the hospital, my health insurance company was put into receivership by the state of California. In other words, my health insurance became worthless because my insurance company was broke. I had six weeks of hospitalization and a very complex eight-hour surgery and no way to pay for it. I experienced firsthand the expectancy of huge bills, bad health, a bad prognosis and no hope of recovery. We had lived off our savings and had huge bills. Literally by God’s grace, due to the fact that I had been sick in bed for two months before my hospitalization, I qualified retroactively for Medi-Cal (California’s version of TennCare) and all my bills were covered.

Had it not been for that, I would have needed to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Because of this, I understand where my clients are coming from. I understand the stress of not knowing how bills will be paid. By January 1978, I returned to work and started planning to return to college in the spring. However, in February 1978, I had a very serious adhesion problem in my bowel that almost killed me and I went back for more surgery. Medi-Cal paid that bill, too. I dodged the bankruptcy bullet a second time!

What I did not understand at that time was that while I was convalescing and feeling a call into the ministry, things were hard for my wife. We were both only 22. I was looking forward to college, seminary and a career. She felt like she was living with what she called “a ticking time bomb.” She fully expected me to die suddenly. Anxiety was a way of life that left us numb.

I went to school at Azusa Pacific College with a Bible major. She went to work. I made great grades. She made new friends. Upon graduation, I knew that I wasn’t ready for seminary, so I entered the workplace and went into sales. I went to work for a national soft contact lens company, Wesley-Jessen. While there, I led the company in sales. However, I was not content. I saw that my boss and his boss had to travel and spend lots of time on the road. While I was contemplating seminary training, my wife moved out. She had been having a relationship with her boss. Eventually, he left his family and they moved in together.

I looked at my life and knew that I did not want to live as a salesman, living in hotel rooms. I figured there was no point in going to seminary. Being divorced was a career killer for a want-to-be pastor in a conservative church. I came to realize lawyers were in fact quite honest, and that my impressions from TV were not fact-based. I remembered my aptitude tests from my earlier days at Long Beach State. I decided to go to law school, but I had to figure out how to pay for it. I looked at accredited schools throughout the country and fortunately discovered that Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) was the least expensive fully accredited law school in the country. My plan was to re-establish my Tennessee residency and to apply to only two schools: Memphis State and the University of Tennessee.

As I moved back across the country from California, I stopped at Memphis State and met with the head of the admissions committee who said I could be admitted right then for the fall of 1980 class. I loved the school and decided to attend. However, I decided to stay with my parents for a year, work, save a ton of money, and get in-state tuition.

I economized. I lived frugally in school dorm housing. I was on the meal plan. I worked 20 hours a week. I made great grades, got onto the Law Review staff, Moot Court Board, won Best Advocate in Moot Court and represented the university on the traveling moot court team. Our team did very well. I wanted to come to Chattanooga to be a lawyer. My goal upon leaving law school was to be a trial lawyer, and I got a job with a great law firm in Chattanooga at Shumacker & Thompson. It had a great legacy. (Ralph Shumacker, who founded the firm, had helped try Nuremberg Trials following World War II.) In 1984, I passed the Tennessee Bar on my first try. In 1986, I passed the Georgia Bar on my first try also.

As a new trial lawyer, I did what most trial lawyers do; I tried cases in General Sessions Court. I did collections work. I enjoyed the trials, but I hated the collections aspect. I appreciated the great lawyers who were mentoring me and investing in me to improve my lawyering skills, but I was conflicted. Too often, I would get these Friday afternoon phone calls: “Mr. Rannick, you represent so-and-so and you sued me, and I’ve tried to pay you but couldn’t and now you’ve garnished my husband’s paycheck. We don’t have enough money to pay our living expenses, buy our medicine, etc. Would you please release our check and set up payments?” I hated foreclosing on houses, evicting tenants from their homes or businesses and chasing down debtors. I was deeply conflicted. Just seven years earlier, I had been sick and had medical bills and did not know how I would make ends meet. Now, I was being asked by my clients not to show mercy, but to seek justice! The money was owed. Collect it!

Mind you, I have nothing but respect for my colleagues who today collect on debts. They do a very important service. I just found it was troubling to me to do that kind of work. I decided to make a move to the other side of the bar. I left the creditor side where I had learned bankruptcy law and moved to the debtor side.

That’s my story of how I came to start my practice in July of 1988 doing Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtor work. By and large, I love my clients. My clients are typically hardworking, but unfortunate. They are friends; they are people in my church. They are just like me and just like you.

In my own way, I suppose I did find my ministry here on Brainerd Road. Over the years, the United States Supreme Court has allowed attorneys to become certified as specialists. I sat for my boards and passed on my first try. Since 1994, I have been Board Certified in Consumer Bankruptcy Law by the American Board of Certification. This is the board connected with the American Bankruptcy Institute. I have also become involved with the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

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