A worried husband and wife came to Michael D. Fielding with a problem.
A bankruptcy trustee had sued them, trying to recover $70,000 from them. Fielding began plugging numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, working to calculate their potential exposure. As he waded deeper into the process, he thought there had to be a better, faster way to analyze the data. So he made one.
“The final product is a specialized Microsoft Excel file with just a boatload of programming,” said Fielding.
Technically, that is true of Pref-Defend, the proprietary spreadsheet Fielding developed at Husch Blackwell, where he is a partner in the Kansas City office. But it functions more as software in that an attorney needs to enter only a basic payment history in Excel format in order to use it.
The program automates much of the financial and legal analysis required to defend preferential transfer claims filed frequently in bankruptcy proceedings to “claw back” payments made to debtor’s creditors within the 90 days prior to the bankruptcy filing.
Pref-Defend generates about 400 results, assessing key facts and showing an attorney where the best defenses may be found or the most exposure lies within the case in question. The attorney also can run hypothetical scenarios in real-time and can forecast the likely settlement in a case. Pref-Defend also creates reports that can be shared with opposing counsel, clients or judges.
“It is tons more efficient,” Fielding said. “What literally would have taken me a couple days [to complete] earlier, especially when my program was in its infancy, I can do in two to three minutes.”
Those hours of savings translate into savings for clients in attorneys’ fees without sacrificing accuracy, which in turn increases the value of the service he provides, Fielding said. Pref-Defend also offers a more complete picture of a case, for better or worse. Knowing when to settle as quickly as possible is just one more benefit of using Pref-Defend, he said.
“There [have] been times when I’ve used it
. . . and I thought, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got terrible defenses,’” he said.
Using Pref-Defend enables him to explore and analyze the defenses he is considering, while other attorneys may have just “scratched the surface,” Fielding said. Ultimately, that makes him a more persuasive advocate, and it’s given him greater knowledge of bankruptcy law in Missouri and around the country, he said.
There have been times when his legal opponents have questioned the validity of the outcomes, Fielding said. But the Pref-Defend program allows him to essentially show his work — something that is particularly helpful in settlement discussions.
“That’s the beauty of my program,” he said. “I just lay my cards on the table, so to speak.”