The process of selecting a bankruptcy lawyer
Financial woes can be quite severe. Imagine falling behind on mortgage and auto loan payments. Also, imagine maxing out on multiple credit cards at the same time. On top of that, you still have your student loan to pay off. Plus, your new job is paying significantly less than what you were already earning when your debt started to go out of control. What do you do now? You really are in a tough spot.
Luckily, there is a way out. When all else fails and there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve your debt situation, then you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy. Doing so may give you a fresh start and a clean slate. However, bankruptcy is a serious process and you might have to part with some of your assets.
Since bankruptcy is a legal process, it is advisable that you work with a lawyer who specializes in personal bankruptcy. Finding a bankruptcy attorney who is experienced and capable will improve your odds of coming out of your financial mess successfully. After all, bankruptcy law is complicated.
You might be thinking whether you can self-represent yourself in bankruptcy proceedings and save on lawyer fees. Many debtors have done that in the past and their record has been less than impressive. Many self-represented bankruptcy filers have ended up worse than where they were.
They have lost their possessions without settling any of their debts. Courts have seen this play out and therefore are not impressed when desperate debtors try to represent themselves.
So where to begin the bankruptcy attorney search process?
Finding a good bankruptcy attorney involves a similar process to finding a lender that you borrowed from. You first shortlist a bunch of lawyers based on preliminary research. Once you create a list, you then speak with each one to get a feel of who you can trust and work with. You also gauge how confident and well-versed each candidate is. You then pick one that you think is the best option.
The internet is the best place to start researching. You can not only find out possible options, but also information about the search process. You can learn about tips and tricks on how to shortlist bankruptcy attorneys.
Another great source of research is your very own network. Speak to family and friends if they ever had to look for a bankruptcy attorney or if they know anyone who did. What was their experience like? There are lawyers on the board if your neighborhood church or on the board of the homeowners association. Speak to them and try to get suggestions.
Industry bodies like the American Bar Association can also help. Each state or locality may also have bar associations. Simply enter the name of your state/locality followed by bar association, and you should find some search results. Government bodies like the Legal Services Corporation and the federal court system also have websites with plenty of information. Websites like Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell have ratings that can help with the research.
The importance of engaging a bankruptcy specialist
Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell provide Amazon-like ratings and stars that represent peer ratings. You can search by the number of stars to shortlist promising candidates. Martindale-Hubbell also inserts an “AV” hexagonal sign in the picture of a lawyer to represent the most distinguished lawyers.
As with Amazon, simply having more stars isn’t enough. The number of reviews also matters. Having 4 stars with only a handful of reviews means that the sample size isn’t big enough to be meaningful. It is also important to focus on candidates who specialize in bankruptcy as there are lawyers from many other areas who are listed on rating websites.
Even though the bankruptcy laws have been the same for years, the last major revision to bankruptcy laws happened in 2005. So, you want to work with someone who is well-versed with the current laws.
Simply reading the law doesn’t mean that one knows its interpretation. The actual law may seem quite simple, even to the layperson. However, knowing how courts used it in previous judgments is more important as that would mean one knows how the law was interpreted and implemented in reality. Only specialist attorneys will have such a level of depth in terms of the knowledge of the law and its applicability.
Another thing you want to look for in a candidate is if the lawyer is a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. This would mean that the lawyer has access to the most recent rulings and is up-to-speed with the latest interpretations of relevant laws.
You should also look to work with a bankruptcy attorney who is certified. Having a certification means that the attorney meets objective rigorous standards and has demonstrated an adequate level of knowledge in bankruptcy.
Other bonuses can include any publications or articles that the attorney in question may have to his/her name in professional journals. Having a consistent track record of speaking at conferences is also a plus as it indicates the command that the attorney has on the subject matter of bankruptcy. It means that industry peers recognize the attorney as an expert.
Your state’s bar website will have information about any ethics-related complaints against a particular attorney. Check this to ensure that the attorney who you may be planning to work with is honest and professional.
All of this research will allow you to filter the most promising candidates and make a shortlist. You can then proceed to individually speak with each of your shortlisted attorneys. If the attorney charges you a small consultation fee for speaking with them, then ask for the fees to be included in the final bill of your bankruptcy filing. Otherwise, pay the consultation fee if you have to. It may be worth it if the process helps you select the right candidate and if it helps the attorney understand your situation.
What questions to ask when speaking with a shortlisted bankruptcy attorney?
The idea behind speaking with a shortlisted bankruptcy attorney is to know whether the attorney is competent enough and whether he/she will help you with your bankruptcy problem. Your ultimate goal is to feel comfortable with the attorney. So, you can ask the following questions:
- How many bankruptcy cases have you handled? What type of bankruptcies were they?
- Is your practice a one-person setup or are you a part of a larger law firm? Single-person setups are generally better with customer service as they can provide a personal touch. However, larger firms have more resources and can be a better choice for more complex bankruptcies.
- What do you think about my qualification for bankruptcy? Am I the right candidate? You want to have a discussion on what the attorney thinks about your candidacy for bankruptcy. You want to gauge whether the attorney is convinced that you are qualified for bankruptcy. If yes, then you also want to dig deeper into whether the lawyer thinks you should file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.
- What is your policy on phone calls? Are they chargeable? Normally, how soon can I expect an answer or a callback?
- How involved will you be with the bankruptcy process? Will you be filing all the documents or will I also have to do some of the work? What about court proceedings, will you accompany me to court?
Feel free to takes notes and write down any relevant points during the discussion. It will help you compare and evaluate later on. The goal of these discussions is to understand whether you can get back on your feet by working with a particular attorney. So, you want to think about how well the attorney is listening to you and your concerns. You also want to gauge the level of trust that you can develop with the attorney if you were to work with him/her.
A look at the cost and other factors
You want to find a bankruptcy attorney or firm which will understand your situation, charge a fee accordingly, and not treat you simply as just another customer. There are some law firms that are positioned to just keep churning customers in order to keep earning a fee.
Such high-volume firms function more like a salesman. They simply want a quick out-the-door closing without really going into the client’s actual situation. Understanding the implications of a settlement on a client’s predicament is of primary importance.
You also want to pay particular attention to the quantum of fees that the attorney charges. After all, you want an attorney who can work with your finances. You already are in a tough spot financially and you do not want that to worsen. Therefore, you should look for an attorney who charges a reasonable fee.
Think about how the payment of the fee will be structured. You probably cannot afford to make a high up-front payment. You would want an option where the initial payment is low and the remaining payments are staggered.
It is difficult to define what a “reasonable fee” would be. However, you can compare multiple options and then get an idea of what reasonable would look like to you.
There are some indications that will separate the “high-volume” attorneys from the empathetic ones. Firstly, high-volume folks will advertise in a big way. Secondly, they will file plenty of bankruptcy cases every month. Thirdly, since they are overwhelmed with cases, high-volume firms will have very little contact with their clients.
Their attorneys may also come to the court unprepared. They may not file all of the documents on time. It is not very difficult to distinguish the fee-driven folks from the quality ones. You simply have to speak with the attorney and read about their online reviews.
Don’t fret too much about going for a bankruptcy filing
Bankruptcy is probably the last resort option for most filers. They have tried everything possible, but the situation is so bad that they have no option but to file for bankruptcy. A good attorney should understand how difficult and embarrassing the situation is for the client. A degree of empathy is necessary.
Bankruptcies are not always a debtor’s creation. Sometimes, bankruptcy can happen due to a divorce or an unexpected . Perhaps the economy tanked and people lost their jobs. It is not always their fault. And that is the reason bankruptcy laws are designed to give people a fresh start. It is not meant to be something scary or nasty.
There have been cases where debtors considered committing suicide only to somehow back-off and go through bankruptcy to rebuild their lives. If you do decide to opt for bankruptcy, know that it won’t be easy. You will have to bear losses. But, you might get a second shot at life and rebuild your finances all over to come out stronger.
Choose your bankruptcy attorney wisely and we wish you the very best. Dedebt can help you with your bankruptcy process. Feel free to contact us to know more.