A SIMPLE GUIDE TO HIRING A BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY
I know where you are at.
First of all, I want you to know that I understand the difficulties you are facing when you are looking to hire a bankruptcy attorney. You are thinking, “How did I get here”? “What do I do now”?” Will I lose my house or cars”? “Will my friends, neighbors or employer find out”? Will I lose my job?
When the moment finally comes to start shopping around for an attorney, and to take drastic action, and with all the finances and properties you own at risk, the fears, the uncertainties, the feelings of emotional hopelessness and loss, the confusion and the financial distress, they all come to bear. I see clients every day in this cloud of financial despair who are ready to throw in the towel, because staying in the financial position they are in, is unbearable. If you are looking for a bankruptcy attorney, I know where you are at. Financial decisions about what to do with your money, property and debt are difficult right now. Emotional decisions about your marriage and family are impossible right now. This guide should be used to bring a little clarity to the first decision you will make in traveling down the road of bankruptcy.
What makes a good attorney?
There are many factors that come to play when evaluating a good (versus poor) bankruptcy attorney. Here are a few basic issues to consider when evaluating any particular bankruptcy attorney.
Attorney Discipline: Check with the California State Bar at www.calbar.ca.gov and make sure that the attorney that you are consulting with has no disciplinary record, or that if there is a record, that such discipline has been long-ago resolved.
Location: As bankruptcy attorneys go, it is always better to hire a local bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with the bankruptcy court in which you will be filing. A local bankruptcy attorney will know the trustees who will be handling your case and will know the judges who may be deciding issues in your case. The local attorney will know the local rules and procedures, and in general, will know what is required for you to get your bankruptcy accomplished without issues.
Personal Involvement: There are many attorneys that use significant staff in the handling of their Bankruptcy case load. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to bankruptcy attorneys who rely upon their staff to such a degree that they merely oversee the production of numerous bankruptcy cases, and fail to become personally involved in each and every one of their cases. There are some law firms where clients do not even talk to an attorney prior to the required court appearance. These policies are unacceptable in the legal profession. You should have an attorney who understands your case, has talked to you prior to the case being filed, has explained your legal rights and duties, and is well prepared for your court appearance. Quite simply, your attorney must be personally involved with all stages of your bankruptcy.
Better Business Bureau: See if your attorney is a member of the Better Business Bureau, or works for a firm that is a member. The Better Business Bureau keeps a record of the member ratings, disputes, and how those disputes are resolved.
Online Organizations: Do a simple Google search of the attorney, or the firm in which the attorney is employed. Often times there’ll be online reviews, giving detailed descriptions of prior client treatment.
Ask questions of your prospective Attorney: Here are some questions to ask your attorney to help you evaluate that attorney and their general relationship they have with their clients.
- How many bankruptcies do you handle in a month or in a year?
- How many of those bankruptcies are consumer/personal rather than business filings?
- How much access will I have to an attorney during my bankruptcy filing?
- If I’m not working directly with you (the lawyer), who will I be working with?
- Can I interview the person who I would be working with?
- What time frame do you have for this bankruptcy?
- How will the procedure work?
- Is the attorney experienced helping clients file for bankruptcy?
- Do you have a significant understanding of the bankruptcy law?
- Would you recommend your son/daughter do this (file the bankruptcy you are recommending?) Why?
Ask Yourself Some Questions: After meeting with the attorney, you should ask yourself these questions?
- Does the attorney charge a reasonable legal fee?
- Am I confident in the lawyer’s advice and judgment?
- Does this attorney have the experience, background, and skills I need?
- Does the attorney have a compatible personality that you can see yourself working with side-by-side for several months?
- Am I comfortable with this attorney?
- Does the attorney meet any special requirements you have, such as a need for weekend appointments or after-hours communication?
- Is the attorney organized?
How Do You Choose:
Now that you have found a couple good attorneys, how do you choose?
Don’t hire the cheapest lawyer.
Go with the lawyer who you feel most comfortable with, not who is cheapest.
Go with the attorney that made you understand your position within the law.
Go with the attorney that felt like an educator, not a salesman.
What about non-attorney representation?
Why hire an Attorney versus a Paralegal?
I am in the Court very frequently and I have great occasion to witness the failed $125.00 bankruptcy. Paralegals simply do not have the knowledge and understanding of the Federal and State Laws associated with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Bankruptcy Code. What is a paralegal going to do when a creditor decides to ignore fair debt collection practices? What is a paralegal going to do when a creditor decides to object to your bankruptcy?
You need to think about the protections from creditor harassment under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You need to consider the uncertainties with a paralegal who is, by law, only a typist, allowed simply to type your documents. A paralegal cannot advise you how to prepare those very same documents. When a paralegal does your bankruptcy, you represent yourself in Court. So what will you do about the possible mistakes made by a paralegal when you represent yourself in Court? How will you handle the possible creditor challenges in your bankruptcy?
I cannot express enough the importance of using competent counsel in the handling of even simple bankruptcies. It is in your best interest, and a good attorney will make their services affordable to you.