If you're filing for bankruptcy, you may be in for a long and complicated process with plenty of room for error. Thankfully, hiring a bankruptcy attorney can make the process easier, as they'll walk you through each step and can provide you with all of the documentation you need to file your case.
Unfortunately, because the demand for bankruptcy lawyers has increased, so has the number of unprincipled and corrupt lawyers who want to exploit your need for qualified, honest representation for an affordable fee. So if you're considering filing for bankruptcy, there are several things you should keep in mind to help you find a good bankruptcy attorney.
Don't Fall Prey to Promises of "Discounts"
Many bankruptcy lawyers claim to file your case for $700 or less, or will quote unrealistically low fees that might sound attractive - but they don't let you know that their initial quote doesn't include the $306 court filing fee. Additionally, their impractically low quote may not even apply to you - there are a number of exceptions that you may fall under, in which case you won't receive the quoted discount when filing for bankruptcy. For instance, the fee might only apply to single filers, not married couples, or to individuals with a minimal amount of debt (e.g. $10,000 - $15,000) and no assets. Before you know it, the discounted quote only applies to a small percentage of filers!
If these unscrupulous attorneys lie to you from the beginning, why would you trust them to handle your case? No matter which bankruptcy attorney you choose to work with, you should always do your research prior to filing for bankruptcy. How long has that firm practiced law? How many satisfied clients do they have? What type of service will they provide you? Look for a full-service law firm capable of more than just representation in court - this means they'll help you determine which chapter of bankruptcy is best for you, and they'll handle the complicated paperwork, accompany you to creditor meetings and will ultimately simplify the filing process.
Bankruptcy Specialization and Certification
Although many lawyers offer representation to clients filing for bankruptcy, it's best to hire a lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy, rather than an attorney who practices law in a variety of different areas. Attorneys who specialize primarily in bankruptcy will be able to provide you with the expertise and experience that lawyers specializing in a multitude of areas cannot.
Additionally, before hiring a bankruptcy attorney, you should make sure that the individual has earned certifications by accredited institutions to back up his/her claims of expertise - for example, they should be certified by the American Bankruptcy Institute or a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, demonstrating bankruptcy expertise and the ability to stay current with changes in bankruptcy law.
Consider the Size of the Law Firm
When choosing a bankruptcy law firm, bigger isn't always better - there are some drawbacks to working with a larger law firm, including higher fees and lack of personal attention. On the other hand, smaller firms may be more attentive to walking you through the process of filing for bankruptcy; however, the attorney's workloads may be more hectic, and they might have less time to devote to your case. Weigh the options carefully - you'll want to hire someone who is not only experienced, but they should have the time to see your case through to the most positive conclusion - with the attention you need.
Where to Look for a Bankruptcy Attorney
Online - Before hiring a bankruptcy attorney, perform extensive research online, reading about the lawyer's background, associations and certifications. Pay particular attention to how long that law firm or that attorney has helped clients file for bankruptcy, learn how many cases they've successfully handled, and read any testimonials available.
State Bar - Your state bar's website might have referrals to reputable bankruptcy attorneys nearby - and they also list complaints from unsatisfied clients.
Local Bankruptcy Court - Some local courts may be able to refer you to qualified, well-known bankruptcy lawyers in the area.
No matter which route you decide to take, it's a good rule of thumb not to hire the cheapest attorney available when filing for bankruptcy. That old adage applies - you get what you pay for. While the fees might appear to be cheaper, this individual may be less experienced, or they could be fooling you with hidden costs that you'll have to pay later.
Take Advantage of Initial Consultations
Most lawyers allow first-time clients who are filing for bankruptcy to attend a free initial consultation, which is beneficial to both parties. During these consultations, they'll ascertain whether they can help you and what steps you should take next. You'll also get a feel for how this individual communicates, and you can decide if they are a good fit for your situation.
This consultation can take place either over the phone or in-person, although in-person meetings provide you with the advantage of visiting the law firm and meeting the staff (who may assist on your case). If the firm is disorganized, or if the bankruptcy attorney seems distracted by taking a number of other calls during your meeting, you'll be able to determine if they are the type of people you want to work with.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
During your initial consultation or over a telephone call, ask the hard-hitting questions that you need to know - you have a right to know your lawyer's experience, how involved they'll be in the case, what their communication style is like, how much they can expect to pay (and where each fee is allocated), what the timeline for your case is like, and more. Always ask - and if something seems fishy, cheap or unrealistic, it probably is. Do your research before filing for bankruptcy, and you'll find an honest, high-quality bankruptcy attorney who can represent you to the fullest.
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