Just because you're in debt doesn't mean your business isn't valuable. Picking the right attorney over the wrong attorney can mean thousands of extra discharged debts, reduced Chapter 13 payments, and a whole bunch of saved stress in dealing with attorneys - who can sometimes be difficult personalities.
You deserve great customer service just like anyone else. Just like any business, some firms do it better than others.
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a bankruptcy attorney:
- Experience -
Experience can be a double edged sword when choosing a bankruptcy attorney. On the one hand, experience means there can be less
On the other hand, if your choice is made solely on experience you still may not be getting a good attorney. Experience doesn't necessarily mean the attorney always did the bankruptcy correctly. In fact, some experienced attorneys know where they can cut corners better, and are less concerned with their legal service and customer service than a new attorney trying to prove themselves.
If you happen to have a complex matter, or will need to file a Chapter 13, then making sure the attorney has done at least a few Chapter 13s is vital. Chapter 13 bankruptcies can be complex and can be screwed up commonly by rookie attorneys. Let others be their guinea pigs, and politely find another attorney.
- Cost -
The most common question I get from new clients is "what does it cost?" For people in crushing debt, cost seems like the most important factor in hiring the attorney, but I urge most clients to view cost as a non-factor.
First, once you decide you will be filing for bankruptcy, the only time you may need to do an emergency filing is if your car or home are going to be repossessed/foreclosed on. So other than perhaps your car and home payments, your other debts can go completely unpaid. Never pay another dime on them. This can usually free up enough money to pay an attorney over a payment plan of a few months prior to filing.
If you worry about cost up front, then you'll be trying to find the lowest an attorney will go - and if an attorney's selling point is how much they can undercut everyone else because their customer service and skill can't back it up. I personally am not the cheapest attorney in town, and I never want to be. More expensive attorneys might have better customer service, are often a joy to work with, and are responsive to inquiries. Since I cost more, I do everything I can to make sure I earn it - with better customer service, meticulous legal work, and if something does go wrong, I make sure it gets fixed.
Less expensive attorneys tend to be unresponsive, don't get back to you when called, don't care if they mess up, and are difficult to deal with.
If you can't afford an attorney, then you can probably call your local county bar association, many have bankruptcy clinics, and if you qualify, you may get a pro-bono attorney.
- Personality -
Probably the biggest thing you should be looking for is the personality of the attorney. Happy attorneys are more fun to work with and tend to do a better job overall. Why? Because they've built their business properly. They have systems in place that ensure the work is done right every single time and in the most organized way possible. Which means they can handle a larger caseload with fewer mistakes.
We all have bad days, but the rule of thumb is that successful attorneys are happy attorney. Bad attorneys tend to have more trouble getting business because their personality pushes away customers and makes people not want to deal with them. Then they get more moody and the cycle continues.
Bankruptcy could take anywhere from 2 months to a year or more. Do you really want to have to deal with a jerk attorney? Personality goes a long way, and you can sometimes tell right up front when you meet them what kind of experience you'll be getting
- Employees -
Some people think it's a sign of success if an attorney has employees. A solo attorney doesn't necessarily mean the attorney is bad. Employees can be difficult to manage, and some attorneys are perfectionists and refuse to delegate the work to an employee for fear of doing it wrong.
Employees don't necessarily mean good or bad service, however. If there are employees, make sure you ask about them and introduce yourself to the paralegal. Being on good terms with the attorney's staff can do nothing but benefit you in the future when you have questions and need updates on your case. For many firms, paralegal will do most of the work in a bankruptcy. This isn't a bad thing, but you want to ask lots of questions to make sure an attorney will actually be supervising and looking over all the filings and negotiations if the paralegal is new.
- Electronic Filing -
In the new age of computers, electronic filing is necessary for any attorney who plans on doing lots of bankruptcy work. While electronic filing isn't necessary to actually file a bankruptcy case, you may want to be cautious if the attorney doesn't use electronic filing. It probably means that bankruptcy isn't something he/she does regularly, and you can probably find someone more experienced for the same price elsewhere.
The best way to get a great attorney is to get a referral from a friend or relative who has actually done business with the attorney or firm. If they've had a great experience with an attorney, chances are you will to.
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