Finding a bankruptcy attorney, as with any professional, takes a bit of work and not every attorney is right for every client.
Choosing any professional, whether it be a doctor, lawyer, contractor, plumber, or whomever, requires a good deal of comparison and research.
I’m often asked what specific things a client should be looking for when hiring a bankruptcy attorney.
What should they ask?
How do they know they’re getting a quality attorney and won’t get ripped off on fees?
What to Look for When Hiring a Bankruptcy Attorney
There are lots of ways to find a bankruptcy lawyer. You can simply “surf the ‘net” and see what comes up, or go to bankruptcy lawyer specific sites, such as nacba.org
While there is always an element of faith and luck involved in such a selection, there are things you can do to ensure you find someone that fits your needs.
I answer dozens of questions online each week in free legal advice posts, and one of the most repeated fact patterns is that their attorney did not do something properly, or isn’t communicating with them, or otherwise just messed things up because they didn’t know what they were doing.
A lot of times they were things beyond the attorney’s control, but many times it was purely inexperience or bad lawyering on the part of the attorney, which can lead to the client losing assets (such as their home) or losing their discharge, or worse.
These types of nightmares can be reduced or eliminated if attention is paid to certain criteria when selecting your attorney.
Research The Attorney You Want To Hire
Start with the attorney’s webpage. Nearly every attorney has one now. It should contain a lot of information about them and their credentials.
In addition, you can look up information on them independently, also using the internet and other resources.
Here are a few factors I suggest you consider or ask about when researching which bankruptcy lawyer to hire:
- How long have they been practicing bankruptcy law?
- Do they handle exclusively bankruptcy cases, or do they dilute their practice by handling other areas?
- Are they a Board Certified Specialist in Bankruptcy Law?
- Are they well thought of by their peers? You can check neutral, independent evaluation sites to see if they have a peer review rating such as lawyers.com or avvo.com.
- Is the attorney recognized as an expert in the field? I regularly answer questions from distraught individuals whose attorneys have essentially abandoned them, or hopelessly botched up their case. Some of their stories really make me sad.
- How many cases do they handle each month? How responsive are they when you ask a question (i.e. how long does it take to get a response?). You want an attorney with experience, but not one who is filing such a high volume of cases that they don’t have time for any of their clients. The high volume attorneys do tend to be less expensive, but in most cases will not give you the same attention and service as others. You need to balance everything and see what fits for you.
- To what legal groups do they belong? This can be an indicator about the extent of their commitment to bankruptcy law and how well they are able to keep up with the constant changes, both locally and nationally, in interpretations of the law.
- Do they charge unusually low fees? An attorney who advertises a low flat fee for filing a bankruptcy case should be a red flag. As with most things that seem too good to be true, so are these types of offers.
Hire a Quality Bankruptcy Attorney
Recently there has been a big increase in the number of newly licensed attorneys entering the bankruptcy field, who often charge unrealistically low prices.
At the same time, my office has seen an increase in the number of clients coming to me who are already represented by such attorneys and need help to fix problems caused or not anticipated by the inexperienced attorney. Unfortunately, at that point, it is often impossible to fix.
Not All Attorneys are Created Equal
I wouldn’t select my doctor or surgeon based on the cheapest fees. I’d be worried that they would use rusty knives, not have knowledge of the latest treatments and medications, and be more likely to commit malpractice.
It’s no less relevant when selecting an attorney, especially one responsible for helping you deal with your debts.
There can be serious consequences for selecting the wrong bankruptcy attorney costing far beyond whatever you think you saved to file your case in the first place.
The current bankruptcy laws which went into effect October 17, 2005 are so complex that even certified bankruptcy law specialists have a difficult time meeting all the requirements and understanding the nuances of the law.
Thus, it is virtually impossible for a non-bankruptcy attorney, and certainly a person who is not an attorney, to properly prepare a case, assess the options and anticipate potential problems before they happen, comply with all the rules and regulations, and successfully navigate the case to a successful conclusion. You will, quite simply, need an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy law to handle your case.
Many attorneys illegally advertise themselves as specializing in bankruptcy law. Only certified specialists have taken the requisite examinations and passed the stringent practice requirements to attain this (see more below).
What makes one bankruptcy attorney better than another?
There are a lot of attorneys out there. Many are good, some are not. After practicing exclusively bankruptcy law since 1991, the things I’ve noticed about the good attorneys are things that the clients themselves will never know about. In other words, hiring a good attorney is about the problems that DON’T arise. The little pieces of advice that the client will think commonplace, but that only a really experienced–and connected–attorney would know about.
A good bankruptcy attorney also has other advantages over not-as-good attorneys via their knowledge of the nuances and depths of the bankruptcy laws, understanding how to use the system ethically to your advantage–much in the same way that a good, ethical accountant can get more for you from your tax return or a good criminal defense attorney can maximize chances for acquittal.
Bankruptcy is a very important decision. It is basically the first step towards your entire financial future. The entire bankruptcy system is designed so that attorneys represent all parties involved. That is what we are trained to do. Do you want to trust this future to an unlicensed non-professional?
This is the time to do things correctly. Don’t skimp and save at this point.
Hire the most competent and quality attorney that you can afford and take the first step towards your fresh start.