People who are considering bankruptcy are typically facing numerous obstacles. They are undoubtedly facing serious financial pressure from one of more of their creditors and are in desperate need of relief. Moreover, they are not sure where to start or what to do. This is understandable as most people do not regularly file for bankruptcy or plan to encounter serious financial issues. Lastly, people are often embarrassed about filing bankruptcy, and with the negative stigma that is typically associated with it, it is unlikely that people will call or Facebook their family or friends for a referral to a bankruptcy lawyer.
So, how do you find an experienced bankruptcy lawyer? Here are a few tips:
- Where to look? – The Internet is an extremely useful tool for finding a qualified lawyer, regardless of practice area. Search engines allow you to narrow your search by geographic location, filing type (Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 13, etc.) One thing to look for is whether or not the lawyer offers different areas of practice or focuses exclusively on bankruptcy. Given the intricacies of the bankruptcy laws, it is important to find someone that dedicates most of his/her practice to bankruptcy. Other places you can look include the phone book (such as Yellow Pages) or even contacting your local legal aid. If you know a lawyer or have worked with one for another reason in the past, they can also be a very reliable source that is likely to steer you in the right direction.
- Who to look for? It is very important that you look for a bankruptcy attorney with extensive experience. You also want to make sure that the lawyer and his/her firm have been around for a while. Bankruptcy is an extremely complicated area of the law and there are plenty of hidden pitfalls that can derail your bankruptcy filing if you do not have a lawyer with the experience to spot potential issues before they arise. Your case may seem simple, but an experienced lawyer will be able to identify any potential red flags and work through them. Chances are they have faced these scenarios before and will know what to do and advise you as to whether or not they can solve the problem.
- Meet with the candidates – Remember, choosing a bankruptcy attorney is your choice. To make sure you make the right choice, you should meet with as many candidates as you can. Many bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations, which can be very helpful considering your financial situation. When you meet with them, ask as many questions as you can. The concerns and complexity of each case are unique, so make sure you fully explain your situation to allow the lawyer an opportunity to better explain and identify any potential issues with your case. If needed, follow-up with them after the consultation if you come across something that you forgot to ask or a fact that you forgot to mention. Remember, you do not need to be an expert in bankruptcy law yourself to determine if you feel comfortable with the lawyer’s ability to answer the tough questions you might have.
- Research legal fees. There is a wide range of fees that bankruptcy lawyers may charge, so it is important to understand what is and isn’t included in the fee. Some attorneys charge extra for such things as adversary proceedings, relief from stay actions, reaffirmation agreements, etc. In addition, fees can vary greatly based solely on the chapter of bankruptcy you file, and often times, your fee will be based upon the complexity of your case. Typically, the easier the case, the lower the fee.
- Most importantly, be comfortable with who you choose. Remember, this is your decision. Depending on the chapter of bankruptcy, your relationship with your attorney could last up to five years and it is vital that you and your attorney continue to maintain a solid working relationship.
Once you have completed these steps, the rest is up to you! If you’ve done your research, chances are that you’ll make the right choice.