Tips for Hiring a Bankruptcy Attorney
When you decide to hire a bankruptcy lawyer you should take caution in choosing an attorney based on experience level rather than basing your decision on price alone. When you have reached the point of filing bankruptcy, you cannot afford to hire the wrong attorney. You need reliable legal assistance by your side. So here are a few tips on choosing your bankruptcy attorney.
Hire a Specialist
First you should keep in mind to choose only those attorneys that specialize in bankruptcy law. Not all lawyers have the experience to effectively represent you in a bankruptcy filing. This should narrow down your choices and make the selection process a little easier. If you select a lawyer who does not specialize in bankruptcy law, your bankruptcy case may be misrepresented leading to further financial complications.
Reputation in the Industry
It is not enough for your lawyer to specialize in bankruptcy, your attorney should also have a good reputation in the industry. Lawyers do not earn their reputation overnight. They earn their reputation by consistently providing high quality legal services. Those who do not provide quality representation will have bad online reviews. So when you are reviewing bankruptcy attorneys, do a quick research of their online reviews. Not every lawyer who claims to offer trustworthy services actually does so.
Filing bankruptcy does not have to be a stressful process. You will have a lot of questions. Your questions may seem trivial, however, your attorney should not treat them as such. Your bankruptcy attorney should be approachable and friendly. Your attorney should be able to relate to you and understand your concerns. You are going to have a lot of interaction with your attorney, so you should be able to interact with your attorney easily and without hesitation. I have been shocked at the way some bankruptcy attorneys treat their clients. Worse, some attorneys stop communicating right after the meeting of creditors or they charge $300.00 per hour to answer simple questions over email.
Your lawyer should not look at you as another legal file; rather he should take personal interest in helping you. Your attorney should offer highly transparent legal services. You should be kept informed of the developments of your case. It is also important that you get the required personal attention you need. If your attorney is too busy with too many cases, then your interests can easily be sacrificed. So you should choose highly disciplined attorneys who will provide due attention to your case.
It is also important that you choose a lawyers who takes the time to educate and guide you on the bankruptcy laws as they apply to your particular situation. Some lawyers will take advantage of their client’s lack of knowledge of bankruptcy law to bill them for additional fees for non-covered matters.
Number of Years of Experience
While many attorneys advertise themselves as ‘experienced’ you should ask them how many cases they have actually filed in the last year and how long they have been practicing. The number of cases an attorney has filed is public information available with a free account through PACER.GOV.
Ask about Hidden Fees
Many bankruptcy attorneys will quote you a flat fee for their services. They may also tell you that further services are rarely necessary. The truth is that many attorneys who advertise a low flat fee charge far more than attorneys who do not advertise such low fees. The bankruptcy industry is full of attorneys who use such bait and switch practices. With such firms more services are generally necessary and you need to know whether there will be additional fees for these services such as retaining a current vehicle or helping you obtain a new vehicle. A reputable firm does not charge for the most commonly needed services which arise during a bankruptcy case. Be sure that the fee agreement provided by the attorney allows you to opt-out of these additional fees before the services are performed.
The representation should last until your case is closed.
In some cases, your creditors may continue to contact you long after your discharge has entered. A reputable bankruptcy attorney will not end their representation until you receive your discharge which is three months after your meeting of creditors. Issues often do arise after the meeting of creditors. Your bankruptcy attorney should be able to guide you through such issues. For example, your attorney should assist you in the event you continue to receive contact from creditors after your case is filed. The attorney should provide guidance on whether to sign a reaffirmation agreement. The attorney should assist you in complying with requests from your bankruptcy trustee.
If you are above the median income, your bankruptcy attorney should evaluate whether you may qualify for a chapter 7 through what is called means testing. This is a complex formula which not all bankruptcy attorneys understand. Before you get talked into a chapter 13, you should ask your attorney to evaluate your case through means testing. In some cases, you may not qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy even after means testing. Your attorney should be able to explain what means testing is and be able to explain the outcome of the form to you in layman’s terms.
In some cases, your attorney may have to argue your case in front of a judge. Ask your attorney how they will handle an audit by the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee and what the extra cost will be. The U.S. Trustee’s office randomly audits a certain percentage of bankruptcy petitions. You should work with an attorney who knows how to handle such an audit should one arise in your case.
In other cases, the panel trustee assigned to your case may be very overly aggressive in pursuing your assets. Your attorney should be able to protect your property from bankruptcy and advise you before you file bankruptcy which assets (if any) are subject to turn-over. The attorney should be willing to litigate issues if necessary.
Has Handled Complex Cases
To find the most competent law firm, you may want to select a firm which represents an array of clients with diverse financial backgrounds including small business owners, property owners, consumers with complex tax matters, and people with multiple liens on their properties. They should handle bankruptcies for professionals including real estate agents, doctors, and other attorneys.