Without an attorney, filing for bankruptcy is a complicated and long process with the potential for many setbacks and avoidable costs. Hiring an experienced bankruptcy attorney will make the process much easier, as they’ll walk you through each step and complete all of the documentation needed to file your case.
As the demand for bankruptcy lawyers has increased, so has the number of unprincipled and inexperienced lawyers who hold themselves out as qualified and honest attorneys for an affordable fee. If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy, there are several things you should keep in mind to help you find a good bankruptcy attorney.
Get everything in writing
Many bankruptcy lawyers claim to file your case for less, or will quote unrealistically low fees that might sound attractive – but they do not let you know that their initial quote does not include the court filing fee. Additionally, their impractically low quote may not even apply to you – there are many 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! However, there are a few attorneys who provide low cost representation without any surprise fees or exceptions. Again, make sure you get everything in writing. Your fee agreement should show ‘paid-in-full.’
No matter which bankruptcy attorney you choose to work with, you should always do your research prior to filing for bankruptcy. How long has the managing attorney 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.
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 mainly in bankruptcy will be able to provide you with the experience and expertise 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, the attorney should be certified by the American Bankruptcy Institute or a be member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, both of which demonstrate 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, especially solo firms, may be more attentive to walking you through the process of filing for bankruptcy and provide single point of contact. Many of these solo firms provide all the work product themselves which minimizes the potential for error. 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.
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 take, don’t base your decision on price alone.