If you are facing financial issues, the hiring of a bankruptcy attorney is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. There is a difference between bankruptcy attorneys and bankruptcy law firms. If you do your research, you will soon find out that not all bankruptcy attorneys are created equally. If you don’t do your research, don’t know what questions to ask and don’t follow up, you could make a mistake that could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Many people think that buying a home is one of the biggest decisions and investments they will make in their lives, and for many, that is probably true. So, they put in the time to get it right. But, I believe that your decision to hire a bankruptcy attorney is almost as big and here’s why.
When an individual or couple decides to buy a home, many people create a plan. When they begin the planning process, there is no shortage of information out there to help them make the best decision possible. This is something that they’ve looked forward to for years. They’ve saved, planned, dreamed, created checklists, talked to their friends, talked to decorators and have read every blog or website out there about the best realtor, mortgage broker, and home inspector. They want to do everything right. They know what to look for and expect at each stage of the home buying process. When all is said and done, everything goes well and they have their new home. For those individuals that don’t create a plan, things normally fall apart.
Hiring a consumer bankruptcy attorney is very similar. There is a process that an individual or couple could follow to find, interview, and hire the best bankruptcy attorney in town. The biggest difference is that when people are facing financial problems, they are under an enormous amount of stress. They could be facing a foreclosure, a debt collection lawsuit or a garnishment. They could have just lost a job or had a medical emergency. They could have just lost a loved one and that individual’s income. Normally, when people are thinking about filing bankruptcy, something has gone seriously wrong in their financial plan and they don’t know where to turn for answers. Even though they want to do everything right, they don't have weeks or months to sit down and do the research and planning. So, they reach out to the first bankruptcy attorney that comes up on their cell phone search.
Similar to the process of buying a home, some individuals follow the proper process, and they are quite happy with their bankruptcy attorney. Others, fail to plan, fail to research, fail to interview and wind up hiring a mediocre bankruptcy attorney who charges a very low price. Guess what happens next? Things fall apart. When things fall apart in the bankruptcy court, it cost the debtor (the person who filed bankruptcy) money.
Here are five things to watch out for:
- The bankruptcy attorney with the lowest price in town. You will want to question why and how this person is charging less than his or her competitors. Are they skimping on service? Does he or she take your costs upfront as well? Did they even tell you about the costs to file bankruptcy? Have they presented you with an easy to read the retainer agreement setting forth all of the terms of the engagement? What services do you get for this low price?
- Will the attorney go to court with you? Or, will he or she hire somebody else to go to court with you? It is OK for you to ask: Will you go to court with me? Or, will someone from your firm go to court with me? Or, do you hire third parties on a regular basis to go to court with me? If an attorney has a regular practice of NOT going to court for his clients, this would be a major red flag. Don’t get me wrong, every attorney can experience a scheduling conflict every once in a while. However, these conflicts should be few and far between, not every week for every client. Every bankruptcy attorney knows when the court dates well in advance. So, bankruptcy attorneys have time to plan to be there for their clients. Some choose not to be there for their clients, so Ask.
- Who is answering your legal questions? Is it the bankruptcy attorney? Or, is it a paralegal or legal assistant? Bankruptcy cases are very complex and require the attorney's time and attention. Sure, many good bankruptcy attorneys see similar issues all the time, but, there are no two clients with the exact same set of facts, and what may be true in one instance may not be true in every instance. Every case has a nuance and requires the attorney's individualized attention. Therefore, when a client calls, the attorney should be answering the questions that require a legal conclusion or legal analysis.
- Run from the attorney with bad reviews or testimonials. Before you hire an attorney, make sure you look at the reviews on Google, Avvo, and Facebook. Individuals who go through the process will tell you what they liked and, more importantly, what they didn’t like. Testimonials and reviews are critical in the hiring process.
- Will the attorney go through the bankruptcy petition and schedules with you, line by line, question by question before your documents are filed with the court? Remember, these papers are signed under penalties of perjury. This is a critical part of the process and needs to be done with the attorney, not the paralegal or assistant.
If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy and would like to know how to find, interview and hire the best bankruptcy attorney in town, please download our free e-book for a detailed plan on how to do exactly that.