Picking the right bankruptcy lawyer is a lot like picking the right head coach for a sports team.
It doesn’t assure success, but without the right professional, success is a whole lot harder to come by.
Bankruptcy is a specialized area of law that can be far more complex than appears on the surface. The issues are not always obvious or simple.
It is not just about filling out forms.
- Assessing whether you should file and when is critical.
- Your assets and your financial future are at stake.
While price is the easiest selector, it is not a good basis for choosing a bankruptcy lawyer.
So, how do you find a reliable professional?
What’s important in a lawyer
Bankruptcy is a field where empathy and communication skills are as important as knowledge of the law.
Pick a lawyer who can help you work through the issues, alternatives, and implications of your choices.
- Pick a lawyer with whom you are comfortable, one whom you can ask questions and get responses you understand.
- Pick a lawyer who either specializes in bankruptcy or does a large part of his/her practice in the field.
- Ask questions until you understand what your choices are.
- Don’t be afraid to interview a lawyer and leave without retaining the lawyer.
Finding that lawyer
Look for a certified specialist or a lawyer with substantial experience in bankruptcy.
A generalist may be able do a simple bankruptcy, but may not be able to tell if your case is truly “simple”.
Local bar associations have referral panels of bankruptcy lawyers. Find them in your phone book.
Interview lawyers until you find one who suits you. Ask about their experience with cases like yours. Ask how many cases he/she handles a year, and the length of time he/she has been practicing bankruptcy law.
Find someone with whom you communicate well.
Get agreement in writing
Understand what services are included in the quoted fee. Does it include
- lien avoidance matters ?
- disputes with the trustee?
- non dischargeability actions?
Usually, the flat fee covers only the standard services or the foreseeable issues in a bankruptcy case. Some things, like whether there will be a challenge to the discharge of a certain debt, can’t be foreseen at the beginning of the case, and may therefore trigger further fees.
Exploit your lawyer’s expertise
Disclose everything about your financial condition. Without all the information, your rights cannot be protected.
All too often, information that a client withholds because they think it is troublesome presents no problem, if disclosed. Failing to tell the whole truth can create a problem where none existed before.
Read carefully the representation agreement, the draft schedules, the court’s notices and communications from your lawyer. Ask questions if you don’t understand at first; inaccurate or incomplete information can have serious and unpleasant consequences.
Provide promptly information and feed back when requested so that court deadlines can be met.
Take responsibility for your case. You are the person with the best handle on the facts of the case and the one most affected by the case’s outcome. Your lawyer can file a bankruptcy with you, but not for you.
More extensive discussion of finding and interviewing a bankruptcy lawyer.
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