So you’re preparing to file bankruptcy.
Despite the social stigma, there’s nothing to be ashamed of – thousands of people (possibly millions, worldwide) have filed for bankruptcy, and many more will do so. Now that you’ve made this momentous decision, it’s time to get to work.
Find the right bankruptcy lawyer.
Is it as easy as simply looking up “Bankruptcy Lawyers” online? Actually, it’s easier. You can search the American Bar Association website for a full directory of lawyers by state to locate one close to you.
Once you’ve identified the law offices in your area, you’ll want to spend some time with each one to help inform your decision. Think of it like a job interview – you’re hiring them to work for you so you want the best, most qualified candidate, and make sure, like any employer, you’re going to get the most for your money.
As you research bankruptcy attorneys in your area, keep in mind the following points:
- How long have they been practicing bankruptcy law?
- Also, how long have they been practicing in your area?
- How many bankruptcy cases do they handle every month?
- What is their fee structure like?
- Are they up to date on any and all code changes?
Time on the job is important, but more important is that they have been practicing in your area. Every state has their own nuances in bankruptcy law, and every judge is unique with their own quirks about them. If you meet a lawyer who has been practicing for 30 years, but has only been in your area for a few months, you might want to keep looking – chances are they’re not entirely familiar with the local judiciary and may still be learning the specifics for your state.
The number of cases they handle is also important because it also shows familiarity with trustees, judges, and court procedures in your area. You don’t want to work with someone to whom you’re just another file – you deserve personal attention, and someone handling 30-40 cases a month isn’t going to have time to treat you like an human being.
Bankruptcy law has specific guidelines in place for what an attorney can charge to file, but some things to watch out for: Does the fee include preparation of the reorganization plan and representation at the hearing? How much of the fee will they ask for up-front? Do they have a payment plan to help you afford the legal costs? Regardless of whether you’re filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 (something you’ll want your potential attorney to help you decide), make sure their fees include consultation and analysis, preparing and reviewing the petition, attendance at meetings, and following up with your creditors to ensure that you don’t get hit with any post-filing collection attempts.
You’ll also want to make sure that whoever you work with is 100% on top of current updates to the law. The most recent, big changes came when congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005, and as we’ve discussed before, every new administration inevitably brings new changes, so don’t be afraid to ask if they’re aware of any possible changes in the works.
Who you choose to handle your case is your business (and make no mistakes about it, bankruptcy law is a business). But having the right representative on your side, fighting for you, makes a tremendous difference in how easy the process is, and how you come out on the other side, so make sure you choose the right attorney for you.