How do I choose a bankruptcy lawyer?
You’ve made a decision you want to talk to a lawyer about a bankruptcy filing. That’s sometimes a tough decision to make. People frequently wait too long to talk to a lawyer and by the time they see a lawyer, some of the things that a lawyer could have done to help them, can’t be accomplished due to the passage of too much time. So, making the decision to talk to a lawyer is sometimes the most difficult one. But how do you decide who to talk to? Do you talk to the lawyer who has the biggest advertisements, whether they are on the internet, in the phone book or on TV or the radio? Are you skeptical of big advertisers and slick sales pitches? Filing bankruptcy is a serious decision and can be a complicated legal action. Documents are signed by debtors and filed with the court under penalty of perjury. A debtor’s property rights are affected by filing bankruptcy. It is not unusual for pro se filers (those who filed without an attorney) to find themselves in more trouble after filing a bankruptcy than they were in before they filed. And frequently that holds true for people who use non-lawyer bankruptcy petition preparers, as well as those who use high volume lawyers. So, what do you look for?
Why the cheapest isn’t always the best.
If someone tells you a bankruptcy is “simple” or “no big deal,” beware. Certainly, some cases are easier than others. But even the simplest case can cause big problems if it is not handled right. If your lawyer’s main selling point is he’s the cheapest attorney in town, you may be headed for trouble. As in all things in life, “you get what you pay for” and if you use the cheapest lawyer advertising on the internet, you may well be getting a cheap work product too.
These are some of the traits to look for when considering who to hire as your bankruptcy lawyer. At the Hinkle Law Firm, we will meet your needs without your having to worry about these potential issues.
Experience and professionalism.
How long has the lawyer been in practice? How long has he or she done bankruptcy work? What are some of the cases the lawyer has worked on? If you have other related issues (divorce, tax, employment law, contract issues), is there someone in your lawyer’s office who can help with those issues also? Is your lawyer recommended by his or her peers and previous clients? Are there any universally recognized rating services that rate your lawyer highly? In a lawyer’s advertising, does he or she say he or she is the “best” bankruptcy lawyer or the “premier” bankruptcy lawyer? If so, ask him or her how and who made those ratings. Who designated them as the “best” or “premier” lawyer? Does your lawyer have any pending or former ethical violations reported by the Office of the Kansas Disciplinary Administrator? Call or email the Disciplinary Administrator’s Office and inquire at (785) 296-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you meeting with a lawyer or a staff person?
Clients who never meet their lawyer until they go to court should be wary. When you call a lawyer’s office, who do you talk to, the lawyer or her staff person? When you meet to begin working on the bankruptcy papers, who are you meeting with, the lawyer or his staff person? Are your emails answered by the lawyer or his staff person? Filing a bankruptcy requires attention to detail and probing questions when the bankruptcy is being prepared for filing. If a debtor’s bankruptcy documents are not thorough and accurate, the debtor could suffer losses of property and/or money that may have been avoided if there had been proper attention to detail. In the most extreme cases, criminal charges could be made against a debtor if he or she omits critical information. If a lawyer delegates all the preparation and filing work to a paralegal (or worse, a staff person with no paralegal training), the chances for errors or omissions that can cause problems for the client after the bankruptcy is filed are much greater.
Do you feel like you are being pressured into filing bankruptcy?
Sometimes a bankruptcy needs to be filed in a hurry, such as when a foreclosure sale is about to occur or garnishments are occurring. But if the lawyer or his office personnel seem to be pressing you to file quickly for no legal reason, you may be dealing with a lawyer who has to run a high volume practice in order to cover extraordinary expenses, especially advertising expenses. These lawyers may be considering their financial interests ahead of your legal interests.
Do you feel like your bankruptcy petition, schedules and statement of financial affairs were prepared in a rush and without adequate review?
The mantra of good bankruptcy practitioners is “disclose, disclose, disclose.” People who get in trouble in bankruptcy court, as opposed to most other courts, are those who do not disclose all the assets they have and all the debts they have. While in a civil or criminal case, you may be well-advised to not answer a question if you haven’t been asked, in bankruptcy court you need to disclose as much about your assets and liabilities as you can. If you feel like you were rushed through the process of preparing the bankruptcy documents, again, you may be dealing with a lawyer who is trying to cover his overhead each month rather than preparing proper legal disclosures.
If you can, visit with your lawyer’s former clients.
Ask around. If you know people who have used your prospective lawyer before, ask them how the lawyer treated them. Did he return your calls and emails? Did she treat you with respect? Did you deal with the lawyer or her staff? Was his billing fair? Did he seem to know what he was doing? Did he finish the case or abandon the client sometime before the case concluded?