Picking a Bankruptcy Lawyer
After struggling to pay your bills, you’re ready to consider bankruptcy. It’s time to contact a bankruptcy lawyer, but how do you pick a bankruptcy lawyer that is right for you? Some advertise on TV and radio, others on billboards and bus stops. They seem fine, but you can’t tell for sure. Asking friends for a recommendation is rather awkward. What about a discrete online search? Filing for bankruptcy is a serious step, requiring excellent advice and the right representation. Here’s how to pick a bankruptcy lawyer that is best for you.
Qualities to look for in a bankruptcy lawyer
Personality and professionalism matter, and — like anyone — a lawyer who appears terrific on paper can fall short in person. It’s critical that you trust that the person you hire will be working in your best interest. Look for the following three qualities during your consultation.
1. They discuss alternate options.
Chapter 7, a complete cancellation of eligible debts, might not be the best or only way to deal with your financial problems. If there are other options, an ethical lawyer will present them.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a court-supervised payment plan, might also be an option. A lawyer may recommend it if you have enough income to allow you to pay back at least a portion of your debt or if you own property that could be taken in a Chapter 7 or a lawsuit.
Understanding all the available options and then choosing the best one for your situation reduces the possibility that you will regret making the decision to file for bankruptcy.
2. They display a passion for the process.
You wouldn’t have a heart operation performed by a indifferent surgeon, nor would you want the person representing you in bankruptcy court to be distant or aloof. Therefore, the lawyer you’re considering should exude a genuine passion for the occupation and process. Find out why he or she chose to specialize in bankruptcy law. Listen carefully to the response. Many lawyers find the work fascinating and rewarding.
3. They hear and understand you.
For most people, filing bankruptcy is a painful decision. Because of the emotions involved, you’ll want your attorney to not just to have the proper credentials, but to exhibit a desire to understand your specific situation and goals. Your lawyer should possess empathy and a willingness to take the time to ask probing (sometimes difficult) questions.
Only hire someone who wants to know what led to your financial predicament. Someone who can address what your biggest worries are.
Not all lawyers have great bedside (or courtside) manners, so after the meeting, ask yourself if you’re truly comfortable with that person and if all of your concerns were addressed. If you feel like a number rather than an individual, cross that lawyer off your list and move on to the next one until you find one who treats you with some respect.
4. A fee commensurate with service
And finally, the fee. Lawyers, even those who help you not pay your creditors, aren’t free. The cost varies by complexity and location, but in general is between $800 and $2,500 from start to finish.
Make sure you personally meet with the attorney who will be handling your case and who will go with you to the creditors meeting. Otherwise, the first time you meet with your lawyer could be at the creditors meeting, and if there is a problem, they won’t be prepared to handle it properly.
Don’t presume you get more for hiring the most expensive lawyer on the block, however, or less if you scrape the bottom of the price barrel. Fees are determined by the market and in some areas, caps are set by the courts. This means that, for the same price, the client can usually get an experienced, highly qualified lawyer for the same price as a novice. Be sure to ask what it covers, though, as some attorneys include court and other costs in the quoted fee, others don’t.
Once you’ve found the person who possesses the ideal combination of experience, character and cost, you’re set. If you choose to move forward with filing, you can do so with assurance that you’re working with a lawyer you can trust.