After struggling to pay their debts, many people decide that bankruptcy is the only option. It’s finally time to call a bankruptcy attorney, but finding the right firm can be difficult. Some bankruptcy lawyers advertise on billboards and bus stops, while others focus on radio and TV; they all seem the same, and there’s no way to tell a good lawyer from a bad one based on the content of an advertisement. A bankruptcy is a serious undertaking, requiring sound advice and proper representation. Here, you’ll learn how to find and select the right bankruptcy lawyer.
Look for the Right Credentials
To begin the search, check with the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy attorneys. With a membership in the NACB, a lawyer or firm demonstrates a dedication to the bankruptcy practice, they stay updated on new developments within the field, and clients are assured of receiving competent legal representation. Though most bankruptcies are relatively straightforward, they can go wrong quickly, and it’s best to have a skilled attorney in your corner.
Get Ready for a Few Meetings
After you’ve found a few firms or attorneys you’d consider, check their websites. The information within should be educational and concise, and it should help you quickly determine whether you’re eligible for bankruptcy. Once you’ve reviewed each firm’s website, it’s time to schedule a few appointments. Most attorneys provide free consultations, which makes this the perfect time to find a lawyer with whom you’re comfortable. Before meeting an attorney, fill out any online forms (if available) and write a list of questions to ask during the consultation.
What to Look For in a Bankruptcy Attorney
Professionalism and personality matter, and, like anyone else, a lawyer who looks good on TV may come up short in the courtroom. It’s crucial to believe that the attorney you hire will work to protect your interests, and as such, you should look for these qualities when meeting with law firms.
- A willingness to consider alternate resolutions. Though Chapter 7 allows you to completely cancel your eligible debts and get a fresh start, it’s not the only way to deal with financial issues. If there’s another option, an honest attorney will present it. Credit counseling and a debt management plan may be another viable alternative, especially if most of your debt is tied to credit cards. These agencies can often negotiate lower interest rates, which reduce the amount you pay each month. Chapter 13 is a court-sanctioned repayment arrangement, and many lawyers recommend it if a client has enough income and owns property that may be seized during Chapter 7. Understanding your full list of options and choosing the right one reduces the chances that you’ll regret your decision to file for bankruptcy.
- Displaying a passion for the bankruptcy process. You wouldn’t want a lackadaisical doctor doing your surgery; why have a distant, aloof, and apathetic bankruptcy attorney? The attorney you consider should have a genuine passion for his or her occupation and the process itself. During the interview, find out why they decided to practice bankruptcy law, and carefully consider the response you receive. Many lawyers find the work rewarding, because they help their clients leave debt behind and become part of society once more.
- Hearing and understanding you. For most, filing for bankruptcy is a painful and difficult decision. Because it’s so emotional, you’ll want your lawyer to not only have the right credentials, but to have a desire to understand your goals and your situation. Your bankruptcy attorney should be empathetic, yet tough enough to ask the deepest and most difficult questions. In the end, you should hire someone who’s interested in how you got into your financial situation and can help you get out of it as cleanly as possible.
Not all attorneys have a great courtroom manner. After each meeting, ask yourself if you’re comfortable with them and determine whether your concerns have been addressed. If an attorney makes you feel like a number, not a person, move on to the next name on the list.
Find a Lawyer With Fair Fees
And finally, it’s time to discuss the elephant in the room: fees. Attorneys, even those who help you avoid paying your creditors, don’t work for free. Costs vary by location and the case’s complexity, but in most cases, you’ll be paying several hundred dollars for the help a lawyer provides.
It’s important to avoid cut-rate bankruptcy mills that advertise constantly and crank out cases one after another. These firms typically only have a few lawyers, and most of the hard work is done by legal assistants. For simple cases, these law firms are likely okay, but not all bankruptcies are simple. Hiring a bankruptcy mill would likely mean that you’d first meet your lawyer at the creditors’ meeting, which puts you at a disadvantage because your lawyer wouldn’t be equipped to handle your case properly. In the bankruptcy field, volume is irrelevant; expenses, experience, and empathy are what really matters.
Although you shouldn’t skimp on hiring a bankruptcy lawyer, you shouldn’t assume that you’ll get more by hiring the most expensive firm in the phone book. Fees are largely set by the local market, and in some places, they are pre-determined by the bankruptcy court. This means that you’d be able to get a highly-qualified, experienced, and skilled attorney for the same price you’d pay for a novice. Be sure to ask what’s covered, though, as some attorneys include court costs while others don’t.
Bankruptcy attorneys are in the business for one reason: to help people like you make a new start. The right attorney knows that financial stress often spills over into other parts of life, and they’ll take steps to put your mind at ease. Once you’ve found a lawyer who combines fair fees, good character, empathy, skill, and experience, you’re halfway there. If you decide to move forward with a bankruptcy filing, you’ll get the assurance that comes with working with a trustworthy attorney.