A good bankruptcy attorney is a shrewd investment in a better future. As in any other profession, the choice of practitioner can make a big difference to your outcome. Look for a lawyer who meets these qualifications:
- Must have both training and experience in bankruptcy.
- Must specialize in the type of bankruptcy you want to file (personal, commercial, business, agricultural).
- Must be up on the latest tax laws. These are constantly changing.
- Should have been actively practicing bankruptcy law for several years.
- Must understand the local rules, the Trustees’ preferences, the local judge’s rulings, and how to work with the local creditor attorneys.
- Must have bankruptcy court room experience and preferably be actively practicing in bankruptcy court. Although most cases are not contested, you don’t want your case handed off to some other lawyer if it has to go to court.
- Must have a record of successful bankruptcy filings.
3. Reasonable fees
- Fees must be fair, to your satisfaction.
- Payment arrangements must be flexible enough to fit your situation.
- A good bankruptcy attorney can save you much more than you have to pay in fees.
- Avoid rock-bottom fees. They usually indicate either a lack of services (or a legal firm devoted to cookie-cutter bankruptcy proceedings) or a poor reputation.
- Avoid the highest fees, unless your case is extremely large and complex.
- Some lawyers charge a flat fee, while others charge fees based on your total debt.
- In Chapter 7 cases, bankruptcy attorney fees and filing fees must be paid in full before your case is filed. In Chapter 13, most attorneys will take an upfront fee before filing, with the balance to be paid in your Chapter 13 plan.
4. Personal service
- All your discussions should be directly with the lawyer who handles your entire case.
- Insist on speaking to the lawyer who will be handling your case on the telephone before you make an appointment to meet in person.
- If you are forced to meet with associates or assistants before getting to a candidate attorney, it’s a likely bet that you won’t get the kind of specialized help you need to navigate your tough financial hurdles.
- A larger firm is said by some to be an advantage, because another attorney is likely to be available for a pressing issue, if your own lawyer is temporarily unavailable. However, retaining a smaller firm can mean that you will get more attention from your attorney.
- Proximity is said by some to be important, to make visits to the law office easier. Others say that paperwork and even some discussions can now be handled by mail, fax or e-mail, so that proximity should be secondary to choice of a good attorney.
5. Credit repair resources
Must have the resources to help you rebuild your credit after bankruptcy:
- e.g. disputing credit report errors
- e.g. providing a list of bankruptcy friendly lenders
- Credit counseling will help to build the skills you need for future success
- Bankruptcy attorneys are not credit repair agencies, in that they are employed to discharge your debts and guide you through the processes of bankruptcy. If you need to speak with a credit repair agency, your attorney may be able to direct you to one.
6. Clear terms
- A clear contract is desirable, specifying what your lawyer will do for you.
- Some lawyers provide a guarantee of successful discharge, or refund of fees (assuming you have provided accurate information!).
Your next step is to find a good bankruptcy attorney in your area.