Five Things To Look For In A Bankruptcy Attorney

Bankruptcy lawyers are perhaps one the few groups of people who benefit from a depressed economy, however their clients, a large number of whom have no idea about the process involved in bankruptcy and do not have sufficient time to research it, are more often than not at a loss when it comes to seeking help from an expert. With the financial pressure and creditors closing in, many people, without considering the consequences, choose a bankruptcy attorney based on price, an advertisement or no criteria at all. However, picking the right attorney to handle your bankruptcy case can make the difference between financial bliss or on the other hand a long- term pain. Here are five things to look for when you decide to hire a bankruptcy attorney.

  1. Will I get what I pay for?

Unfortunately, many people select bankruptcy lawyers based on price. However, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on your jurisdiction, its important to ensure that you are getting what you require.  Luckily, the majority of bankruptcy lawyers use a relatively standard agreement for a basic Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13, personal        reorganization. The fixed fee should include consultation with you and an analysis of your financial situation, preparation of the bankruptcy petition, reviewing the petition with you, attendance at the meeting of creditors, and follow-ups with creditors, such as taking action to stop any post-filing collection efforts, if required.

With respect to a Chapter 13 case, the fee should also encompass preparation of the reorganization plan and representation at the confirmation hearing. It is important to ensure that these services are highlighted in the representation agreement.

It is unlikely that the fixed fee will cover eventualities like representing the debtor in an adversarial proceeding, for example when a creditor challenges the filing, and so its critical to find out from the attorney what he or she is likely to charge for any possible litigation that may be a consequential to the bankruptcy.

It is recommended that you do not select a bankruptcy attorney based on price, as the courts generally cap the fees of an attorney, and the attorneys that often handle such matters tend to charge fees according to the courts guideline.

Be weary of bankruptcy lawyers who offer representation that is significantly lower than other attorneys, it is likely that this kind of attorney in inexperienced in bankruptcy matters and will take short-cuts.

  1. Did I hire a true bankruptcy expert?

It is advisable to select an attorney who is knowledgeable with respect to bankruptcy law and who has the requisite experience to handle your case.  However, the length of an bankruptcy lawyer’s career shouldn’t be a determining factor of his or her expertise. The question you need to ask is what percentage of the attorney’s practice constitutes bankruptcy and how many cases the attorney has filed.

It is suggested that you find an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy, as finding someone who does a bit of bankruptcy work as well as other areas of  law, simply means that he or she is a jack of all trades but a master of none.

  1. Is the attorney aware of the 2005 code changes?

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act was enacted by Congress in 2005. The purpose of the Act is to prevent people from gaming the system.  While the Act brought about widespread reform to the bankruptcy industry, the changes make it difficult for some debtors who meet the minimum threshold for income, which differs by state, to file for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. In a few cases, the law forces them to repay their debts through a reorganization as opposed to receiving outright forgiveness. Further, it requires those seeking bankruptcy protection to take a credit counseling class before filing.

There is a chance that the bankruptcy code may have little or no effect on  some filers, however it is extremely difficult for a person who is not an attorney to determine beforehand how their case may differ because of new legislation. Thus you should expect the attorney you select to handle your case to know about the changes and to be able to inform you if the changes will have an   impact on you case. If at your first consult, the attorney is unable to inform you    whether the changes in legislation will effect your case, then perhaps he or    she is not the attorney you want to represent you.

  1. Am I getting run through a mill?

Although it is advisable to obtain the services of an experienced bankruptcy attorney, a danger of this is falling into the hands of what bankruptcy lawyers refer to as a bankruptcy mill. Which is a firm that simply goes through the motions without any regard for the individual needs of a specific case.  However, it may be difficult to spot a mill if you aren’t an attorney. Your best bet is to check with your local bar association for referrals to attorneys who specialize in bankruptcy.One of the red flags which suggest that you are probable at a mill, is if you do not meet the attorney who is going to be handling your case at the initial consultation. Another way to identify a mill, is to ask the attorney how many bankruptcy cases he or she handles at a given time, if it is more than 30, chances are that you are dealing with a mill.

  1. Do I have a comfortable relationship with the attorney?

Selecting an attorney who you aren’t comfortable with, irrespective of whether the attorney is well qualified and offers a competitive price for your case; is looking for trouble. If you aren’t comfortable with your attorney, you will not get nearly as much as you would if you were comfortable with him or her.