When you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. During this difficult time, it’s critical that you hire an experienced bankruptcy attorney to guide you through the process. Luckily, many attorneys offer free initial consultations, giving you an opportunity to meet with different attorneys to determine who you would feel most comfortable working with. So how do you decide who is most qualified and what you can expect from your bankruptcy attorney? Here are the top 10 questions you should be prepared to ask (and they should be prepared to answer) during your initial consultation:
1. Should I file for bankruptcy?
This question should provide you with a lot of answers. The attorney should explain both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies and offer recommendations and options based on your individual situation. The recommendations should also be supported with the why’s or why not’s to give you a solid overall picture of your options before proceeding.
2. What are the benefits of filing for bankruptcy?
The answer to this question should be more than a one-liner. The attorney should give you a clear understanding of the benefits and how they would vary depending on whether you filed a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
3. What are the negative effects of filing for bankruptcy?
Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free and clear of all debts. The attorney should inform you of all of the consequences that may result from a bankruptcy filing versus what the effects would be of not filing at all.
4. How much of your practice is devoted to bankruptcy cases?
When you walk into a bankruptcy attorney’s office, you assume that their primary practice is devoted to bankruptcy. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes, attorneys who practice bankruptcy law may also practice divorce or personal injury law. Ideally, you’d want to work with an attorney who devotes at least ½ of their practice to bankruptcy law and has been practicing for a minimum of 3 years.
5. What information is needed to get started?
The more information they ask you to provide, the better. To avoid having your bankruptcy case dismissed, at the very minimum you’ll want to have all of your financials and paperwork in order. Your attorney should provide you with a detailed list of the information required for your case.
6. What is the best way to contact you?
Some attorneys may be easily accessible by phone and others by email. During the bankruptcy process, the last thing you want is to have an attorney that you can’t reach or won’t return phone calls or emails in a timely fashion. If you feel more comfortable being able to speak with your attorney by phone and he/she typically corresponds by email, it may not be the best fit. Set the stage for the kind of correspondence you’ll both feel comfortable with and come to expect.
7. Who will accompany me to court?
Going to court could be the most nerve-wracking part of the process for a bankruptcy filer. During this time, you will want the attorney that has been handling your case at your side not a paralegal, so ask the question up front. There may be a chance that a different attorney from the same firm could go to court with you the day of, but you’ll want to be reassured that he/she has been briefed on your case and will serve as a strong representation of your primary attorney. Your attorney should inform you of this in advance.
8. How much is the attorney’s fee?
The average cost to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, which is the most common, is about $1,500, according to recent research submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Fees can vary from one attorney to another, but should cover both the federal filing fee and the attorney fees and the attorney should specify exactly how much each one is.
9. Do you use a written fee agreement?
The answer to this question should be a resounding YES. It's important for you and your attorney to have a formal agreement stating what you will pay and what services are and are not covered. An oral agreement just won't suffice.
10. What is included in the attorney’s fee?
This should include everything from filing to completing your case. In rare instances, unforeseen costs may come up, but the attorney should discuss all of this with you in detail. In many cases, attorneys can also work out payment options with you based on what you can afford.
Overall, don’t be afraid to ask questions and even ask for referrals from previous clients. By the end of your initial consultation, you want to be completely comfortable with your bankruptcy attorney’s abilities and what you can expect should you decide to hire him/her.
Ready to Start Looking for a Bankruptcy Attorney?
Start Fresh Today can help. Check out our free attorney locator program. As a leading provider of the required bankruptcy courses, we work with a large network of consumer bankruptcy attorneys around the country. All you need to do is provide your contact information and we’ll match you with a qualified bankruptcy attorney near you.
And remember, with the right bankruptcy attorney at your side, this chapter of your life will be behind you before you know it and you’ll be well on your way to a brighter financial future.
*This article is not intended to serve as legal advice. Contact a qualified, local bankruptcy attorney for assistance with a bankruptcy case.
Source: Bankruptcy Law Network