Choosing An Attorney
One of the most important decisions you’ll make regarding your bankruptcy case is who you choose to represent you. It isn’t something you want to leave to chance or just “let your fingers do the walking”. Sometimes you can get a good referral from a friend, business associate or another attorney. Not everyone has that option. Some folks just open up the yellow pages or do a random search on the internet. There are a lot of attorneys who seem okay just looking at their advertising. However, a bankruptcy is serious business. It takes an attorney who is serious about his or her bankruptcy practice to have the skills and knowledge you need to be assured that your case is being handled correctly. I get a lot of referrals from other attorneys, financial planners, mortgage brokers and past clients. You though, may have found me through the yellow pages or an internet search. That’s great. I advertise a lot less than I used to after 24 years in practice but I advertise some. If that is how you got to me it means my advertising dollars are money well spent. No matter how you were referred to my office it is impossible to convey to you just what I am about and how I can help you based on what you see here. This is where scheduling a time to come in to meet with me comes in. If a telephone call or an email is less intimidating for the first contact…then by all means, I’m happy to do that for those who just have a few general questions. An office consult though where we can meet face to face and have a serious chat about your situation is the best way to get the information you need and the chance to interview me in order to see if the “fit” is a good one.
Most people don’t know what to look for in an attorney or how a bankruptcy works…even the basics. Often the people I meet with it’s the very first time they’ve ever met with a lawyer. So….what should you be looking for? Bottom line? EXPERIENCE is a key factor. I’m talking about experience handling bankruptcy cases, not just how many years someone has been a lawyer. There are many of attorneys out there who have been practicing for a long time who have filed the odd bankruptcy case “here and there” over the years. These are the “dabblers”. They usually do lots of other kinds of law too. If that’s true, how good are they at handling bankruptcy cases….really? Probably mediocre at best. At worst, a potential disaster in the making for anything but the most very basic of cases.
The best advice is to retain a seasoned bankruptcy attorney who is an expert in this area of law and not one who is either new to the practice or just “dabbles” in it. Questions like “how long have you been doing bankruptcy?”, “how many cases have you filed?” and “what other areas of law do you practice?” are certainly appropriate and necessary. You should also be wary of the large firms commonly referred to as “bankruptcy mills”. These are big firms with multiple attorneys who push large volumes of clients through with little thought to individual attention or personal service. You might meet with an attorney the first time but after that your file is shunted over to a “case manager” who may or may not be a properly trained person who’ll handle your paperwork from then on. Neither the “dabbler” or the “bankruptcy mill” is very satisfactory to most people if they have had the unfortunate experience.
What should you expect?
The consultation meeting shouldn’t be rushed. Honestly, a lot of attorneys offering a free initial consult will be focused on 2 things. #1…does it look like a bankruptcy might work and #2 does this person have the money to pay me? If so, then they’ll invite you back for a second meeting because they either didn’t ask you to bring much in with you to do a proper case analysis in the first place or in the case of the firms which do a lot a of bankruptcy filings they probably have only 20 – 30 minutes to talk to you before they run the next guy in there. To do it properly, at least in my estimation, the attorney should listen to what you have to say, will thoughtfully analyze your situation and answer all of your questions in language that you can understand. It shouldn’t feel like a high pressure sales pitch. I consider the consultation an opportunity to get to know you better, analyze your situation thoroughly and give you the best range of options available. You will come out of the meeting knowing a lot more about how bankruptcy works than you did when you first stepped into my office. Armed with that information you’ll be able to make an intelligent decision about whether a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy filing is your best course. If appropriate, I sometimes recommend debt settlement as a solution if that of interest to you. Although bankruptcy is the bulk of my practice I’m not wedded to it as a solution for everyone’s debt problems. Some “bankruptcy” attorneys won’t even consider debt settlement. Why, I’m not sure but I’m ready to use every tool we have available in order to give you some relief from your financial distress and if that is the best way to go then it is. Sometimes I’ll recommend none of those options. We can usually find a resolution for people’s debt problems with one of those strategies but if it doesn’t work well we’ll tell you. I’d rather lose a case and do the right thing than put someone into a bankruptcy situation where there no real gain to be had. Treating people right is just as important as getting it right.