Five Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Foreclosure Attorney
Before you hire a lawyer to help you with foreclosure, ask these five questions.
If you are looking for a lawyer to help you with a foreclosure or foreclosure-related matter, meet with several different lawyers and ask each one lots of questions. By asking questions, you’ll get the information you need to choose the best lawyer for your situation. Read on to learn five important questions you should ask when deciding which attorney should represent you if you’re facing a foreclosure. (If you're wondering whether you need a lawyer, see Do I Need a Foreclosure Attorney?)
Questions to Ask Lawyers Who Assist With Foreclosure
Below are a few questions you should ask of an attorney you are considering hiring to assist you with foreclosure issues.
1. What course of action do you recommend?
Ask this question after giving the attorney the details about your particular situation. The attorney may recommend:
- fighting the foreclosure in court
- trying to get a loan modification (or other alternative to foreclosure)
- filing bankruptcy (learn how bankruptcy can help with foreclosure), or a combination of these options.
It’s important for you to learn about all of the different options available to you and figure out which one you want to pursue.
Then, hire a lawyer who is willing to help you with the option that you picked. Not all lawyers will be able to, or willing, to handle all options. (Learn about the different types of lawyers that handle foreclosure issues.) For example, some lawyers only file bankruptcies, while others only defend clients in court against foreclosure actions. If you ultimately decide you want to fight the foreclosure in court, don't hire an attorney who only assists clients in filing bankruptcy. (On the other hand, some bankruptcy attorneys also specialize in foreclosure defense. Be sure to ask additional questions if you're unclear about exactly what areas of the law the attorney handles.)
2. How much experience do you have representing homeowners in court (or in filing bankruptcy, or in getting a loan modification, etc.)?
Once you have an idea about which option you want to pursue, ask about the attorney’s experience in handling that type of action. For example, you can ask how many foreclosure cases the attorney has litigated in court against mortgage lenders and servicers. Or you could ask how many loan modifications that the attorney has helped homeowners obtain. (It may also be helpful to ask about the terms of those loan modifications.)
You don’t need to rule out hiring a new lawyer who doesn’t have a lot of experience, but you should at least be aware if the lawyer has never presented a case to a court or negotiated an alternative to foreclosure so you can decide if this is acceptable to you. Also, bear in mind that a lawyer with decades of experience might not be more qualified to handle your foreclosure issues unless he or she has kept up with all of the changes in foreclosure law over the past several years. This leads us to another question you should ask.
3. Have you taken any continuing legal education (CLE) courses about new laws and strategies in handling foreclosure cases/bankruptcy/alternatives to foreclosure?
While some areas of the law have not changed much in recent years, foreclosure is a different story. Many states have recently passed new foreclosure laws, and there are new federal mortgage servicing rules that the attorney should be familiar with.
One way for attorneys to stay on top of all the changes is to attend CLE seminars to learn about the most recent developments in the law. If the attorney you are speaking with indicates that he or she has not taken any CLE courses pertaining to homeowners in foreclosure, ask how he or she stays current on the law.
4. How much will it cost to hire you?
Different attorneys have different approaches to setting fees. For example, the lawyer may charge:
- a flat fee
- an hourly rate, or
- a monthly rate. (Learn more in Nolo’s article How Much Will a Foreclosure Attorney Charge?)
Within these categories, rates vary widely. Pick a lawyer whose rate is at a level you can afford.
You should also find out exactly what services the fee includes. For example, the attorney may be willing to handle the foreclosure case in court, but not help you file for bankruptcy or work out an alternative to foreclosure -- or the attorney may charge more for additional services. To avoid any confusion, ask the attorney more questions if you’re unclear about exactly what services are included in the fee.
5. Are you licensed to practice law in this state?
You should also ask if the attorney is licensed to practice law in your state. This question is necessary because when the foreclosure crisis occurred some foreclosure rescue companies (in particular, loan modification companies) with unscrupulous lawyers popped up offering their services to homeowners all over the county -- even though attorneys are only allowed to practice law in states where they’re licensed. An attorney who is not licensed in your state cannot legally help you get a loan modification, represent you in bankruptcy, or go to court to defend you against the foreclosure. (Learn about Foreclosure Rescue & Other Scams.)
If you’re not comfortable asking the attorney if he or she has a license to practice law in your state (or his or her answer raises doubts in your mind), in most states you can check the attorney’s license status online at the state bar association’s website. (To steer clear of the scammers, read about tips for avoiding sleazy foreclosure lawyers.)
The Bottom Line
These are just a few of the questions that you should ask a potential foreclosure attorney before hiring him or her. Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to ensure that you’re comfortable about your hiring decision.