If you're overwhelmed with debt or facing a legal issue with your mortgage, credit cards, car loan, or medical bills, finding a debt relief attorney can be intimidating. Here’s a game plan and resources that will help you find the right lawyer to help with your particular debt issue.
What Type of Lawyer Do You Need?
Many attorneys focus their practices on a particular area of the law. Debt relief lawyers most often describe themselves as one of the following:
- bankruptcy, or
- lawsuit defense.
You may not know exactly what you need, and that’s alright. Although some attorneys specialize in one area, like bankruptcy or credit reporting, most debt relief lawyers work with clients who have multiple issues. For instance, when a bankruptcy attorney evaluates your financial condition, he or she may recommend debt settlement instead. Likewise, a lawsuit defense attorney may recognize that you would be better served by filing bankruptcy.
Where to Find a Competent Debt Relief Attorney:
If you are looking for a lawyer to help with a debt issue, here are some places to start:
Referrals from other attorneys. Do you know an attorney or have you employed an attorney to draft a will or defend you in a lawsuit? If so, your attorney will likely know a debt relief attorney that he or she trusts and respects.
Referrals from friends and family. If you feel comfortable confiding in family or friends, you may find that they too can provide the name of a reputable debt relief attorney.
Internet directories. You can find directories of attorneys on the Internet (including one on Nolo.com).
Prepaid legal plans. Many large corporate employers offer a legal plan as a benefit. The plan will refer you to an attorney who can evaluate your case for free and offer services for a reduced fee. Contact your human resource department to find out if your employer offers a legal plan.
City or county bar associations. local bar associations often provide lists of members who practice in certain specialties. In larger metropolitan areas, some bar associations hold legal clinics where individuals can speak with an attorney about their cases.
Other lawyer groups and referral services. Many lawyer groups maintain databases with information about their member attorneys. Some even provide ratings by consumers or other lawyers to help you choose a lawyer suited to your issue. Look for the “Find an Attorney” button on the website’s homepage. Here are some places to start:
Legal services for lower income individuals. Often going by the name Legal Aid or Legal Services Corporation, these agencies are dedicated to providing legal services to lower income individuals. In addition, many local bar associations offer programs that serve low income individuals for reduced fees.
Law school clinics. Most law schools maintain a clinic to provide law students opportunities to work with real clients with real issues. The students are supervised by licensed attorney-instructors. In some states, upper level students are even allowed to represent individuals in court.
Shopping for a Debt Relief Attorney
Many lawyers who work with clients on debt issues offer low or no cost initial consultations. Some will even agree to meet with you over the telephone. Be prepared to discuss not only the debt causing you immediate difficulty, but your overall financial picture. A competent and knowledgeable attorney should consider the state of your financial health before offering you advice on resolving specific credit issues. (To learn more about shopping for a lawyer, see Tips on Hiring and Working With Lawyers.)
Be sure to ask questions about what services the lawyer will provide and what his or her fees will be. (Learn more about the cost of hiring a debt relief attorney.)
Beware of Debt Settlement and Credit Counseling Companies
Advertisements abound for companies offering to help you resolve your debts. Some call themselves debt settlement companies; others claim to offer credit counseling. They are not staffed by attorneys and cannot give legal advice. Moreover, debt settlement companies deal only with unsecured debt like credit cards and medical accounts. They cannot help you resolve tax matters, foreclosures, or disputes regarding alimony or child support. (For more information about the pitfalls of working with debt settlement companies, see Debt Settlement Company Scams.)