Hiring the right attorney can make a big difference in how easy or successful your bankruptcy will be. An attorney who is unfamiliar with bankruptcy laws may not only make the process more difficult but also put your assets at risk. Read on for tips on choosing the right bankruptcy attorney and what qualities to look for.
Specializes in or Regularly Practices Bankruptcy Law
Bankruptcy is a specialized and complex area of the law. Attorneys who do not regularly practice bankruptcy law may not foresee all of the potential pitfalls surrounding your case. This can result in your case getting dismissed, being forced to attend more hearings, or even losing your properties and assets.
When choosing a bankruptcy attorney, make sure to look for one who specializes in or devotes a significant portion of his or her practice to bankruptcy. For example, it is usually not a good idea to have your family or estate planning attorney handle your bankruptcy unless it is an area he or she normally practices.
Familiar With Local Rules and Trustees
In addition to the federal bankruptcy laws, each district court has its own local rules and regulations regarding bankruptcy. Further, each individual bankruptcy trustee in your district may also have additional requirements or procedures to follow. If you want your case to go as smoothly as possible, choose an attorney who is familiar with the local rules of your district and knows the trustees.
Has Sufficient Experience
Bankruptcy cases differ greatly in complexity and the amount of time and expertise required to successfully complete them. For example, a Chapter 13 for a self-employed debtor will likely involve many more issues than a simple Chapter 7 for an unemployed debtor with no assets.
You should choose an attorney who has a sufficient amount of experience to handle your case effectively. However, this does not necessarily mean that you need to go with an attorney who has several years of bankruptcy experience. If you have a simple case, it may be more cost effective to hire an attorney without as much experience but who can still handle your case with the same amount of competence and expertise.
Charges Reasonable Fees
Most people who are considering bankruptcy do not have the means to spend a lot on legal fees. The amount of attorney fees usually depends on your individual case and whether you are filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Generally, the more complex a Chapter 7 case is, the higher the attorney fees will be. Further, most attorneys will not file your case until all fees are paid in full. When searching for an attorney, it is usually a good idea to get a quote from a few different attorneys to compare their fees.
However, there is more to choosing a bankruptcy attorney than just fees. If an attorney is charging a lot less than others, it may be an indication that he or she does not see all the potential issues in your case and may not possess the necessary expertise.
In Chapter 13 cases, most districts have guidelines limiting the amount attorneys can charge for each case. So the total fees charged for a Chapter 13 usually do not differ very much. However, what differs is the amount an attorney will ask for upfront before filing your case.
In a Chapter 13, you can pay a portion of the attorney fees upfront and the remainder through your Chapter 13 repayment plan. Some attorneys will ask for the whole thing upfront while others may file your case with little or no money down. So always ask what the upfront fee expectation is before an attorney will file your case and what the total fees will be.
Communicates in a Timely Manner
Filing for bankruptcy requires a lot of paperwork and communication with your attorney. Look for an attorney who returns your calls or emails promptly. If you cannot easily get in touch with an attorney during the consultation stages, it may be a strong indicator that you may have trouble getting your questions answered during the case.
To learn more about finding a bankruptcy lawyer, typical attorney fees, and getting other help with your case, see Getting Bankruptcy Help.