If you decide to hire a lawyer to file your bankruptcy case, it’s important to choose the right one. Below, we discuss some of the most important questions to ask when choosing a bankruptcy attorney. (Learn more about what to look for in a bankruptcy attorney.)
The following are some of the most important questions you should ask a bankruptcy attorney before you hire him or her.
How Long Have You Been Practicing Bankruptcy Law?
Bankruptcy is a complex area of the law that has its own rules and procedures. For this reason, it’s important to hire an attorney who specializes in or practices bankruptcy law on a regular basis.
In general, more people file for bankruptcy when the economy is bad. When this happens, some attorneys try to take advantage of the increased number of filings by offering bankruptcy services. But many of these attorneys lack the specialized knowledge and expertise necessary to effectively handle a bankruptcy case.
When you meet with an attorney, it’s important to ask how long he or she has been practicing bankruptcy law. If the attorney just started offering bankruptcy services, he or she may not have the necessary skill to handle your case.
How Many Bankruptcy Cases Do You File Per Month?
In addition to how long an attorney has been practicing bankruptcy law, it’s important to ask how many bankruptcy cases he or she files each month. If a lawyer files only a handful of cases each month, he or she may not be as familiar with the local bankruptcy trustees, judges, or court procedures. On the other hand, an attorney who files too many bankruptcies may not be able to offer you the personal attention you deserve.
Do You Have Experience With Bankruptcy Cases Similar to Mine?
Each bankruptcy case is different. Whether or not a particular attorney is the right person to file your case will often depend on your individual circumstances. For example, if you have a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be able to save on attorney fees by hiring a competent but less experienced lawyer.
But that same attorney may not be the right choice if you have a complicated Chapter 13 case. Or if you are trying to discharge student loans, and the attorney has never brought this type of case, it may be better to hire someone else who has. You want to make sure that the attorney you hire has the necessary expertise to handle your specific case.
Does My Bankruptcy Case Have Any Risks?
An attorney should be honest and upfront with you regarding any risks your case might have. For example, if you are in danger of losing some of your property or not being able to discharge a certain debt, your attorney should tell you this at your meeting.
This way, you can make an informed decision about whether or not bankruptcy is in your best interest. In addition, asking this question will allow you to judge the attorney’s knowledge about how the bankruptcy process works.
What Type of Bankruptcy Should I File?
When you meet with an attorney, he or she should explain your options and advise you on which type of bankruptcy is in your best interest. By asking this question, you can:
- learn more information about which type of bankruptcy is right for you (this is helpful whether you decide to hire an attorney or not), and
- determine how knowledgeable the attorney is about bankruptcy law.
Will You Be Going to Court With Me?
Some law firms take on more bankruptcy cases than their attorneys can handle. In many cases, they employ outside lawyers (called special appearance counsel) to attend court hearings with their clients.
If a firm files a large number of bankruptcy cases but provides low quality service to its clients, it’s referred to as a bankruptcy mill. It’s usually in your best interest to avoid bankruptcy mills. Asking the attorney if he or she will be going to court with you can help you determine whether or not you are dealing with a bankruptcy mill. (Learn more about how to avoid bankruptcy mills.)
Who Will Prepare My Bankruptcy Paperwork?
In addition to asking who will go to court with you, it’s a good idea to ask about who is going to prepare your bankruptcy papers. Good bankruptcy attorneys review your financial information and prepare your bankruptcy paperwork themselves (although they may use a paralegal or other support staff to enter basic information into their bankruptcy software).
In contrast, bankruptcy mills typically rely on nonattorney support staff to prepare important bankruptcy paperwork and file cases without much guidance from an attorney. If the attorney you talk to will hand off your case to a paralegal after you sign up, he or she may not be the right choice for you.
How Can I Reach You If I Have a Question?
Your attorney should make time to answer your questions personally. If you can’t easily reach your attorney, it will likely cause problems in the bankruptcy process. If an attorney says that a paralegal or support staff member will be your main point of contact, it may not be a good idea to hire him or her.
How Much Will My Bankruptcy Cost?
If you are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your attorney fees will usually depend on the complexity of your case. If you are filing a Chapter 13 case, many bankruptcy courts will have guidelines that establish what a presumptively reasonable attorney fee should be. (Learn more about average Chapter 7 bankruptcy attorney fees and average Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney fees.)
In general, your attorney should charge a reasonable fee to handle your bankruptcy based on the individual facts of your case. But keep in mind that there are many factors to consider when choosing an attorney. It’s never a good idea to pick an attorney solely because he or she has the lowest fee.