What Should I Expect From My Bankruptcy Lawyer

What does a bankruptcy lawyer do? If you hire a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney, here's what that lawyer should do for you.

By , Attorney University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law
Updated 2/02/2024

Filing for bankruptcy is a great way to get out of burdensome debt, and most people feel a tremendous sense of relief when their bankruptcy case is over. However, understanding the process and filling out the bankruptcy forms can be daunting. That's where a bankruptcy lawyer can help. Not only will you receive legal advice, but a bankruptcy attorney will handle the paperwork from start to finish.

Below are some of the most common services you can expect from your bankruptcy lawyer. If you're unsure how much you should pay, start by learning how much the average Chapter 7 costs and how much bankruptcy lawyers charge for Chapter 13. You can also consider your options if you can't afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney.

Do I Need a Bankruptcy Lawyer?

No one wants to experience an unexpected problem in bankruptcy. Issues brought up by creditors or the trustee are often challenging to work through, and the results are rarely in the debtor's favor. However, bankruptcy attorneys who file regularly can predict what will happen in your case, which is the best way to avoid problems before they occur.

Also, if you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, you'll complete a lengthy questionnaire and gather financial documents. But that's about it. Your lawyer will take over the heavy lifting from there, which will include:

Preparing and filing the bankruptcy paperwork. Bankruptcy petitions are over 50 pages long and require significant legal knowledge to complete correctly. Your lawyer will know the law and have the software necessary to prepare it accurately and file it online.

Helping you find a credit counseling provider. Filers must complete two educational courses. Your bankruptcy attorney will suggest a provider they've had success with previously.

Sending the trustee documents. Before the creditors meeting, you won't need to worry about emailing or uploading copies of bank statements, tax returns, and paycheck stubs to the trustee's online portal. Your lawyer will take care of it.

Attending hearings. Appearing in court is stressful. Your bankruptcy lawyer will walk you through each step of the process.

Expect Competence From Your Bankruptcy Lawyer

Not all bankruptcy cases are complicated, but they aren't all easy, either. Regardless of difficulty, an experienced bankruptcy lawyer will have the necessary skills to handle your case.

However, you can expect to pay more to resolve complicated problems because they require more time and involve more liability. In general, the difficulty of your bankruptcy will depend on:

For instance, a straightforward Chapter 7 case would involve a client who easily qualifies, owns minimal property, and can eliminate all debts. A complicated Chapter 7 case might involve closing a business with significant business property and disgruntled unpaid employees, a loss of commercial real estate, or an ongoing environmental pollution lawsuit.

If your case involves a particularly unique situation, one way to determine whether the lawyer would be a good fit would be to ask whether the lawyer has previously represented clients in similar situations. For instance, not all bankruptcy lawyers represent Chapter 13 clients or handle bankruptcy litigation. In such cases, you'd likely do better hiring a lawyer with a longstanding Chapter 13 practice or litigation experience. Learn about replacing a bankruptcy lawyer lacking the expertise you require.

Expect Sound Legal Advice From Your Bankruptcy Lawyer

In general, your "retainer agreement" or the contract you and your attorney sign will outline the services your bankruptcy attorney will provide. Your attorney's job is also to provide you with competent advice throughout the bankruptcy process.

First, you can expect your attorney to tell you whether filing for bankruptcy would be in your best interest. If it is, you should also learn:

  • whether Chapter 7, Chapter 13, or Chapter 11 will help you achieve your financial goals
  • what you can expect during the bankruptcy process, and
  • whether your case involves any particular difficulties or risks.

Most importantly, if you have any questions, you can expect your attorney to promptly respond to your calls or emails.

Expect Your Bankruptcy Lawyer to Prepare and File Your Paperwork

Filing for bankruptcy requires you to complete a lengthy packet of forms. Almost all bankruptcy attorneys have specialized software that prepares and files your required bankruptcy paperwork with the court.

What Your Bankruptcy Lawyer Will Need

You'll provide your attorney with all your financial information, such as income, expenses, assets, debts, and property transaction history. Your lawyer will use it to prepare the official forms before reviewing the completed paperwork with you to ensure accuracy.

Providing Documents to the Bankruptcy Court and Trustee

One of the responsibilities of your bankruptcy attorney is to know and comply with local rules and filing procedures. For instance, you'll need to provide additional financial documents to the court or the bankruptcy trustee to verify the figures in your bankruptcy petition.

For instance, it's common to turn over the following documents before the 341 meeting of creditors, the one court appearance all bankruptcy filers must attend:

  • bank statements
  • paycheck stubs or profit and loss statements, and
  • income tax returns.

Your bankruptcy lawyer will provide the documents promptly because missing a bankruptcy deadline can cause process delays, dismissal of your case, or other adverse consequences.

Expect Your Bankruptcy Lawyer to Represent You at Hearings

After filing for bankruptcy, your bankruptcy lawyer will accompany you to the mandatory 341 meeting of creditors hearing. But, depending on your case, you and your attorney might need to go to additional hearings, including the following:

Before filing your case, your bankruptcy lawyer will explain which hearings you must attend.

Meet With a Bankruptcy Lawyer

The easiest way to determine whether bankruptcy will solve your financial problems is by speaking with a professional. A bankruptcy lawyer will provide all of the help described above in addition to analyzing your financial needs and explaining whether you should file for Chapter 7 or 13 or explore an alternative to bankruptcy.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

Did you know Nolo has made the law accessible for over fifty years? It's true, and we want to ensure you find what you need. Below, you'll find more articles explaining how bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other questions!

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Helpful Bankruptcy Sites

Department of Justice U.S. Trustee Program

United States Courts Bankruptcy Forms

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

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