What Should You Look For When Choosing A Bankruptcy Attorney?

Do you feel like your debts are getting away from you? Are you overwhelmed and anxious about paying your bills? Do you need some relief from your creditors? Are you beginning to think that you should be looking into filing a bankruptcy?

dollar-941246_1920Over the years, I’ve spoken to lots of people in your situation, who are just beginning to look into finding an attorney to help them with bankruptcy. Many of these people call with one question for me — “what’s y
our fee?”.   When I ask if they have any other questions about bankruptcy and how it works, they’re not interested. They want the cheapest attorney, no matter what kind of representation they get.

Going through a bankruptcy should not be the most traumatic event of your entire life, especially if you have a good attorney assisting you with it. However, there is more involved in a bankruptcy than just having someone complete and file forms for you and then show up to the meeting with the trustee, which many times is what you get for your money when you hire the cheapest attorney you can find. Attorneys set their fees according to what they need to fairly compensate them for their time and effort, while also looking to what the market is for their services. Let’s face it: what an attorney has to give is her time and expertise. If the attorney fee doesn’t compensate her for the time it takes to do a careful job, then she’s going to cut the times she spends on your case.

Bankruptcy is difficult and complicated. You need someone with whom you feel comfortable and trust, who makes herself available to answer your questions and address your concerns. In looking to hire a bankruptcy attorney, I would suggest that you schedule a consultation for purposes of exploring whether or not you feel like this person will give you the representation you deserve. Here are some things that I would suggest you consider:

  1. You should feel at ease when speaking to the attorney. Many personal issues come up during a bankruptcy filing. If the attorney seems condescending to you and makes you nervous about asking questions, that should raise a serious negative in your mind. No questions is too insignificant for you to ask. Further, bankruptcy is complicated enough that you should not feel intimidated to ask the same question again if you forget what the attorney previously told you.
  1. You should be able to speak with the attorney when you first call her office to schedule an appointment. The attorney should be asking you a few preliminary questions and ask you to bring in some information that will help the discussion when you do meet for your consultation. If the attorney is too busy to talk with you when you first call, and doesn’t return your call in a reasonable amount of time, that’s a good sign of how you will be treated when you phone later on as a client.
  1. You should be very concerned if your initial consultation is scheduled with someone other than the attorney you are considering hiring.  This point may sound a little strange — however, in the current legal world, many times paralegals or assistants are working up the bankruptcy cases rather than the attorney. I believe it’s vitally important that you meet with the attorney herself, not her subordinate, before you retain her. The attorney is the one with the specialized legal knowledge necessary to get the best results for you in your bankruptcy case. The attorney needs to make the crucial decisions, and those should not be based on what an assistant relates to her after you leave.
  1. The bankruptcy attorney should be able to explain things in a way you can understand them. Even though filing a bankruptcy is complicated, it’s not so difficult that you have to go through it without understanding what’s going on. It’s your life and your finances. You have an absolute right to be aware of what’s happening in your case. At the very least, the attorney should explain the difference between the various chapters of bankruptcy and why one suits you better than the others. And you should understand the information required in the pleadings and how that information will be used by the Trustee in questioning you at your meeting with him.
  1. You should make sure that the attorney is licensed through the State of Ohio. You may also want to check on whether he/she has any pending bar complaints or malpractice claims. You should also question the attorney herself about how long she’s been practicing bankruptcy law, how many cases she’s handled, and whether most of her clients succeed in getting their bankruptcy discharges.
  1. At the end of that initial consultation, you should feel comfortable that the attorney is sincerely interested in your situation and in getting the best result for you through filing the bankruptcy. You should be assured that the attorney will protect your best interests, and will deal fairly with you in all aspects of your case. This should include alerting you to any issues that she can foresee, including those that complicate the bankruptcy filing, and suggest how the two of you will work through them. You should also have a sense that you are not being rushed through the appointment, but rather the attorney will take the time with you that you need.

You should leave that first meeting feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. If you don’t have that sense of relief for some reasons, I’d suggest consulting with someone else before you hire anyone. And only then should the amount of the attorney fees enter into your consideration. Attorney fees for bankruptcy generally don’t vary that much in the Dayton/Cincinnati areas. If it costs a couple more dollars to have an attorney who is dedicated to doing a good job for you and who cares about you as a person, it could be the best couple of dollars you’ve spent in a long time!

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