If you have started to do some research on engaging a bankruptcy attorney, chances are you are in a very stressful state of mind. The selection of an attorney for any area of law is an important decision and should not be taken lightly, but if you ask the right questions of a potential attorney you may be able to alleviate the stress of selecting an individual or firm that is a good fit for your particular situation.
The secret to finding the right bankruptcy attorney is in the questions you ask before you hire one. If you have never had a need for a lawyer before, you may not know what you should ask.
Many bankruptcy attorneys offer preliminary meetings or consultations that allow you to get to know one another. This is where you can conduct your interview – always remember, the choice is your choice and you should feel comfortable with your decision.
The purpose of the initial consultation is to determine whether you want to hire the lawyer. You can also learn more about the attorney’s background, experience, and legal fees, and review your bankruptcy options with the attorney.
Before the meeting, you should take time to come up with a list of questions you would like to ask the attorney.
Background and experience:
An easy way to start off the conversation at an initial consultation is with questions about the attorney’s background. Here are some starting points:
- How long have you been practicing bankruptcy law?
- On average, how many clients do you help file for bankruptcy annually?
- Do you practice in other areas of the law? If so, which ones? What percentage of your practice is devoted to bankruptcy filings?
- Do you belong to any bar associations or other professional organizations? If so, which ones?
Assessing your options:
You should also bring to the meeting information about your finances, such as:
- A list of present and past debts
- A list of the property you own
- A list of your financial accounts-such as checking and savings accounts, mutual funds, IRAs, and brokerage accounts-and how much money you have in those accounts
- A copy of the deed to your house, if you own one
- Proof of your income, using tax returns and paycheck stubs
- Any recent communication you might have from collectors
Show the documents you brought with you to the bankruptcy lawyers. Then ask for their opinions about your options – do not try to be an attorney, this is why you are hiring an expert in the matter. Relevant questions to ask include:
- Do I have options outside of bankruptcy?
- Which type of bankruptcy should I file? Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, or Chapter 11 bankruptcy? What are the differences?
- Which debts will be eliminated? Which will I still owe?
- Which assets can I hold onto? My car? My house?
- Is there anything I have to do before I file for bankruptcy? When can I file? How long does the process take?
It is important to understand how your filing will be managed, so you don’t have any misunderstandings. Consider asking these questions to start:
- Are you available to represent me?
- If I have questions regarding my filing, do I contact you or someone else?
- How do you and your colleagues prefer to be contacted?
- How quickly can I expect a response?
- Will you personally be managing my filing, or will someone else be doing that?
- Will you be with me in bankruptcy court and representing me at meetings with the creditors or the trustee assigned to oversee my filing?
- Will I receive regular progress reports? From whom? What will they include? How often will I receive them?
Most bankruptcy lawyers charge for their time either with an hourly fee or a flat fee. They are very different billing systems, and it is important to understand them and what they include. Some questions to ask include:
- Which billing method do you use?
- If you charge by the hour, what is your rate?
- If you charge a flat fee, what is it? What does it include? What is not included? Is it refundable if I change my mind about filing bankruptcy or want to switch lawyers? What payment plans do you offer?
- Will I have to pay a retainer fee? How does that work?
- What additional legal expenses will I have to pay? Can you estimate them for me?
After you have interviewed every bankruptcy lawyer on your list, it is time to decide which bankruptcy lawyer to hire. If you only interviewed one, but he or she met all your qualifications, or you met with several, but one was clearly best for you, then your decision is an easy one.
If you cannot decide between a number of potential attorneys, it is time to ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- Which attorney had the background, experience, and skills I need?
- Whose advice and judgment seemed best?
- Which one earned my confidence?
- Which one had fair and reasonable legal fees?
- With which attorney was I most comfortable?
The answers to these questions should point you to your very best choice in a bankruptcy attorney. Once you have hired him or her, you can move forward with your plan to get a fresh financial start with a legal expert that you can trust.