Monday, August 30, 2010

Choosing The Best Bankruptcy Attorney For You

I filed bankruptcy in August of 2008 and was successfully discharged in February of 2009. One of the biggest challenges I faced during the bankruptcy process was to select legal counsel. Where was I going to find the best bankruptcy attorney?

Here are some ways to find your lawyer:
· Referrals
· Yellow Pages—yes, some people do actually still use the phone book
· Classified Ads
· Online

A referral could be the best place to find the best attorney. Unfortunately, the chances that you actually know someone who has filed bankruptcy and is willing to talk about it are slim. Probably few individuals will find their personal bankruptcy attorneys through word of mouth referrals.

The yellow pages, local classified ads and online sources are all excellent places to start your search. More important than where you find your lawyer, is how you choose your lawyer.

Choosing personal bankruptcy attorneys is a daunting task and most people have no idea how to go about it. Not only is attorney shopping unfamiliar territory to most of us, the difficulty of the task is usually coupled with intense emotions, which can make it tough to think clearly. Below are some tips based on my own experience with selecting a bankruptcy attorney.

Treat your bankruptcy as a business decision. That is, after all, what it is. Try to take your emotions out of the equation. It will be much easier to select your lawyer if your head is clear.

Don’t hire the first attorney you meet----unless you’ve met with more than one attorney. Meet with at least a handful of them (more if you haven't found one that makes you feel comfortable) so that you have a healthy gamut to survey.

Many bankruptcy attorneys (most in my experience) offer free consultations. Often they will have you fill out a short questionnaire and then sit down and talk to you for a while. This is the time to discover your comfort level with each attorney.

Don’t hire the cheapest attorney. Unless, of course, the cheapest is also the right one for you. Yeah, I know. You’re broke. Truth is though, you are probably going to find it hard to pay any attorney up front. Many bankruptcy attorneys will let you pay them off over time but they won't file your case until their fees and courts costs have been paid in full.

Be prepared and bring a list of well thought out questions. Listen carefully to the answers given and take notes. DON’T BE AFRAID TO DO THIS. Remember you are conducting an interview…perhaps the most important interview you will ever conduct.

There will be things on your list that are unique to your own situation. Below are some questions to ask that should be on everyone’s list.

Can I File For Bankrutpcy? This is a question many people have since the bankruptcy laws changed in 2005. Contrary to the hype that came out when these laws changed, it is still possible, and for many debtors very easy, to file and be granted bankruptcy. However, some people will not qualify and a bankruptcy lawyer can determine whether or not you are one of them.

What are my fees? Find out what your fees are upfront, and what they include, so there are no misunderstandings later.

Can I pay you off over time? This may be the only way you are able to afford an attorney so if it’s not offered, make sure you ask. Often times, the answer is yes.

What Can I Expect During The Bankruptcy Process? Getting a general idea of the bankruptcy steps you will need to take will help you begin learning about the process.

Ask Anything else that is important to you. Everyone has things that are unique to their own case and if it’s a concern, ask. There are no stupid questions.

I wish you all the best with your fresh start.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am only sharing the experiences gleaned from my own personal chapter 7 bankruptcy. For legal advice, please consult an attorney. If you would like to read more about my bankruptcy experience, visit