The vast majority of Americans need an attorney at some point in their life -- whether it be help with buying a home, getting a divorce, starting a business or filing for bankruptcy. Venturing into the realm of laws, judges, courthouses, and lawyers for the first time can be a very daunting experience. Choosing the right attorney -- whether a bankruptcy attorney or family attorney -- to assist you in this process is arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
First of all, the best way to determine if you even have a legal problem or need legal assistance is to speak with an attorney. This is also true when deciding if bankruptcy is your best course of action. Filing for bankruptcy is a difficult decision for most people, and an experienced bankruptcy attorney is your best resource to help weigh your options and recommend if bankruptcy is right for you. In fact, most bankruptcy lawyers will even give you this advice for free in an intial consultation.
Below are some factors that will help you choose the right bankruptcy attorney based on your situation:
Bankruptcy Attorneys' Area of Practice
In this day and age, especially if you live in a city or metropolitan area, the practice of bankruptcy lawyers are limited to certain areas of the law. There are many lawyers who practice bankruptcy, but not all are worth hiring. Finding an attorney who spends a majority of his or her time practicing consumer bankruptcy law will increase your bankruptcy’s likelihood of success.
Bankruptcy Lawyer Experience
Just as you wouldn’t hire a medical student to perform your back surgery or hire a plumber to fix your roof, you don’t want to be a guinea pig and be an attorney’s first bankruptcy client. Ask the attorney how long she has been practicing consumer bankruptcy law, how many cases she has filed, if your case raises more complexities than her previous cases, and what percentage of her practice is dedicated to helping individuals and married couples file for chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy. If she’s fresh out of law school, if the majority of her practice lies within another area of the law, or if she simply doesn’t give answers that impress you, move on to the next attorney.
You and your bankruptcy lawyer should agree on the expectations of your case –- that is, a successful bankruptcy. If your case possesses additional complications, the best bankruptcy attorney you find should warn you of all potential pitfalls and discuss as many options with you upfront as possible. There's a lot of conflicting bankruptcy information online, so you'll want to direct any important questions to your attorney. As the client, you have the right to your case’s status update at any point during the attorney-client relationship.
Any attorney should be able to give you some sort of upfront idea as to the legal fees as well as court costs associated with your bankruptcy. Most lawyers charge what are called “fixed fees” for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcies, or a specific amount of money in exchange for a specific service. It’s also possible that your lawyer may want to charge you on an hourly basis, but this is not as common. Whatever agreement you enter into, make sure the lawyer has you sign a contract or agreement in writing to avoid any unnecessary squabbles. In most instances, your attorney will also require a “retainer fee” to hire him, or advance payment on your case’s total fee. The paying of this retainer fee officially commences the lawyer-client relationship, and you are that point formally represented by counsel.
Most importantly, you’ve got to realize that bankruptcy is not quick process, it can take from six months to five years to complete depending on the chapter you file. So, of all the bankruptcy attorneys you speak with, you want to hire an attorney you get along with. However, you’re not looking for a new friend; you're looking for the best bankruptcy lawyer. The traits you look for in friends are rarely those you need in an attorney. Keep in mind that the lawyer-client relationship is a professional relationship, and expect nothing less than professional representation. Always remember that this is a business relationship, and your chances of obtaining financial peace of mind will increase exponentially.