Everyone’s financial situation and goals in filing for bankruptcy are unique. You must choose representation that understands your situation and knows how to achieve those goals.
Selecting the right bankruptcy attorney for you will be much easier for you if you ask them the following eight questions. Since most bankruptcy attorneys offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation, you can use that opportunity to interview them, explore where there may be potential problems, get a feeling for the attorney’s “bedside manner” and the way he or she will treat you, and research the attorney’s professional history. In case what you need is only some financial advice, check the MoneyBrighter blog at the link.
This advice is from the office of noted Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney David M. Offen, Esq.
8 Questions to Ask During Your Initial Consultation with a Bankruptcy Attorney
When you meet with a bankruptcy attorney, know that he or she is interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them. Attorneys watch out for clients that seem dishonest or uncooperative, because not only will they be difficult to work with, but representing them can tarnish an attorney’s reputation.
As a client, you should watch out for attorneys who interrupt you, seem uninterested in you, and treat your case like one of the hundreds of other cases they’ve handled, nothing special. Each bankruptcy filing is unique to that debtor, and you should feel as if the attorney is ferreting out those unique qualities during your consultation.
Once the attorney has enough information to render advice to you, he or she will give you that advice and invariably ask, do you have any questions? These questions will give you an idea of the competence of the attorney and whether or not you want to work with them.
Question 1: How long have you been practicing bankruptcy?
You might be able to determine this from the jurisdiction admissions, diplomas, and awards on the office wall, but if not, just ask. Keep in mind that just because a lawyer has been practicing for 20 years does not necessarily mean that he or she has experience in the areas of bankruptcy law your case requires. Visit the criminal lawyer Melbourne website.
Question 2: Do you practice any other area of law?
- Debt collection defense
- Foreclosure defense
- IRS negotiation and defense
- Debt settlement and negotiation
- Tax Sale defense and Home Redemption
These areas often intersect with bankruptcy law, and it is good business for a bankruptcy attorney to be able to help with all of a client’s financial problems, not just file bankruptcy for them. Check out this site if you’re looking for the best business contract attorney Maryland has to offer.
That being said, if an attorney practices several other areas of law, such as these among others:
- Family law
- Land use
- Wills and Estates
- Criminal law
- Constitutional law
That attorney may be stretched too thin practicing unrelated areas of law to keep up on the latest developments in consumer bankruptcy representation.
Question 3: Are you licensed to practice in my jurisdiction? Are you licensed to practice in any other jurisdiction?
To represent you, an attorney must be licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where you will file your bankruptcy petition. Giving the attorney your home address will allow them to tell you whether they are or not.
You will want to know where else the attorney is admitted. When you get home, you can go online and look up that attorney in every jurisdiction to which they are admitted to find out if there have been any ethical complaints or malpractice suits against them.
Question 4: Have you ever had to fire a client?
If the answer is yes, ask why. This will give you an understanding of the attorney’s expectations.
Question 5: Have you ever had a client’s discharge denied, or case dismissed?
Again, if the answer is yes, ask why. Most often, a denial of discharge or case dismissal is due to fraud on the part of the debtor, not mishandling of the case by the attorney, but it does happen.
Question 6: Have you ever handled a situation like mine before?
The way the lawyer answers this will tell you a lot about whether you will feel comfortable working with them. Most lawyers will say something like, “I have handled hundreds of Chapter 7s with similar aspects to yours, however, in your case….” and then describe what makes your case unique and how they are going to handle that.
Question 7: What are my options to resolve my financial situation, besides bankruptcy?
A good lawyer will give a potential client all options, regardless of whether any of those options don’t require his or her services. Watch out for this. Filing bankruptcy may be the best option, but it is rarely the only option.
Question 8: What is your fee for handling my bankruptcy?
Most bankruptcy attorneys will charge a flat fee for all of the usual services that must be performed in a bankruptcy filing, such as preparing and filing your petition, schedules, creditor matrix, certifications of completion for the credit counseling and financial management courses, and representation at the first scheduled 341(a) meeting of creditors. In a Chapter 13 filing, the fee should also include representation at the plan confirmation hearing.
These proceedings will probably not be included in the flat fee, but one, some, or many could arise in a bankruptcy:
- Representation at a motion to revoke a discharge:
- Removal of a pending action in another court;
- Obtaining title reports;
- Determining whether there are real estate or tax liens;
- Appeals to the BAP or the District Court of Appeals;
- Correcting credit reports;
- Negotiations with creditors regarding the Client or Client’s debt;
- Defending Motions to Dismiss Client’s bankruptcy case filed by the Trustee, U.S. Trustee, or any creditor;
- Defending Client in any motion to lift the automatic stay;
- Defending Client in any adversary proceeding filed by the Trustee, U.S. Trustee, a creditor, or any other party on any basis, including, without limitations, proceedings to determine dischargeability of debts;
- Preparing reaffirmation agreements or negotiating the terms of reaffirmation agreements proposed by creditors, motions to redeem personal property, and negotiating and representing Client with regard to reaffirmation agreements when Client’s income is not sufficient to rebut the presumption of undue hardship and special circumstances do not warrant the signing of a reaffirmation agreement;
- Filing and prosecuting a motion to impose or extend the bankruptcy stay;
- Vacating judgments once the bankruptcy case discharges and closes;
- A case audit by the U.S. Trustee’s Office.
Ask whether the attorney has any reason to believe you might need representation in any proceeding not included in the flat fee, and if so, what that might cost you.
The information you get at the consultation, along with your gut reaction to the attorney’s demeanor, will point you in the right direction. Best of luck!
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with David Offen, Esq., a busy Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyer.