If you have decided to hire a lawyer to help you file for bankruptcy, it’s important to choose the right attorney. In general, the attorney you hire should have the necessary knowledge to handle your case, communicate with you in a timely manner, and charge a reasonable fee. Read on to learn more about what to look for in a bankruptcy attorney.
Has Experience With Bankruptcy Law
Most areas of the law (including bankruptcy) have complicated substantive and procedural rules attorneys must follow to represent their clients effectively. For this reason, many attorneys specialize in only a few areas of the law.
If you hire an attorney who is not familiar with bankruptcy law, you might end up:
- having your bankruptcy dismissed
- attending more hearings unnecessarily, or
- losing your property.
When looking for a lawyer, choose an attorney who specializes in or practices bankruptcy law on a regular basis. If you have previously retained an attorney for other reasons (such as estate planning or divorce), resist the temptation to hire the same person to handle your bankruptcy unless he or she also practices bankruptcy law. But it may be a good idea to ask your prior attorney whether he or she knows and can recommend a good bankruptcy lawyer.
Knows the Local Rules and Trustees
Each bankruptcy court has its own local forms, rules, and procedures you must follow to complete your case successfully. Also, when you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court will appoint a local bankruptcy trustee to administer your case. In most cases, the trustee will have additional requirements you must satisfy. This means that if you want your case to go smoothly, it’s important to hire a bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with all of the local rules and trustees in your area.
Has the Necessary Expertise to Handle Your Case
In general, how difficult your bankruptcy will be depends on your individual circumstances. For example, if you are a low-income debtor filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your case will typically be much simpler than someone who wants to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to eliminate a second mortgage from his or her house. (For more information on how to avoid junior liens in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, see How to Strip a Second Mortgage or HELOC in Chapter 13.)
Your attorney should have the necessary skill and expertise to effectively handle the type of bankruptcy you have. If you have a complicated bankruptcy case, make sure that the attorney you hire has handled similar cases before and can represent you effectively.
Lack of communication is usually one of the primary reasons clients become dissatisfied with their attorneys. While attorneys are busy individuals, there is no excuse for failing to answer your questions or return your calls in a timely manner.
When you consult with different attorneys, pay attention to how quickly they return your calls or respond to your inquiries. If the attorney is not communicating with you in a timely and effective manner, it may not be a good idea to hire that person.
Charges a Reasonable Fee
Before you hire an attorney, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare the fees that attorneys charge in your area. In most cases, a bankruptcy attorney’s fees will depend on:
- how complicated your case is, and
- whether you are filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
While cost is an important factor, it should not be the only thing you consider when hiring an attorney. In general, you should choose an attorney you are comfortable working with who charges a reasonable fee for the type of service he or she is providing. If an attorney’s fees are significantly more or less than other lawyers in your area, it might indicate a red flag.