Good news. It's a buyer's market when it comes to hiring a bankruptcy lawyer for either a
Chapter 7 or
Chapter 13 bankruptcy. There are a lot of us out there. With the increase in competition for clients, fees are relatively low. Still, you want to hire someone based on more than the fee you are quoted. Obviously, you should consider a lawyer's experience. However, there are other factors you should consider before hiring a bankruptcy attorney. You should keep the following items in mind:
ell your lawyer everything. One of the worst things you can do is not disclose everything about your financial situation to your lawyer. Bankruptcy is about full disclosure. This means you must list all of your debts and assets on your bankruptcy petition. Some people think that if they leave something off of their paperwork then it is not a part of their bankruptcy. Wrong. Once your bankruptcy is filed, an estate is automatically created and all of your assets and liabilities become part of this estate. In order to give you the proper advice, your lawyer must know every detail of you current financial situation and your financial history. This will ensure that your bankruptcy will proceed smoothly. So you should consider hiring someone with who you will feel comfortable disclosing every aspect of financial situation.
Who are you hiring? Hiring a lawyer should be no different than deciding on a doctor. At your initial consultation, will you be meeting with a lawyer or a member if the lawyer's staff? Will you have one attorney representing your throughout the process or several? Will you speak to a lawyer when you call the office or a secretary? Also consider the fee you are quoted. If the fee is unusually low or at the bottom of the range in your area, beware. I do not believe that any case is "routine". You will probably have goals, concerns, or questions that do not fit into any general category. Make sure the lawyer you hire is sensitive to this and understands that you are not just trying to get out of debt, but are looking to the future as well.
Do not hire a lawyer just because he tells you what you want to hear. When first meeting with a potential client, I can usually tell when they have talked with other lawyers. That's fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with talking to several lawyers before making a choice as to who to hire. However, when you have been told "X" by one attorney, but you want someone to tell you "Y", then that will cause serious problems. I am not talking about getting a different opinion; definitely do that if you feel it is warranted. I'm talking about shopping for an attorney who will tell you what you want to hear. Trust me, this will lead to disaster. This also speaks volumes to the attorney's experience. Most "problems" that we see have solutions. Hire the attorney who knows the law, took the time to candidly analyze your situation, and map a clear course to get you out of debt.
Get an attorney's opinion for bankruptcy questions you have; don't necessarily believe what you might hear from anyone else. "Where did you go to law school and how long have you been practicing law?" That's what I suggest people ask their friends, relatives, or anyone else (who is not a bankruptcy attorney) who offers bankruptcy advice. I have heard it all from non-attorneys, and most of it is not just inaccurate, it's wrong. Even if you know someone who has filed a bankruptcy, chances are their situation was not the same as yours. The bankruptcy process is not "one size fits all". Each person's circumstances are different. An attorney is clearly the best person suited to analyze your financial issues and suggest a plan to get you out of debt.
In my opinion, the toughest part about filing for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is picking up the phone for the first time and contacting a lawyer. I hope these suggestions will make hiring a bankruptcy attorney an easy first step on the road to financial freedom.