If you are contemplating the filing of a bankruptcy, then your have obviously experienced some trying financial times. The overwhelming percentage of people that file bankruptcy file because they have experienced some type of event that has tipped that delicate scale between your income and your expenses. There has usually been a loss of income from a lost job, decrease in salary or hours, an injury that is keeping you out of work or a divorce or separation; or there has been a large increase in your expenses from a medical condition or some type of catastrophic event. Whatever the reason may be, it is enough to cause you to not be able to meet your monthly bills on time.
Most people and most of my clients have struggled to try to keep up by borrowing money from retirement accounts or from relatives before even considering the filing of a bankruptcy. However, you are now tired of the constant phone calls, the sleepless nights, the fact that your creditors won’t do anything to try to help you, and really just the constant battle to try to keep up. In other words, you have tired everything and you have certainly not come to the decision to file a bankruptcy easily. So WHY would you just choose the cheapest or first bankruptcy attorney you come across!
The decision you make is going to help shape your financial future. It could be the difference between fixing your finances and truly achieving your fresh start and your financial problems continuing. You need to choose your attorney wisely, this is one of the most important decisions that you will make for you and your family!
It is clear that the economy in this country has been in decline for the past few years. The bad economy has not spared any industry, including the legal profession. Thus, what has happened is that many attorneys whose normal practice consisted of real estate or land use law, having seen their businesses decline, have now turned to bankruptcy law. These attorneys are advertising bankruptcy’s for extremely low fees. This may seem great that you can save several hundred dollars by hiring one of these novice bankruptcy attorneys, however be careful becasue with the low fee also comes a complete lack of experience and knowledge. I can’t tell you how many phone calls myself and my similarly experienced colleagues take from people, that have hired one of these attorneys, asking us to take over their cases because they are not happy with their attorney or he has screwed up their case. In many cases, the case can’t be salvaged, the damage has been done and all this person is left with is a potential malpractice claim against that attorney. This is your financial future we are talking about, you are looking to ease your stress not add to it, so why would you entrust your future to someone whose only dabbling in bankruptcy law to try to make a few bucks until the real estate market turns back around?
Similarly, I’ve had people call me and ask me questions about their ongoing case becasue their attorney won’t return their calls. Unfortunatley, I have to decline to answer their questions because they are represented by counsel, but again why would you want to entrust your future on an attorney who wont’ talk to you once your case is filed and he is paid. You need to seek out an attorney that you are comfortable with, that you know will work on your case and that will provide you the guidance and expertise you need to get the most out of your bankruptcy filing, so that you are in a better place after you file your case then you were in before. You need to have someone on your side that can answer you questions and that doesn’t mind answering your questions.
So before you go to your consult, do some research, write down your questions and ask those questions to the attorney at the meeting. Then ask yourself after the meeting, was this attorney able to answer my questions satisfactorilly, did he have a good grasp of the information, did he explain the process to me in terms that I could understand, did he give me information about bankruptcy that I was unaware of, do I feel confident that this person can do the job for me, do I feel comfortable with him, is he able to explain my options clearly with regard to a Chapter 7 and a Chapter 13, can he explain my non-bankruptcy options? If your answer is no to any of these questions, you may want to look elsewhere for an attorney.
As for the retainer, realize that the lowest priced attorney is likely not your best option. Most likely the lowest priced attorney has little or no experience in the bankruptcy law area and you are getting a break on fees becasue you are one of his guinea pigs. Is that what you want to be when you financial future rests on this decision? As an analogy, would you let a brand new doctor just out of school perform surgery on you just because he is significantly cheaper than the experienced surgeon. Of course you wouldn’t, you would make the decsion that is best for your short term and long term health. You need to consider the same factors when choosing your bankruptcy attorney as that decision will shape your future financial health.