How Do I Pick a Good Bankruptcy Attorney?
by: Kristy Hernandez
The search for a good bankruptcy attorney can difficult because there are so many price ranges, personalities, and goals to consider. However some criteria stand out when interviewing different attorneys for the job. Here are some factors to consider.
1.Interview attorneys who offer Free Consultations only.
Almost all reputable bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations. This is because good bankruptcy attorneys understand your financial constraints when you are looking for bankruptcy relief. Also, offices that handle a large volume of bankruptcy cases receive numerous referrals and do not have a shortage of clients. Their good reputation and consistent client base make is so that the attorney can afford to give free consultations. If an attorney is paying for staff and the office expenses based on taking consultation fees, they are likely not taking enough actual cases to pay for their office upkeep. Unless you are looking to hire a specialist or have a complex situation that would require an exceptionally long or difficult consultation, your initial conference to meet with an attorney should be free.
2.Only Interview Attorneys with a Clean Bar Record.
Before you call an attorney for an initial consultation appointment, you should look that lawyer up on the state bar website. Here in California, the state bar website is www.calbar.gov. Once you are on the bar website, click on “attorney search” and type in the name of the attorney you are considering hiring. If the attorney has a common name, you may have to identify that lawyer based on the city they practice in. Once you have found the attorney you are looking for, you will be able to review their history of practicing law and any records of complaints made against them to the bar. It is relatively rare that good attorneys have much of a record with the bar. They bar history for most attorneys includes how long they have been in practice, any areas of specialty, their office address, contact numbers, and where they attended law school. If the attorney history indicates a complaint against the attorney or past action by the bar against that lawyer this should raise some red flags. Feel free to read through the complaints, the attorney response, and the outcome of the complaint. Use the information you gather from the bar website to make an educated decision on whether this attorney is still someone you want to interview for the job. If you do choose to meet with the attorney, be sure to ask them about the complaint you saw against them.
3.Make Sure Your Bankruptcy Attorney Has Experience.
With the current economic decline, many lawyers are now seeking bankruptcy practice as a booming area of law and attempting to take cases in this field. When you file for bankruptcy, you are putting all of your assets –everything you own- in the hands of the court. Good bankruptcy attorneys know how to protect your assets and can provide you with advice on how to keep all of your assets while simply having your debts wiped out. You do not necessarily want everything that you own in the hands of a novice. When you are considering bankruptcy relief, it is important to have an attorney that has dealt with assets similar to yours before. An active bankruptcy attorney should have filed hundreds of cases in the past. Make sure to ask the attorneys you interview how long they have been practicing bankruptcy law, how many total cases they have taken, how many cases they file each month, and their success rate in getting client debts discharged. If you are interested in knowing the bankruptcy case volume for an attorney before you interview them, you can find out this information at your local bankruptcy court. Each bankruptcy court has public court clerk office, and most clerks’ offices will have a computer available to the public where you can review all cases filed with the court for free. The PACER search engine used nationally by the federal courts allows you to search by attorney name and view all cases filed by an attorney in your local are. If you request help, a clerk will likely assist you in using the search engine (and may kindly give you feedback on the attorney in question because they see all the cases submitted to the court.) The important thing to bear in mind when looking at attorney experience is that you are paying for a professional to do a competent job in representing your case to the court. You are not paying for someone to learn how to do their job on your dime.
4.Make Sure Your Written Price Quote is Reasonable and Appropriate.
All bankruptcy attorneys are required to provide their clients with written fee agreements so there should never be any questions as to the cost of legal fees in a bankruptcy case. The price of a case will always depend on complexity. For example, clients expect to pay higher bankruptcy fees then clients receiving W-2 salaries. This is because business cases require much more reporting to the court and usually the attorney must assemble not only the client’s financial info, but all the financial history of the business as well. The average price range for chapter 7 cases in Northern California is roughly $1500-2500. Chapter 13 cases for clients that have W-2 salaried jobs should expect to pay approximately $3500, and business owners should expect fees of around $5000 for their case. Many attorneys will offer fees lower than the averages mentioned here. Understandably, bankruptcy clients are often searching for a low price, but please consider these exceptionally low prices to be a red flag. Bankruptcies are normally based on the cost of running an active and productive law firm.