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Finding a Bankruptcy Lawyer

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If you have fallen behind on your home, car or other payments, are being harassed by collection agencies or are otherwise overwhelmed by debt, it may be time to enlist the services of a bankruptcy attorney to help you resolve your financial difficulties.

Bankruptcy laws and procedures are not simple, and bankruptcy itself may not be the best option to fix your particular financial problems. Having a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side will help get you on the right road to financial recovery.

What Does A Bankruptcy Lawyer Do?

Before you begin your search, it is helpful to understand some of the key responsibilities of a bankruptcy attorney.


Checklist for Your Consultation

The following is a list of information that would be helpful to bring with you when consulting with a bankruptcy attorney:

  • Bills, letters or other correspondence from collection agencies
  • Legal matters (pleadings, lawsuits or other court documents) in which you are involved
  • Deed of any real estate you are purchasing or already have partial or full ownership in
  • Title, appraisal or other documents showing the value of any assets you own or are purchasing (car, home, jewelry, boat, etc.)
  • Recent paystubs for you and your spouse
  • Life insurance policies on any member of the family and the cash surrender value, if any, of such policies
  • Income tax returns for at least the prior two years

Determine whether to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy has many advantages, such as protection from creditors and the release of debts, and disadvantages, including the possibility of losing property and damaging your credit. Debtors who have a lot of secured debt and/or debt that cannot be released through bankruptcy (child support, student loans, etc.) may find little relief in the bankruptcy court. A critical part of a bankruptcy attorney's job is to evaluate your facts and circumstances to determine whether you should file for bankruptcy or pursue bankruptcy alternatives (see sidebar) and what form of bankruptcy will best protect your rights and interests.

Eliminate the stress of creditors and court. After you hire an attorney you can refer all creditors' calls to your attorney. After the case is filed they are prohibited by law from contacting you. Your attorney will accompany you to the creditor's meeting (usually you are required to attend the first meeting) and represent your interests in court. Generally, you don't even need to attend court proceedings yourself if you have a bankruptcy attorney representing you.

Navigate the Laws. The ultimate goal of bankruptcy is to protect your assets and get a discharge of debts to the extent allowable under the law. Inaccurate paperwork, missed deadlines and other mistakes could lead to a dismissal of your case or even a criminal prosecution for fraud. The laws are complicated but an attorney will make sure your rights and interests are protected every step of the way.

How Do I Interview Bankruptcy Attorneys?

Bankruptcy Alternatives

Bankruptcy may not be the right solution or even a legal option for every person or business overburdened with debt. Bankruptcy alternatives may be particularly well-suited for:

  • Debtors with many secured debts or non-dischargeable debts (debts that cannot be released in bankruptcy)
  • Debtors who have recently had a petition dismissed or received a bankruptcy discharge
  • Debtors who have important property that cannot be saved in bankruptcy
  • Debtors with personal considerations such as the effects on his/her spouse

Debtors with debts that are in dispute (particularly where the debtor has a strong defense against the claim) may be better off litigating or settling out of court. Other debtors may be able to work out an informal agreement with creditors to repay agreed upon debts or a more formal arrangement such as a debt consolidation loan.

Bankruptcy consultations are frequently provided free of charge and there is no obligation to hire an attorney after the consultation. The main factors to take into consideration include fees, qualifications and personality.

Fees. Some bankruptcy attorneys will propose a flat fee (ask about a flexible payment plan) based on facts and circumstances of your case. To avoid surprises it is important to know what services (e.g., outside experts, trustee disputes) are and are not included in the fee.

Experience. Hiring an experienced bankruptcy attorney will help ensure you get the best result under the law. Some of the questions you may wish to ask include:

  • How many years have you been practicing?
  • Do you have any certifications (such as from the American Bankruptcy Institute)?
  • How many bankruptcy cases have you handled?
  • What types of cases have you handled?
  • What were the outcomes of these cases?

A qualified attorney should be comfortable answering questions about their education, experience, or other information that speaks to their bankruptcy practice.

Representation. Bankruptcy cases can take varying amounts of time. Depending on your case, you could be working with your bankruptcy attorney for as little as a few months or for five years or even longer. You should hire an attorney with whom you feel comfortable and confident discussing your personal financial situation. It is important to ask how involved the attorney will be, how accessible he/she will be to you and who else might be working on your case (e.g., other lawyers, paralegals, etc.). You also want to make sure you understand what will be expected of you as a client.

Hiring A Bankruptcy Attorney

The decision to file for bankruptcy is huge. A bankruptcy case is a matter of public record and can affect your ability to find work, get insurance or even find a place to live. It is incredibly important to hire a bankruptcy attorney whom you believe is well-suited to your personality and your case.

Did You Know?

Business and consumer bankruptcy filings are rising at an extraordinary rate — more than 1.4 million petitions were filed in 2009 alone, a 32 percent increase over 2008.
Source: Administrative Office of the U.S. Court