5 ‘must-haves’ to finding a bankruptcy lawyer

Key takeaways

  • When seeking a lawyer to guide you through the bankruptcy process, it is crucial to choose a specialist in bankruptcy law.

  • Opt for a bankruptcy attorney with local expertise, well-versed in both bankruptcy laws and the specific procedures of the local court where your case will be filed.

  • Choose a bankruptcy attorney who provides personalized service, listens to your specific case details and makes you feel comfortable.

  • Avoid ‘bankruptcy mills’ and non-attorney petition preparers and prioritize a lawyer who understands your situation.

If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, your best bet for a successful outcome is to choose a good bankruptcy lawyer. Although it is possible to file for bankruptcy on your own without hiring an attorney, it is not advisable to do so. Obtaining the help of a specialist who is experienced and can offer expertise in both federal and local law is essential, as they will be able to provide you with personalized service for your case and provide the comfort and familiarity needed to get through this challenging process.

1. Look for a specialist

Lawyers practice in multiple areas and your best bet would be to go with someone who specializes in bankruptcy law. Attorneys who dabble in a little of everything are likely not aware of the granular aspects of bankruptcy law or up to speed with the latest legal developments in this area of practice.

Membership in associations such as the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys would be a good sign. The American Bar Association also lists lawyers who meet their standards in different areas of expertise, including bankruptcy. Your state bar might similarly provide references for local specialists.

It’s also worth asking others in your area who have gone through a similar process. This may be challenging, but it is also likely to provide good insight as getting personal insight from others who have gone through this process is often invaluable.

2. Choose an attorney with adequate experience

Ask about an attorney’s level of experience. It’s not necessarily the case that someone with more years of experience is always better equipped than someone with fewer years of experience. What matters is the number of bankruptcy cases they have successfully handled.

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) advises, “There are some attorneys who have practiced bankruptcy law for many years, but have never really mastered the subject. There are other attorneys who have pursued a general practice, filing a case now and then. If they have been practicing for 25 years without much in-depth experience in bankruptcy, that does not translate to the expertise you need.”

There are several ways to look into the track record of a lawyer. One is to ask them directly, as they will often provide you with some background about themselves and their case history. State bar associations typically maintain profiles for attorneys, including their areas of expertise and any disciplinary matters they may have experienced. You can also look up appellate court filings that a lawyer has been involved in and seek the results of those cases.

3. Focus on bankruptcy attorneys with local expertise

Besides being familiar with bankruptcy laws, the attorney should be familiar with the local laws of the court where your bankruptcy case will be filed. Bankruptcy procedures tend to vary from locality to locality. That’s why you should look for a bankruptcy attorney who has practiced in your filing locality. They can use their knowledge of the local court procedures and personnel to your benefit.

To find local lawyers with expertise, check with the state bar. They usually maintain a list of attorneys and their areas of expertise. This is a good starting point for finding attorneys who operate locally and likely have knowledge of the local laws and statutes you will likely have to navigate during a bankruptcy case.

4. Get an attorney with personalized service

There are so-called “bankruptcy mills” that handle large numbers of cases without focusing on the specifics of each client’s case. Avoid attorneys with such an assembly-line approach.

There are also “petition preparers” who are not qualified attorneys and will just fill out the bankruptcy paperwork for you. They cannot offer legal advice or shepherd you through the bankruptcy process. Be wary of hiring them, too.

5. Find an attorney you feel comfortable with

You should go with a bankruptcy attorney that you feel comfortable with. Look for someone who will listen to you and get the specifics of your case to best understand your situation and represent you.

Don’t make a decision based solely on price. Paying a good lawyer their going rate could save you money if they successfully represent you. Someone charging a low rate could be cutting corners, which could lead to a bad outcome in your bankruptcy case.

Ask around for referrals and do online research as well. The NACBA could also serve as a resource. Hopefully, this will help you find a bankruptcy attorney who will meet your needs and lead to a successful outcome for your case.

Ways a bankruptcy attorney can aid your case

Some ways that a bankruptcy attorney could prove worthy of their hiring include:

  • Helping you decide whether to go ahead with a bankruptcy filing in the first place.

  • Advising you on what sort of bankruptcy to opt for (the two main types are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13).

  • Counseling you about what property you might be able to hold on to.

  • Provide input on the tax consequences you will face.

  • Advising you about whether you should continue making payments to creditors.

Bottom line

The bankruptcy process can be a complicated one to navigate. For this reason, hiring an attorney with expertise in bankruptcy law is essential. Use resources like your state bar association and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys to find attorneys in your area who specialize in this field and will be able to confidently guide you through the process.

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