Retaining the services of bankruptcy attorneys is not required by law. However, filing bankruptcy is no easy feat and generally requires some level of legal assistance. Bankruptcy attorneys specialize in helping individuals and businesses obtain debt relief through the various bankruptcy chapters.
Most bankruptcy attorneys specialize in either personal or corporate bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy chapters include 7 and 13. Chapters 9 and 11 are generally reserved for corporations and partnerships; however, individuals with extensive debts can file Chapter 11. Chapter 12 bankruptcy is reserved for farmers.
It is a good idea to consult with at least three bankruptcy attorneys before making a final decision. Keep in mind you will be spending a considerable amount of time with your lawyer and their staff.
Oftentimes, paralegals are assigned to your case and will conduct the majority of work. This helps keep legal fees affordable since paralegals are compensated at a lower hourly rate than attorneys. Therefore, request the presence of the paralegal and other staff members at your initial meeting.
One of the best sources for locating bankruptcy attorneys is other lawyers. The majority of attorneys network with colleagues and are familiar with their skills and areas of expertise. If you retain the services of an attorney for other legal matters, ask for a referral.
If you have friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers who have filed bankruptcy, ask them for a referral. This can be a touchy subject, so it is best to ask the person in private. It’s not a good idea to yell across cubicles to ask Sally how she liked her bankruptcy lawyer. It’s also not a good idea to ask someone for a referral unless they have personally told you they filed bankruptcy.
If you prefer to seek out bankruptcy attorneys on your own, visit the American Bar Association website at www.abanet.org. ABA provides a list of nationwide bankruptcy lawyers. Although most ABA chapters do not offer referrals, they can provide a list of names and contact information.
Once you have compiled a list of bankruptcy attorneys, contact each to arrange an initial consultation. Be certain to ask if the law firm provides complimentary consultations or if there will be a fee. Additionally, ask what documents they will require and request three to four customer referrals.
Most bankruptcy attorneys will require financial information including income, expenses, current tax return, real estate and financial portfolios, and a list of assets such as automobiles, jewelry and household furnishings.
By reviewing your finances, lawyers can advise which bankruptcy chapter you are qualified to file. Chapter 7 requires liquidation of assets to repay creditors, while Chapter 13 requires repayment of debts over a specified period of time.
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) enacted in 2005, has made filing bankruptcy exceptionally challenging. One provision requires debtors to repay a portion of their debts whenever possible. Every person who files for bankruptcy protection must undergo the ‘means’ test to determine how much of their debts they will be required to pay.
Additionally, BAPCPA requires debtors to undergo credit counseling through an agency approved by the U.S. Trustee Program. A reputable attorney will explain the rules of BAPCPA, the pros and cons of each bankruptcy chapter and advise you of all options available.
Last, but not least, it is best to work with bankruptcy attorneys who put you at ease and thoroughly answer your questions. Undergoing the bankruptcy process can be quite stressful. The last thing you want to do is work with an attorney who is harsh, impatient or makes you uncomfortable.