Filing bankruptcy on your own is always an option, but it carries tremendous risk, and finding the right bankruptcy attorney can make a big difference.
Bankruptcy cases are often more complicated than meets the eye – and even a single mistake can be quite costly. And when looking for legal help in a bankruptcy case, you are best off seeking the advice and experience of a specialist rather than a general attorney. But how do you choose the right bankruptcy attorney for the job?
It all begins with finding a group of bankruptcy attorneys in your area and knowing what to look for.
Why Do You Need a Bankruptcy Attorney?
If you want the best pick for the job, you will need to understand what you should be looking for in a legal professional. Bankruptcy cases represent a way out from under-crushing debt and can mean the difference between slaving away to satisfy a due balance or making a new life for yourself.
But with the wrong approach, not enough information, and poor representation, you can land yourself deeper in debt with less to your name than before you even filed, to begin with. Bankruptcy, more than a mark of shame, is an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, provided it’s done right.
Let’s look at the process to understand what might be asked of you or your attorney.
A Primer on Bankruptcy
The process always begins with an appropriate petition by the debtor. This may be an individual, their legal representative or spouse, or other entities, such as a corporation.
Alongside a petition, any debtor asking for bankruptcy must file statements listing their income, assets, liabilities, and to whom they owe what. Once the petition is filed, most of these debts enter a tolling period wherein they cannot be collected, and their statute of limitations is halted.
At this point, the next step is wholly a matter of how the situation at hand unfolds. All creditors mentioned by the debtor are notified, and the debtor is given the option to reorganize their finances to pay off the debtor in rates or liquidate the debtor’s property. When neither is enough to satisfy the debt, it may be discharged.
In a perfect world, all bankruptcies are butter smooth. But there can be disputes and disagreements, especially over amounts and ownership. Some bankruptcy cases lead to litigation between parties.
Regardless of what path your bankruptcy takes, and whether you’re filing as an individual or a business, on behalf of yourself or others, it’s important to walk down this path with a professional who knows what they’re doing.
Finding the Right Bankruptcy Attorney
Personal referrals are always a good place to start. Personal referrals usually take the top of the list because they tend to be referrals for nearby professionals, by people with no incentive to sugarcoat their experiences, willing to give an honest take.
Do you know anyone who has gone through bankruptcy before? Have you asked them about their experiences? Did they have a helpful lawyer throughout the process, answered their questions, handled their case, and led to a fruitful final decision? Then call that attorney first.
If you can’t think of anyone off the top of your head who might be able to make a personal referral, ask friends and family for anyone they might know.
It also helps to look around for cases like yours. Business bankruptcies are quite different from individual bankruptcies, and there are financial considerations at play as well. How much money do you have to spare for your attorney after paying the necessary court fees? Can you afford to pay all their fees upfront, or will you need to consider a repayment plan? How transparent is your acquaintance’s attorney with their costs and fees?
Try Online Directories
In the age of the Internet, every attorney in your area will have some online calling card, be it a Facebook page, an Instagram account, an entry on an online directory, or a website of their own.
Even if they’ve never done anything without pen and paper, you will be able to find them through your local Bar Association or the American Bar Association. Useful online directories include sites like Avvo.
These online directories also tend to let you sort through results based on specialization and experience. Both are important here – while bankruptcy law hasn’t changed on paper in over a decade, only specialists would be fully aware of local and national rulings that might affect or change your situation, provide precedence for your case, or otherwise aid you in becoming debt-free.
Work Through Your Local Results
Google is a great asset. If you can’t find someone suitable through one of the more extensive directories, look for bankruptcy attorneys in your state or county. Chances are they’ll be listed on Google My Business or Google Maps, even without a website of their own.
Their address, telephone number, and opening times will usually also be available online.
Consider Legal Aid & A Bankruptcy Attorney
Even if you’re at the end of your financial rope, you still have options. You can turn to help from your local Bar Association, the American Bankruptcy Institute, local law schools, and other institutes or organizations specializing in bankruptcy and consumer law, legal aid, and pro bono work.
While chapter 7 bankruptcy cases usually require you to pay fees upfront, either in full or in half, chapter 13 bankruptcies can sometimes be done with “no money down.” In these cases, you will be expected to repay the costs of the case over time. Judges also have the power to review fees and order partial or full repayment if they are deemed excessive.
What to Look for in the Right Bankruptcy Attorney
Once you’ve begun your search, it’s time to narrow down your results. Bankruptcy proceedings are best handled by attorneys who:
- Specialize in bankruptcy.
- Have years of experience working in their specialty.
- Offer a payment plan or compensation scheme you are comfortable with.
- Have experience with cases like yours.
- Are open about how your case will be handled and by whom.
Filing bankruptcy on your own is always an option, but it carries tremendous risk. Do not consider this option lightly, even if you don’t have the financial means to pay for legal services. Always consider legal aid and a bankruptcy attorney first.