Finding the Best Bankruptcy Lawyer
Choosing a lawyer can be a very personal decision. Finding the best bankruptcy lawyer for you means not only finding a lawyer with the necessary experience and education, but also finding one who understands you as a person and can help you achieve your specific goals.
The best bankruptcy lawyer for you, may not be the best bankruptcy lawyer for everyone. Bankruptcy is a financial process; but it is personal for most people. Even though many people struggle with debts every day, not everyone can immediately accept bankruptcy as a valid choice. We remind our clients that bankruptcy is a legal and a financial decision, it is not a moral or ethical one. Since it is personal, you need to find the right fit for your situation and your case. To start, there are a few things everyone needs to look for in a bankruptcy attorney; this list includes:
You want an attorney who has been practicing bankruptcy for many years. Bankruptcy is not a practice area an attorney can just start practicing one day. It has very specific rules and procedures that only apply in bankruptcy court.
There are also many nuances between bankruptcy cases. It is not just filling out forms, but also understanding the process, knowing what can cause issues in a case, knowing what questions to ask, and much more. Experience can also be the difference in qualifying for a Chapter 7 vs a Chapter 13. Many high-income earners worry they cannot qualify for a Chapter 7; but there are various ways to qualify for a Chapter 7 and is very fact specific. Sometimes there are expenses that can be used that you need to know to ask about and other times there are ways to avoid the strict Means Test that people worry about passing.
Experience also helps lawyers determine what information is relevant and not. Additionally, a savvy attorney will also understand what situations can cause potential problems in a bankruptcy case vs. what information only requires a disclosure. For example, the Statement of Financial Affairs ask about insurance claims during the last year. If you had a fender bender and your car insurance paid to repair your case, it needs to be disclosed, but it may not be an issue that complicated a case. On the other hand, an insurance claim for substantial damage to your home that has not yet been repaired may be a potential issue.
2. Regularly Handling Bankruptcy Cases
Bankruptcy laws change. Every jurisdictions hand cases differently. A good bankruptcy attorney practices in the jurisdiction regularly. Here in the DC metro area, many attorneys are licensed in Virginia, Maryland and DC. This means lawyers can handle cases in many jurisdictions. But, just because an attorney is licensed in one location, it does not mean he/she regularly practices there. For example, if you need to file bankruptcy in Virginia, make sure your attorney regularly is in the Virginia bankruptcy court and not just an attorney who regularly practices in Maryland but also has a Virginia license.
You want an attorney who regularly handles cases in front of the local bankruptcy judges and bankruptcy trustees. While bankruptcy is a federal process, there are many local rules and customs. Certain judges expect certain things, and each trustee can be different in what the request or review. Only someone who handles cases regularly with all those parties.
3. Personal Touch
You want to find an attorney who will handle your case and know your details. You do not want to just be a number at the law firm or dealing solely with the firm’s legal assistant or paralegal. A client should feel heard; he or she should be confident that the attorney knows the details of your case and can understand what needs to be done.
Finding an attorney that knows your case and remembers your case is important. You do not want to only meet your lawyer for the first time at your §341 Meeting of Creditors or court appearance. Finding the attorney that feels like the right fit is very important. Sometimes people just do not connect; there is nothing wrong with that but a fact of life.
After reviewing potential attorneys for the above three items, you then need to find the right fit. There is usually a handful of attorneys in your area that will have the above qualities. From there, you need to figure out who fits your situation. Are you someone who needs a lawyer who communicates via email or one that you can meet with in person? Do you need one with late hours or early morning appointments? Or do you need one who speaks a different language? Maybe you need a lawyer you just feel like actually understands you as a person. All of those concerns can be factors in determining what lawyer is the best lawyer for you. Our office tells everyone that you need to be comfortable with your bankruptcy lawyer; bankruptcy is a very personal process and if you are not comfortable with the attorney, you will not open and tell them everything, and there could be issues in your case.
Consultations are Important
Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations. Many clients will talk to two to three attorneys before making the decision on who to hire. Our office is happy to recommend other attorneys to speak to; we want you to find the right fit and have quality information. Additionally, some attorneys have more experience dealing with businesses and others have more experience deal with tax issues. Everyone’s debt situation is different; there is rarely a one size fits all solution. An attorney should be able to customize the approach to handle your situation.
The Best Bankruptcy Lawyer is Who You Will Trust
You need to make sure you have an advocate in your corner; someone who is there to help you achieve the right outcome. The best bankruptcy lawyer for your friend may not be the right fit for you. Bankruptcy can feel like you are revealing a lot of very personal information. There are questions about finances, reviewing bank statements, disclosing debts, etc. If you feel you have to be guarded with the attorney or that the lawyer you are talking to is judging you, there is not going to be a strong relationship. Alternatively, the most successful attorney-client relationships occur when clients can freely provide information to the lawyer and comfortably discuss any issues or concerns.
Cost vs. Value
Cost is often a concern for many in bankruptcy. While it is understandable that someone struggling with debts will be concerned about the price you will pay for a case, it should not be the only factor. Saving $500.00 for going with one lawyer may seem great up front, but if using that cheaper lawyer means you lose your tax refund or cannot qualify for a Chapter 7, how much did it really cost you?
Additionally, the price of many cases will depend on what needs to be done. For example, Chapter 7 is usually cheaper than Chapter 13 since Chapter 7 usually lasts three to four months while Chapter 13 lasts three to five years. Conversely, a case where a person makes under the state median income for their household size is usually cheaper than a case where the person makes over the state median income for their household size and requires the full Means Test.
Attorney Ashley Morgan helps hundreds of people every year with their debt issues. She understands that having an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help ensure your case goes smoothly and can help protect as many assets as possible. Ashley also wants to make sure her clients are as comfortable as possible. Ashley F. Morgan Law, PC offers free consultations for bankruptcy issues and can recommend other local attorneys when necessary.