Seeing a lawyer for a bankruptcy problem is much like seeing a dentist. You try to ignore the pain as long as you can before you make an appointment. When you finally do, you wonder why you waited so long and went through months or years of unnecessary discomfort.
As an attorney who sees clients in Miami-Dade, Broward/Fort Lauderdale and from Key Largo to Key West, I often advise a new client that the most difficult decision they have had to make concerning their financial problem is whether to call my office. From then on, we deal with solutions, not problems.
How then, should you choose a bankruptcy lawyer?
Do not go to a bankruptcy ‘mill’
You might think that going to a high volume bankruptcy attorney/firm is your best choice. Most often it is not. High volume bankruptcy practices have a tendency to offer ‘cookie cutter’ solutions: they will often fit you into their high volume mold rather than dealing with your individual problem.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy may not be your best solution; Chapter 13 may be better for you if you are trying to save assets. You may not need bankruptcy right now, or at all. For example, if the reason you are considering bankruptcy is because you have been sued in foreclosure, an aggressive foreclosure defense may be your best immediate solution. Fighting a foreclosure can give you several years in your home without making any mortgage payments. That may give you time to improve your financial position and get a loan modification (and possibly loan reduction) in the future. Does the lawyer/firm that you are considering do foreclosure defense?
Look for an attorney or firm that has experience not only in bankruptcy, but also in loan modification, short sales, foreclosure defense and workouts; these may be the better approach alone or in combination. You need a lawyer who can offer global solutions, not just a bankruptcy filing.
The truth about legal fees
Without question, fees are a factor in choosing a lawyer. However, the fee difference between the ‘low-cost’ bankruptcy and a bankruptcy handled by an experienced lawyer is usually minimal.
Often, bargain basement bankruptcies are not handled by lawyers at all; rather, a ‘paralegal’ will prepare your petition and simply give you directions to the Federal Courthouse. This is a sure formula for disaster. I have seen chaos and catastrophe at 341 Meetings (the first and usually only hearing in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case) when not enough time has been spent on a preparing a bankruptcy petition completely and properly.
The fact is that ‘low-cost’ is often synonymous with ‘sloppy’; an attorney’s time is his/her stock in trade. You cannot expect an attorney to give your case the time it needs if fees are unreasonably and artificially low.
Most bankruptcy firms will agree to fee payments over an extended period to ease the financial burden of the bankruptcy.
Do not rely on advertising alone
Find out how long the attorney/firm that you are considering has been in practice. Ask whether the attorney/firm handles loan modifications, foreclosure defense and short sales, and if so, for how long.
Visit the attorney/firm’s website to see if it offers information and advice that is helpful and is not simply a solicitation for business. Make sure that the initial consultation is free and without obligation; see if the attorney/firm will address your initial question on the phone or whether you are immediately transferred to a secretary or paralegal.
Following these steps will help you find the right fit with the right attorney/firm and will result in real and practical solutions to your financial problems.