What questions should you ask a bankruptcy lawyer at your first consultation?

When you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy it’s critical that you hire an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to help you through the process. Most Utah lawyers offer free initial consultations in personal bankruptcy cases. This is good for the consumer since it will give you an opportunity to meet with different lawyers to determine who you would feel most comfortable working with. I always recommend that you meet with the lawyer not a paralegal, sales person or an assistant. Remember this is the first step in rebuilding your financial future so start it off right. Here are the top questions I think you should be prepared to ask (and they should be prepared to answer) during your initial consultation:

1. Should I file for bankruptcy?
This question most likely will provide you with a lot of answers. The lawyer should explain that there are five different types of bankruptcy. Most people will usually qualify for at least Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The lawyer should offer recommendations and options to you based on your individual situation.

2. What are the benefits of filing for bankruptcy?
The answer to this question is not a one-liner and should include specifics. The lawyer should give you a clear understanding of the benefits and how they would vary depending on the type of bankruptcy that you file. Most lawyers should also tell you the negative parts of bankruptcy.

3. Who will go with me to court?
Going to court maybe one the most nerve-wracking part of the process for a bankruptcy filer if you do not have an advocate you can trust. During this time, you will want the lawyer that has been handling your case at your side, not some paralegal, so ask the question up front. There may be a chance that a different lawyer from the same firm could go to court with you the day of, but you’ll want to be reassured that he/she has been briefed on your case and will serve as a strong representation of your primary lawyer. Your lawyer should inform you of this in advance.

4. What is the best (not easiest) way to a hold of you?
Some lawyers may be easily accessible by phone and others by email. During the bankruptcy process, the last thing you want is to have an attorney that you can’t reach or won’t return phone calls or emails quickly. If you feel more comfortable being able to speak with your lawyer by phone and he/she typically only corresponds by email, it may not be the best fit. Set the stage for the kind of communication you’ll come to expect.

5. What are the negative effects of me filing for bankruptcy?
Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free and clear of all debts. Some debts for example may not go away due to the bankruptcy filing. The lawyer should inform you of all of the consequences that may result from a bankruptcy filing versus what the effects would be of not filing at all.

6. How much of your practice is devoted to bankruptcy cases?
When you walk into a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, you assume that their primary practice is devoted to bankruptcy. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes, lawyers who practice bankruptcy law may also practice personal injury or divorce law. Ideally, you’d want to work with a lawyer who devotes at least 50% of their practice to bankruptcy law and has been practicing for a minimum of 5 years.

7. How much is the lawyer’s fee?
The average cost to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is the most common case, is about $1,100 to $1,500, according to recent research by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Fees can vary from one lawyer to another, but should cover both the federal filing fee and the lawyer’s fees and the lawyer should specify exactly how much each one is in writing.

8. Will you use a written fee agreement?
The answer to this question should be a resounding YES. It’s important for you and your lawyer to have a formal agreement stating what you will pay and what services are and are not covered. An oral agreement just doesn’t cover it – make sure you know what you are buying.

9. What is included in the lawyer’s fee?
This should include everything from filing to completing your case. In rare instances, unforeseen costs may come up, but the lawyer should discuss all of this with you in detail and tell you what those cost extra costs may be in their fee agreement.

10. What information do I need to get you to get started?
I think the more information they ask you to provide, the better. To avoid having your bankruptcy case dismissed, at the very minimum you’ll want to have all of your financials and paperwork in order. Your lawyer should provide you with a detailed checklist of the information required for your case to be successful.

Remember this is you financial future. Never be afraid to ask tough questions and even ask for referrals from previous clients. You want to be totally comfortable with the person and firm you are going to hire, so if the person you speak with doesn’t give you confidence, go visit with someone else – as I’m sure you know there are a lot of lawyers out there, finding your lawyer might take some effort. Bottom line experience counts.