It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you are not prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared can end up costing you money, because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your bankruptcy matter.
The lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted, and a little about your personal and business background. A lawyer will clearly want to understand your relationship to your business and be comfortable that you have the authority to speak on behalf of the organization. Therefore, you need to write down all this information in a logical matter and have it available for the lawyer.
If you're going into bankruptcy, it will be necessary to file detailed schedules of assets and debts with the bankruptcy court. Your lawyer may ask you to try to fill out the schedules before your meeting. Sometimes, a lawyer will also try to make a first meeting more productive by sending you a questionnaire to fill out. If this happens, be sure to fill it out and send it in to the lawyer's office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.
Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer is going to want to know about possible conflicts of interest. If you're filing bankruptcy, bring a list of all your creditors. If the lawyer or the lawyer's firm represents anyone on "the other side of the fence," he or she will have a conflict and will usually not be able to represent you.
A disclosure of all your financial affairs is extremely important in a bankruptcy setting. Tell your lawyer everything. If you fail to do so, you could be accused of bankruptcy fraud, which could prevent you from getting your debts discharged. In the worst case scenario, failing to disclose information to the court could be a crime.
Written documentation of your debts and liabilities is especially important in a bankruptcy setting. Even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it's still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting:
- It's absolutely essential that you bring the originals and a copy of any and all loan or financing documents that you have in your possession, including a loan agreement, title policies, insurance policies, a promissory note, a security agreement, guaranties, "UCC" filings, deeds of trust, mortgages, and notices of default.
- Bring any information you have to show payments that were made (bank statements, canceled checks, money order receipts)
- If you're involved in a foreclosure proceeding, bring a copy of all foreclosure documents that you've received.
- Bring the originals and a copy of all correspondence that you may have sent to or received from creditors.
- Dates can be critical. Get a calendar and mark down dates of when things happened and when you received any notices or other documents. Bring the calendar to your meeting to use as a reference.
- If anybody guaranteed a loan or a lease for you, the lawyer will want to know who the guarantor is. You should have this information available, as well as a copy of any guaranty documentation.
- Your lawyer will want to know who you talked with, including the names of any representatives at financial institutions. You should have addresses and telephone numbers available.
Questions To Ask Your Potential Lawyer
Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Some questions you might ask a bankruptcy lawyer would include:
- Should you file bankruptcy?
- What might your other options be?
- How many bankruptcy cases has he or she handled?
- What percentage of his or her practice is in the area of expertise that you need?
- Does the lawyer usually represent debtors or creditors?
- What problems does the lawyer foresee with your case?
- How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process?
- How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
- How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
- Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer or support staff in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, could you meet them?
You'll want to ask how the lawyer would charge for his or her services:
- What is the lawyer's hourly rate?
- What would the estimated fees be for your matter?
- Would the lawyer consider doing the work for a flat fee?
- Would a contingency fee be possible (for creditor's work)?
- Does the lawyer advance out of pocket costs?
- Would there be a retainer payable up front?
- Would any unused portion be refundable?
Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before decide on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer who you retain so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.