All exaggerations aside, bankruptcy is one of the most complicated areas of law. There are dozens of federal and state laws to deal with and stacks of forms to fill out and file with the court. If it's not done properly, your case could be thrown out of court, or you could lose some belongings that you should have been able to keep.
Getting help from an attorney can make all the difference. But do you find one? Here are some things to help you find the right bankruptcy lawyer for you.
Find One, or Two or Three Names
The first step is two find some names of a few attorneys. In the beginning it's always a good idea to talk to more than one attorney. This way you can comparison shop to find one that you like and trust. Here's where to look:
- Lawyers.com is a great place to start. A few short clicks will get you a list of bankruptcy lawyers in your area complete with telephone numbers, background information and more
- Contact the local bar association in your area
- The American Bar Association has tools and information to help you find an attorney, as does the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI)
- Talk your family, friends, and coworkers. Someone you know may have hired a bankruptcy attorney and can tell what he liked or disliked about the attorney
- Check your local telephone book for bankruptcy lawyers
- If you don't think you can afford an attorney, there may be a program in your area that offers free or low-cost legal help with bankruptcies
Research and Compare
Once you have the names of a few attorneys, it's time to find out as much as you can about them. Here's where to look and some things to look for:
- If you used Lawyers.com, you already have a lot information at your fingertips. Read the information given by the attorneys explaining what they do for a living, and visit the attorney's web site to learn even more
- Run internet searches on the attorneys' names. You may find news articles about them, legal cases they've handled, or legal articles or blogs they've written. This type of information can tell you a lot about the attorneys' experience and reputations
- Make some phone calls if you can't find enough information online. Most attorneys gladly take the time to talk to potential new clients and answer any general questions, like how long they've been practicing law, how many bankruptcy cases they've handled, etc. Ask to be mailed any brochures or literature that explain the attorneys' work experience
- Check with your state's bar association and your local bar association to see if the attorneys on your list have ever been disciplined and if they're licensed to practice law in your state. If you discover a problem, scratch the names from your list, or feel free to ask the attorneys themselves about it if and when you meet with them
- In some states, attorneys may be certified by the state bar association as specialists or experts in bankruptcy law. This usually means they have advanced training and experience. It doesn't necessarily mean they're the best in the field, but it's a good indication lawyer knows his business
- If you call attorneys for more information, ask if they're members of ABI, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, or a state or local bankruptcy attorney associations. It's a good indication an attorney focuses on bankruptcy cases and works hard to keep up with the many changes in bankruptcy law
- Look for a lawyer with experience in your type of bankruptcy case. Bankruptcy lawyers sometimes limit their practice to certain areas, like Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Look for one who matches your type of case
- Look for attorneys who offer a free initial consultation to talk about your case. Most attorneys offer them, and it gives you a chance to meet face-to-face and get some insight about your case and how bankruptcy works
- Consider the costs. Depending on your case, an attorney may charge you an hourly fee where you pay a certain amount for each hour she works on your case. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee - a preset price to work on your case from beginning to end. As you research the attorneys on your list, look for information about how they typically charge their clients and consider which fee arrangement best fits your budget
After your research is complete, narrow your list to three or four attorneys and start making phone calls to set up meetings to talk about your case face-to-face. If you did your homework, you should be well on your way to finding the right attorney to handle your case.