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Top Ten Questions to Ask When Meeting with a Bankruptcy

You have recognized that you are in serious financial trouble and have scheduled an appointment to meet with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss your situation.  This is the right course of action.  Now you are having doubts.  Is this the right course of action?  Did I choose the right attorney?  How will I know?  These are all reasonable concerns, but remember, it's just a consultation.  You have not committed to anything but having a conversation with a lawyer.  Throughout your consultation, ask these questions and see if you are happy with the answers.  If you are not, go find another attorney.

1.  This consultation is free, right?  If you walk in the door and are immediately asked to pay a consultation fee, turn around and walk right back out.  You should not be required to pay an attorney for a basic consultation until you choose to hire them.

2.  I will be meeting with an actual attorney, not a law clerk or paralegal, right?  Only an actual attorney is allowed to give you legal advice, yet many firms still use clerks and paralegals for their initial consultations or to screen clients.  This is not good enough, find someone else.

3.  How long have you been practicing bankruptcy law?  You should not be expected to trust your financial future to someone right out of law school.  Make sure that your attorney has years of experience practicing bankruptcy law.

4.  Do you only do bankruptcy law or do you do other things?  While many of us represent people in multiple areas of debt relief, too many attorneys try and do bankruptcy work "on the side" while their main focus is in divorce, immigration, personal injury, etc.  Not good enough.  You want an attorney who focusses their practice on bankruptcy and debt relief exclusively.

5.  If I elect to hire you, will I always be able to contact you, or will I be dealing with multiple lawyers?  This is the classic "bankruptcy mill" issue.  You meet with and hire one attorney, then you cannot reach that attorney again.  You should always have direct access to the lawyer that you hire, as that is the lawyer ultimately responsible for your case.

6.  In MY case, what options are available and why are you recommending the one that you are?  Some lawyers only want to file Chapter 7 cases because they are generally easier.  Some lawyers only want to file Chapter 13 cases, because they generate higher legal fees.  A proper consultation will have the lawyer explain all of your options, the fees and costs of each, the risks and repercussions of each and then allow you to make an educated decision as to your course of action.

7.  What about (_____)?  You fill in the blank with the issues that are most important to you, whether it be keeping your home, protecting your spouse, getting the IRS off your back, etc.  You need to ask the direct questions and are entitled to direct and specific answers.  If the attorney is uncertain or evasive, find someone else.

8.  What are the fees & costs, do they include everything and can I have them in writing?  Once you have gone through the consultation, the attorney should be able to tell you exactly what the legal fees will be, the filing fees and any expenses that you will incur and they should put them in writing for you.  If they are unwilling to do so, find another bankruptcy lawyer.

9.  What kind of payment plan can we work out?  You are not meeting with a bankruptcy attorney because you have a lot of disposable income and the last thing you need is for your attorney to be harassing you for payments.  You should be able to get a reasonable payment plan, in writing, that you know you can handle.

10.  What specific documents will I need to provide?  Bankruptcy, unfortunately, requires a lot of paperwork, much of which will have to be provided to the court upon filing.  Failure to tender the proper documents can lead to the dismissal of your case, so you want to ensure that they are all gathered before filing.  The attorney should be able to give you a written list of the necessary documents and explain why they are needed.

Filing for bankruptcy protection is a difficult decision to make.  You should not be further stressed by uncertainties regarding your representation.  After you consultation, once you've gotten answers to all of the above questions, you should have a pretty good idea as to whether the bankruptcy lawyer you met with is the right one for you.  If you have any doubts, meet with another one before you make a final decision.  If you choose to meet with one of the experienced bankruptcy lawyers at Ledford & Wu, you will not have such doubts.

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