by: Kathleen Michon, J.D.
Bankruptcy lawyers are regular lawyers who specialize in handling bankruptcy cases. When seeking legal representation in bankruptcy, look for an experienced bankruptcy lawyer, not a general practitioner. There are several ways to find the best bankruptcy lawyer for your job:
This is your best approach. If you know someone who was pleased with the services of a bankruptcy lawyer, call that lawyer first. Referrals from other lawyers. If you, a family member, or a friend used a lawyer in a nonbankruptcy matter, ask that lawyer if they know of any good bankruptcy attorneys.
If you’re a member of a plan that provides free or low-cost legal assistance and the plan covers bankruptcies, make that your first stop in looking for a lawyer.
Most county bar associations will give you the names of bankruptcy attorneys who practice in your area. Keep in mind that most bar associations do not screen the lawyers. It’s up to you to check out the credentials and experience of the person to whom you’re referred.
Both bar associations and private companies provide lists of bankruptcy lawyers on the Internet. A good directory will provide lots of information about the lawyer, such as the types of cases they handle, their philosophy on representing clients, and typical fees. One good place to start is Nolo’s lawyer directory, at www.nolo.com/lawyers. Also, check out www.nacba.org, a site that provides contact information for members of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
Legal Aid offices are partially funded by the federal Legal Services Corporation and offer legal assistance in many areas. A few offices may do bankruptcies, although most do not. To qualify for Legal Aid, you must have a very low income, so few Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers will qualify.
Many law schools sponsor legal clinics and provide free legal advice to consumers. Some legal clinics have the same income requirements as Legal Aid; others offer free services to low- and moderate-income people.
When looking for a bankruptcy lawyer, follow these guidelines.