What to Look for in a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Ask these questions to see if a particular bankruptcy lawyer is right for you and your case.

A big part of finding the right bankruptcy lawyer is understanding essential qualities. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to ask the right questions and ultimately, hire the best bankruptcy lawyer for you.

If you’re not sure where to find a bankruptcy attorney, start by reading How to Find a Good Bankruptcy Lawyer.

Before Meeting With a Bankruptcy Lawyer

When you’re browsing online directories, calling lawyers of friends, or getting names from a bar association, you’ll want to measure each attorney by objective standards. Here are some things to look for in a lawyer.

Experience. Look for an experienced bankruptcy attorney. You’ll want to ask the lawyer about the types of bankruptcy cases the attorney handles. Some attorneys prefer accepting Chapter 7 cases, and others limit their practice to Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Other attorneys do a mixture of both. Most bankruptcy attorneys with a small practice don’t accept Chapter 11 cases due to the complexity. Ultimately, you’ll want to select a bankruptcy lawyer who regularly handles the chapter you intend to file.

Competence. Overall, when it comes to bankruptcy law, you’re better off with a seasoned professional than a recent graduate or an attorney who hasn’t filed many cases. Because of the oversite of the bankruptcy trustees, it would be unusual for an incompetent bankruptcy attorney to remain in practice long. Also, bankruptcy involves a lot of working parts, and errors can be costly. Most experienced lawyers who don’t handle bankruptcy matters won’t accept bankruptcy cases. Ask for referrals from former clients, and, if possible, speak directly to those clients.

Reasonable fees. Before you make an appointment, find out what the lawyer typically charges for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case. Cheaper isn’t better when you have a complicated matter, and you won’t want someone cutting corners. You also won't want your case handled by a “bankruptcy mill” that cranks out bankruptcy paperwork without giving clients individual attention. On the other hand, if your matter is simple, it might not hurt to take advantage of a deal. Shop around to find out what most bankruptcy lawyers charge in your area.

Learn more about Bankruptcy Attorneys' Costs and Fee Structures.

When Meeting With a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Many lawyers will provide an initial consultation for free. But even if a lawyer charges, it might be worth the money to pay for a few consults to find the right lawyer. Here are some things to assess in the first meeting:

Availability of the lawyer. When making an appointment, ask to talk directly to the lawyer. Also, you’ll want to find out whether a paralegal will be handling the routine aspects of your case under the supervision of a lawyer. Also, ask how long it will take for your phone calls to get returned and about scheduling appointments. Whether you’re comfortable with the answer will depend on your needs.

Explains the law. Ask specific questions. You’ll want clear, concise answers that are easy to understand. Ultimately, you should walk away knowing that you’re in good hands.

Listens to your ideas. If your lawyer is uncomfortable with you doing your homework, it’s a red flag. It might suggest that they don’t feel confident in their skills. Others welcome clients that are well-informed and willing to participate fully in their case. If you plan to research your options, you’ll want a bankruptcy lawyer that considers your perspective and adopts it when appropriate.

Provides recommendations. One of your goals at the initial conference is to find out what the lawyer recommends in your matter. Go home and think about the lawyer’s suggestions. If they don’t make sense or you have other reservations, call someone else.

Discloses malpractice insurance status. Does the lawyer carry malpractice insurance? If the answer is no, that might be a problem for you. But keep in mind that malpractice insurance is far more protective of the lawyer than the client. The fact that a lawyer is insured might make it more rather than less difficult to recover damages from the lawyer if he or she is professionally negligent. Overall, you’re looking for competency so malpractice won’t become an issue in the first place.

No matter how experienced, if you don’t feel comfortable with the lawyer during the first meeting, you’ll want to keep looking.

Partially excerpted from the 11th edition of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Debts Over Time, by Stephen Elias and Kathleen Michon (Nolo). Updated and edited for clarity on August 29, 2019.

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