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How to do a Background Search on a Bankruptcy Attorney

Struggling with your finances is one of the most difficult things for a person to do. If you are responsible for your family as the bread winner and bill payer, reaching the end of your financial rope is a hard truth to contend with. Do you try to go on, or do you consider the inevitable?

When you have reached the point of considering filing for bankruptcy, it is essential that you do your research and find a qualified and experienced attorney. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a recommendation from a friend or relative, it is still in your best interest to research any possible attorney you may hire.

Not all bankruptcy attorneys are alike. There are many who have been practicing for years, are highly skilled, and can handle your bankruptcy smoothly. There are newer practitioners who may have never stepped into a courtroom but who are trying to make a name for themselves and could leave you underrepresented. And of course, there are plenty of decent, hard-working attorneys out there who can adequately represent you.

Your first consideration when beginning your research is how complex will your bankruptcy be? If it is simply you, with very few assets, and not a lot of income, you don’t necessarily need the most seasoned attorney out there. However, if your bankruptcy involves yourself, a partner, a business, and a significant number of assets that could be up for forfeiture, you need someone who knows their way around a bankruptcy.

So, where do you begin? There are various search engines and databases where you can find almost anything you want to know about a particular attorney. Not only can you ask around at your local courthouse or check with others who have filed, you can also use the NACBA Attorney Search, check out State Bar websites, visit Avvo, read some recent and past Google Reviews, or check with Trustees who handle consumer bankruptcy proceedings.

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) offers a website that gives you comprehensive information on bankruptcy law, current bankruptcy news, and a search engine for finding an attorney.

The NACBA is primarily an advocacy group for attorneys and consumers. Their efforts have had significant influence over how bankruptcy law is written by Congress since their inception in 1992. In that spirit, they offer a search engine for consumers who need bankruptcy attorneys.

If you are doing a general search, you can simply enter your zip code and the search engine will find all bankruptcy attorneys who are members of NACBA within a certain radius of miles. This gives you the full picture of how many attorneys practice bankruptcy within your geographic area. You can also do an attorney specific search using the attorney’s last name and city.

When you get a hit, you will have access to contact information, biographies, website of the firm the attorney belongs to, social media platform handles, and other relevant information. From there, you can either call the attorney’s office and request a consultation, visit the attorney’s website and verify its credibility, and read through the attorney’s biography.

Warning Signs

What is it you should look out for when looking through your search results? First, is there a photo? Any member of an advocacy group should have a fully developed profile on NACBA. Does the attorney have a biography? If not, ask yourself why. Why wouldn’t a member of NACBA include a lengthy biography to sell his or her skills?

Is the link to the attorney’s website good? A bad link is always a bad sign. That means the attorney either doesn’t pay attention to the website, or has ignored it for so long that the domain name has been put up for sale.

If it is a good link, how professional is the website? If the website looks like a form template (like you would see at Wix.com or GoDaddy.com), there is very little detailed information, the website lacks customer testimonials, or the overall style smacks of a sales job rather than a professional organization, listen to your instincts.

If you aren’t having any luck on NACBA, move on to your state’s Bar Association website.

Check out State Bar Websites

Every state has its own State Bar website. The State Bar is the oversight organization that not only licenses attorneys in each state, but oversees complaints about attorneys, including malpractice and fraud. You can also do a search for attorneys by name, location, or area of practice.

The main purpose of the State Bar website to is offer attorneys and the public information and education about current legal issues. The Indiana State Bar website also offers job postings, information for law students, practice resources for all attorneys, a place for consumers to file complaints, and a search engine for finding an attorney. “Locate Your Lawyer is a directory of the Indiana State Bar Association’s members. Search for attorneys based on location, type of law practiced, price range, and a number of other search options. From there, you can contact the attorney directly.”

Each member of the bar is listed in the Locate Your Lawyer directory, “which helps consumers search for and hire an ISBA member to serve their legal needs. The directory is part of a national online public lawyer directory, which also includes members of the State Bar of Michigan, the Illinois State Bar Association, the State Bar of Georgia, and others.”

The Indiana State Bar website also has links for consumers to find local bar associations and a database where consumers can ask legal questions known as the Coalition for Court Access.

Now, every states’ website won’t be identical, but each one should at least have a list of members of the bar (generally practicing attorneys or judges) and ways to find an attorney in your area based on their area of practice. The website should also provide links to your state’s court system, where you can do a search to see if an attorney you are considering has been brought before the disciplinary committee at any time. And if they have, why?

If you are having difficulty with a specific attorney that you have already decided to work with, the website of the State Bar should have pages and links that can help you file a complaint, be rewarded compensation from malpractice or fraud by an attorney, and report any “unauthorized practice of law”.

The information you can find in your State Bar Association website should be ample to help you make at least part of your decision in determining which attorney to hire for your bankruptcy. Another place you can hop over to for some good research on attorneys is Avvo.

Avvo

Avvo is a database of attorney reviews that also provides a place for consumers to ask questions about the law and offers free articles on bankruptcy and debt. Avvo has two ways to search for an attorney: by region or by practice. The search engine for finding an attorney by region first asks you to click on your state, then the practice area you are searching for.

Once you have clicked on Bankruptcy and Debt, you are given cities to choose from. Click on your city and a list of bankruptcy attorneys will be provided. What is great about Avvo is that once the list is up, the database supplies filters so you can look for someone with the most experience, someone who has never been charged with misconduct, someone who is nearest your home, how long they have been licensed, and whether or not they provide a free consultation.

Each attorney is also rated on a 5-star scale. You can simply click on the number of stars you are willing to accept at the minimum, and the results will be filtered accordingly. One thing to be cautious of is the perfect 5-star rating. If you see an attorney with this rating, check the number of reviews it is based on. If it is one or two, you can’t really trust that perfect rating. Those reviews could very easily have been written by friends or family who are trying to help an attorney get some cases.

Once you scroll past the list, at the bottom of the page, Avvo offers links for towns near and around your city who have bankruptcy attorneys. For example, if you don’t live in a city, but rather an outlying suburb, you should find your suburb in the list. The site also offers links to attorneys who practice specific bankruptcy law – attorneys who handle Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 13, or Foreclosure cases exclusively. If you aren’t familiar with the court system, and you know which type of bankruptcy you want to file, it would be prudent to choose an attorney who specializes in your chosen chapter of bankruptcy.

When you click on an attorney’s profile, you are given some great information. You not only get general contact information, but also a biography of the attorney (including education and how long they have been in practice), whether or not they offer a free consultation, the status of their license (whether or not it is in good standing), a full resume, client reviews, endorsements from fellow attorneys, and if the attorney has been accused or convicted of professional misconduct.

Depending on how in-depth you want to take your research, Avvo can offer you a little or a lot. It is a fairly comprehensive database of attorneys. However, it never hurts to also check on some Google Reviews of any attorney you are considering hiring.

Google Reviews

If you’ve ever purchased anything in the United States, odds are you have been asked to do a Google Review. This service is used by not only retail businesses, but also by professionals such as doctors, dentists, and attorneys. Google is the most popular consumer feedback website. The reviews left can be the deciding factor for if someone hires a specific bankruptcy attorney or not.

One of the most important sources for word of mouth advertising for law firms is online reviews. Former client reviews get around the internet quickly, people looking for reviews tend to trust them more, and the fact that they are free is great marketing for a law firm. New clients will listen to an online review from a former client before trusting traditional marketing ploys (ads and commercials).

In order to succeed in our developing digital marketing space, law firms must address their clients’ needs and wants. There has also traditionally been a lack of customer service at law firms. Online reviews can go a long way toward showing potential clients the pros and cons of a law firm. The marketers for the law firm need to use Search Engine Optimization to make sure positive client reviews are the first thing potential clients see when doing an online search for an attorney.

New and potential clients are most likely to choose a firm that appears in the top 10 results after a search. It’s important to note that there are more than 200 factors used in Google’s search algorithm’s and about 13% of those include review signals: number of reviews, frequency of review posts, and the number of additional sites where reviews get posted.

The more positive reviews an attorney has, the more likely they are to have a busy and fruitful practice. By the same token, an attorney with even just a few bad reviews will have trouble getting his positive reviews seen and taken seriously. Consumers have a great amount of respect and trust for online reviews – almost as seriously as they take personal recommendations from friends and family members.

For a bankruptcy attorney, positive online reviews are a good sign. They give potential clients a look at the quality of an attorney’s services and how other customers and clients have felt about their overall experience with the attorney. There is one caveat to online reviews: they must be genuine. It is not uncommon in online reviews for a business to purchase reviews. However, a law firm caught doing this would be in serious trouble with the bar. As such, you can probably trust the reviews you read online. Those positive reviews will create referrals, improve your attorney’s credibility, and give potential clients the feedback they need regarding the attorney’s performance and services.

Looking at it from the negative angle, bad reviews can be a warning to you that the attorney or firm in question is not necessarily trustworthy. Sometimes, potential clients will automatically go to the negative reviews to find out how bad an attorney’s worst client experience was.

An attorney who wants to remain in business and keep helping people with filing bankruptcy needs to have a staff that keeps his or her reputation intact within online reviews. They need to create a professional image for the attorney and use online revies that support your decision to hire them.

Look for online reviews that the attorney has actually commented on. Whether good or bad, if the attorney is taking the time to say thank you for a good review or try to straighten out problems from a bad review, it shows that attorney cares about his or her clients and the experience they had.

Online reviews are extremely powerful tools for not only consumers, but for law firms and attorneys who are searching for new clients. If the online reviews overwhelmingly show that the attorney treats his or her clients with dignity and respect, that is someone you want to consider hiring.

Another source of information regarding bankruptcy attorneys are the court appointed trustees who work with them on a regular basis.

Trustees who do Consumer Bankruptcy

Trustees are a vital part of the bankruptcy process. Each county or geographic area has trustees who are assigned strictly to the bankruptcy court. You can easily get in touch with your local federal court clerk to gather information on trustees who serve there, and then do additional research to determine if those trustees also do consumer bankruptcy work.

The United States Trustee Program is part of “the Department of Justice responsible for overseeing the administration of bankruptcy cases and private trustees. It is a national program with broad administrative, regulatory, and litigation/enforcement authorities whose mission is to promote the integrity and efficiency of the bankruptcy system for the benefit of all stakeholders–debtors, creditors, and the public.”

United States Trustees work not only with the court, but with you, the bankruptcy petitioner, and your attorney. Trustees and attorneys have regular contact and trustees act to prevent illegal acts throughout the bankruptcy process – including misconduct by bankruptcy attorneys. However, their primary functions are more directly related to seeing that your case goes through the bankruptcy process smoothly:

  • Taking legal action to enforce the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code and to prevent fraud and abuse by both the petitioner and the attorney of record

  • Referring matters for investigation and criminal prosecution when appropriate

  • Ensuring that bankruptcy estates are administered promptly and efficiently by the attorneys, and that professional fees are reasonable

  • Reviewing disclosure statements and applications for the retention of professionals to ensure the petitioner is aptly and competently represented

  • Advocating matters relating to the Bankruptcy Code and rules of procedure in court

The trustee begins by reviewing the bankruptcy petition and relevant paperwork submitted by your attorney to ensure it meets the guidelines of a suitable bankruptcy filing. If there is paperwork missing, it is the petitioner’s job to make sure the attorney has received all necessary paperwork first. Then, if everything has been turned in, the attorney becomes responsible for answering to the trustee and must provide all paperwork as needed and requested.

While the trustee’s primary job is to find any assets or income that can be paid to your creditors, bankruptcy attorneys are a part of the process. If a trustee has a problem with a certain attorney, he or she can file a complaint with the court. Bankruptcy attorneys want to have good working relationships with trustees to avoid any negative reports or damage to their reputation.

When you file Chapter 7 for business purposes, it is important to note that your bankruptcy attorney is not the same attorney who represents your business. There is a potential for conflict of interest and the trustee will note that. At that point, you may be required to hire a different attorney for your bankruptcy filing.

Another thing to note about trustees – they make their money by getting a percentage of whatever you pay your creditors. It’s essential that trustees are above board and have a reputation for honesty and fairness. Without this type of integrity and reputation, trustees will find themselves out of work. Because of their need to maintain absolute discretion and prioritize the smooth handling of your bankruptcy petition, they are inherently trustworthy.

In fact, a trustee who feels the rights of the debtor are being undermined can file lawsuits for you, the debtor. These usually involve attempts to collect property you are entitled to. However, there is nothing that says the trustee cannot help you file a lawsuit for malpractice against your bankruptcy attorney should the situation warrant it.

One of the little known facts about the bankruptcy process is that some bankruptcy trustees also do consumer bankruptcy work on the side. As a result, these are some of the best bankruptcy attorneys you can get. They already know the trustee side of the process, so they know exactly what trustees are looking for, and they can work extremely hard to protect your assets. It’s worth contacting the court, finding out who the trustees are, and then doing some research to see if they also do consumer bankruptcy work.

Conclusion

Just like you wouldn’t just pick a surgeon out of the phone book to do your heart transplant, you shouldn’t pick the bankruptcy attorney with the biggest ad online. It is critical that the attorney you hire be capable, competent, and compassionate in practicing bankruptcy law.

Some of the largest and best advertised firms are actually bankruptcy mills. They care more about filing a large amount of cases than they do making sure that your case has the best possible outcome. For this reason, it is very important to do your own research to ensure the attorney you hire will have your best interests in mind.

Visiting websites like NACBA, can show you attorneys who dedicate a substantial amount of their practice to filing bankruptcies. These attorneys tend to be much more qualified than an attorney who only files one or two bankruptcies a year. That is just the starting point though. You can then research those attorneys further with Avvo, State Bar associations, and Google Reviews to find out more about them, including biographies, reviews, education, experience, and licensure.

Online reviews give you a good sense of how bankruptcy attorneys treat their clients, and if the attorney simply does not have a good service record. And trustees, who work daily with attorneys, may be one of the most relevant and important resources for finding out the good, bad, and ugly on local bankruptcy attorneys.

Also keep in mind, most attorneys have a free initial consultation. Once you have narrowed down your list of potential bankruptcy attorneys to a handful, find out if they have a free consultation. Meeting with multiple attorneys is the best way to find one that you are comfortable with. You will also be able to gauge whether they are responsive and attentive to your case. This gives you the opportunity to interview each attorney and decide whether you like them and whether you think they are qualified enough to handle your case.

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