While bankruptcy can sometimes be a very relieving procedure, as it allows you to free yourself from overwhelming debt, it is certainly not always an easy or pleasant procedure.
It involves having complete strangers (unless your lawyer is a friend of yours) pour over and scrutinize every single bill, debt, credit card statement, loan, and financial document you have. If nothing else, it is embarrassing to admit to your creditors and the court that you were unable to manage your income and pay debts you racked up, whether or not the bills incurred were within your control.
This is where having a solid, trustworthy bankruptcy attorney comes into play. He or she can walk you through this humbling and time-sensitive process, making sure that you a treated fairly and with dignity, and that you are able to keep as many assets as you possibly can. A good attorney can simplify complicated and complex legal document wording, make sure you are meeting deadlines for forms fees.
The first step to filing for bankruptcy is deciding whether bankruptcy is even in your best interest under your particular and unique circumstances. If it is, the next choice is which type of bankruptcy to file for: either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.
First and foremost, start looking right away. As soon as you decide to file for bankruptcy, start looking for a lawyer. Like most services, lawyers who are good often book up well in advance. Plus, due to the amount of documentation and paperwork, you will need to allow your attorney ample time to compile all the information you will need to provide for the bankruptcy.
It is best to hire a lawyer who is experienced in the bankruptcy field and is familiar with all of the details and nuances of the process. One way to know a lawyer is devoted to bankruptcy law practice is to check the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). Also, make sure they are actually certified in your state to lead a bankruptcy proceeding by checking your state’s bar association website.
Recommendation is always the best way to find most services. Ask around and see if anyone you know has needed to file for bankruptcy, and request the name of their lawyer. If you do not know anyone who has gone through the process, turn to the internet. Many lawyer’s websites and search engines have reviews and ratings, which can give you some insight into his or her professionalism.
If you have decided to file for bankruptcy, chances are you are doing so because money is tight, and the last thing you want to do is spend more money to hire a lawyer. However, you truly do get what you pay for. A cheap lawyer is a cheap lawyer. When your financial wellbeing hangs in the balance, this is not the place to pinch pennies.
Generally, however, price will not be much of a deciding factor in this process because most attorney fees for bankruptcies are pretty standard and do not vary widely from state to state. The process, aside from paperwork, is not terribly involved from a lawyer’s standpoint, and the courts prevent lawyers from price gouging in these circumstances.
Remember, you are hiring an attorney to perform a service for you, so it would be wise to interview them like you would any other job candidate. You can schedule a consultation with any attorneys that you are considering working with to conduct the interview.
Speaking of the consultation, the best bankruptcy attorneys will offer a free consultation rather than charging you for it.
Ask about the attorney’s background, their experience, certifications they may have, and what kinds of professional successes he or she is most proud of.
This accomplishes two things - first, you learn more about their skill and ability to handle your case, and secondly, they should be willing to spend some time talking to you.
If they brush off your questions, answer with annoyance with one word responses, and do not take you seriously, expect to be treated the same way during the bankruptcy process. If he or she is not willing to treat you with patience, dignity, and respect, you should find a different lawyer.
There are numerous qualities that you will want to look for in any bankruptcy lawyer, and first impressions do matter.
But beyond the lawyer being professional, treating you with respect, and feeling a ‘good vibe’ when you meet with them, you’ll also want to pay attention to a number of other things.
For example, does the lawyer discuss all of your available options, or do they try really hard to push you in favor of one particular direction?
A truly good attorney will lay out all of your available options before you, inform you of the pros and cons of each, and respect whichever decision you end up choosing to make.
Next, pay attention to the ‘energy’ from the attorney. In other words, do they seem passionate about what they do? Do they legitimately care about you and your situation or do you feel like you are just ‘another client’ for them?
Even though working as a bankruptcy attorney may seem like a boring process, the truth is that there are many attorneys who are deeply passionate about their job, because they legitimately enjoy helping people with their debts and improving their lives.
The next quality that you will be wise to look for in a bankruptcy attorney is how well they listen to you. The last kind of attorney you want is one who will talk on and on without giving you much time to speak.
The ideal attorney will ask you a lot of questions and listen carefully to each response and perhaps even take notes. Also don’t be afraid to ask your attorney any questions, and pay close attention to whether your attorney gives an in-depth response or whether they just try to answer your question(s) as quickly as possible.
Last but not least, the attorney you choose should specialize specifically in bankruptcy cases. This is something that you should inquire about in the initial interview and consultation.
Filing ‘pro se’ means that you will file for bankruptcy without the aid of an attorney. Many people are not aware of this option, even though nearly a third of all bankruptcies are filed pro se. However, at the same time, it’s not necessary the best option either.
When you file for bankruptcy by yourself and without the aid of an attorney, you will still be held to the same standards as an attorney by the courts. As a result, if you ever give an answer such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ that is not going to bode well for you because you are still held to the same standards as an attorney.
The biggest reason why people will file pro se is simply because they are unable to afford the fees of hiring an attorney. Another big reason is because people believe hiring an attorney will complicate the process and therefore don’t view the attorney as being necessary.
But the truth is that filing bankruptcy pro se will not be the best option even if you can’t afford to hire an attorney. For one thing, bankruptcies are notoriously complicated, and the knowledge an attorney can provide you with is simply invaluable.
Remember, you are held to the same standard as an attorney when you file pro se. If you are not well versed or researched in the field of bankruptcies, you’re going to naturally encounter a large number of problems when you file.
It’s very common for people who file pro se to make a large number of mistakes, such as neglecting to include a source of income. Making simple mistakes such as this can result in your case being dismissed by the court, which is probably the very last thing you want.
Another reason to avoid filing pro se and to instead seek the help of an attorney is because an attorney will know how to protect as many of your assets as possible. There is a common misconception that filing for bankruptcy means you are going to lose all of your assets. Many people who file for bankruptcy pro se will fail to claim property exemptions, which means that they commonly lose valuable assets such as their vehicles, their home, or valuable family heirlooms.
In short, hiring a quality attorney will simply make the process of filing bankruptcy significantly easier for you. If your knowledge on filing for bankruptcy is limited, spending the money on an attorney will be wise.
Once you have found a lawyer who is willing to answer your questions fully, patiently, respectfully, and professionally, it will be time to hire him or her. This is the easy part as long as you make sure to be thorough.
You and your lawyer will be composing a contract outlining the price you have both agreed upon, the scope of work that he or she will be completing for you, and when you will be expected to pay for the services.
Make sure that you are completely clear on all of these items before you sign any contract. He or she should be able and willing to explain all charges and his or her role in the procedure.
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