Choosing Your Bankruptcy Attorney
I’m showing you how to do it right, because I think you will choose me after careful consideration of all the facts
The internet and the yellow pages are the usual starting point for finding a bankruptcy attorney. Referrals from your family attorney, family, or friends can be useful, especially if they have had a good experience with their bankruptcy attorney.
Interview Several Attorneys
Interview at least three attorneys specializing in bankruptcy at the attorney’s office. It is important to make sure their office is in a convenient location, as it is very inconvenient to hire an attorney in Denver if you live and work in Boulder, Larimer, or Weld County. Make sure you interview with the actual bankruptcy attorney and not with a low paid assistant. Most bankruptcy attorneys will give you a free initial consultation. If a bankruptcy attorney refuses to consult with you without charging a fee, keep looking. Limit your search to bankruptcy attorneys who offer a free consultation. You must interview your bankruptcy attorney and make the attorney earn your case.
Ask if the attorney specializes in bankruptcy. That would be a good sign, because that means he or she does nothing else but bankruptcy, will be well versed in bankruptcy law, and your bankruptcy case will be a top priority. You do not want to hire a divorce attorney, criminal attorney, or general practitioner for your bankruptcy.
Can the attorney answer all of your questions? You should feel relieved after the interview, so if you feel friction with the attorney and there is no chemistry, go to the next interview. Comfort matters: if after the consultation you do not feel comfortable with the attorney, follow your instincts and keep looking. If the bankruptcy attorney cannot explain something to you in plain language that you understand, then that attorney probably does not know what he/she is talking about or is trying to scare you.
Warning: Scare Tactics
Some bankruptcy attorneys are using scare tactics to get you to immediately retain them and can leave you feeling scared to death. You should avoid them. There are several Denver law firms, who are prominent on Google, that are recommending chapter 13 bankruptcy in questionable cases. Remember that two out of three chapter 13 bankruptcies fail. I would advise shopping around. At the other end of the spectrum, there are attorneys that do not tell you about any potential pitfalls you may encounter in your bankruptcy. Almost all bankruptcies have some risks. Make sure that your attorney advises you of these risks. Many bankruptcy attorneys improperly advise their clients in regards to reaffirmation of a debt. My clients only reaffirm 10% of motor vehicle loans and 5% of mortgages.
What You Need To Know About Your Bankruptcy Attorney
1) Bankruptcy Knowledge and Experience
Bankruptcy knowledge and experience is the most important factor. Find an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy and does so full time. Ask the bankruptcy attorney how many bankruptcy cases they have successfully filed and what year they filed their first bankruptcy case. Warning: Some attorneys will advertise they have 25 years experience, but have only been doing bankruptcy for a couple of years. This is misleading to say the least. I repeat, you should ask them how many bankruptcy cases they have successfully filed. Minimum Requirement: Make sure you choose a bankruptcy attorney who has been actively practicing bankruptcy full time for at least 10 years and has filed at least 1,000 bankruptcy cases.
I have 30+ years of bankruptcy experience. I filed my first bankruptcy case in 1983 and have filed thousands of cases since then. I limit my practice solely to bankruptcy and do not stretch myself thin practicing other disciplines.
Reputation is the second most important factor. Unfortunately, the best sources of information about a bankruptcy attorney’s reputation are other bankruptcy attorneys or the bankruptcy court. Since bankruptcy attorneys are in competition for your business, you are not likely to get valuable information from that source and most bankruptcy attorneys do not want you to comparison shop. The next best referral source is from former clients. Ask the attorney for reviews, testimonials, or recommendations from former clients. You can also ask family, friends, or colleagues who have filed for bankruptcy and had a good experience for a referral.
Do a background check: You can check whether an bankruptcy attorney is licensed and in active status, and whether or not they have had their license revoked or disciplined in any way. Go to the Supreme Court Attorney Search and type in the name of the attorney. After hitting "Search", click on the name of the attorney. Then click on "Disciplinary & Disability History” on the bottom right side of screen to see if there is any public disciplinary history on file for the attorney. It is also a good idea to check whether or not the bankruptcy attorney has malpractice insurance on the above website. All responsible attorneys have malpractice insurance. If the attorney doesn't have malpractice insurance it might mean the attorney is uninsurable due to numerous past malpractice claims. Another option is going to Avvo.com for lawyer ratings. Avvo will also show whether or not the attorney has a disciplinary history.
I am well respected by the Bankruptcy Court, my peers, and former clients. You can check reviews by my former clients by going to the Reviews section. I do have malpractice insurance, although I have never had to use it, and am in active status with the State of Colorado with no disciplinary history over my 30+ years of practicing bankruptcy law.
3) Quality of Representation
Quality of representation is the third most important factor. Many bankruptcy attorneys have their low paid paralegals or assistants handle the majority of the work. Make sure you ask the bankruptcy attorney how much time the attorney will actually spend with you, one on one, in the preparation of your bankruptcy documents. If you don't spend at least a couple of hours with your attorney, you are getting short changed.
I have no paralegals or assistants. I have a solo bankruptcy practice and even answer my own phone. I have used assistants and paralegals in the past and was uncomfortable having other people do my work for me, because I was always worried whether or not things were being done correctly. I spend at least three hours with all my clients while preparing the bankruptcy documents, even my lowest priced cases.
4) Cost of Bankruptcy/Attorney Fees
Bankruptcy attorney fees are the fourth most important factor. For those of you who only shop based on price, I would advise you to rethink that decision. I am aware of at least a dozen cases of debtors using cheap non-attorney typing services at about $125 per case (or attorneys for $500) that end up costing the consumer thousands more because of the lack of competent bankruptcy legal advice. I have sued several of those bankruptcy petition preparers, although it is hard, if not impossible, for me to fix a case once it is botched. I am aware that money is tight for you, and again, for those of you that shop based on price, I believe I am the best bang for your buck bankruptcy attorney in Colorado. Since the late 1980’s, I have found ways to lower my prices across the board without lowering the quality of service, especially for the easier bankruptcies. Rare is the bankruptcy attorney that looks for ways to lower their fees and actually does so. I am the only one I am aware of, while most attorneys are doing the opposite and trying to raise their fees as high as the market will bear.
Bankruptcy payment plans are available: For attorney fees, you may pay me half down and the other half before filing. For filing fees, the Bankruptcy Court allows the filing fee of $338 to be paid in installments. Filing fee waivers are available for below poverty line debtors.
Fees for chapter 7: $1,500 for a chapter 7 bankruptcy (plus $338 filing fee) is the average fee being charged by the more experienced bankruptcy attorneys. Less experienced bankruptcy counsel should presumably charge less, but often do not. Most experienced, as well as inexperienced, bankruptcy attorneys do not charge below $1,500, even for the simplest of cases. Ask the bankruptcy attorney for a price quote and whether it is based on an hourly rate or a fixed fee. If hourly, ask them what their hourly fee is. If they use a fixed fee, ask the attorney what fixed fee means for them. No attorney has a totally fixed fee agreement. The fixed fee is limited to no-asset bankruptcies without problems. If the case has problems or litigation or becomes an asset case, you will be billed at the attorney’s hourly rate for this extra work. On top of that, in every bankruptcy you will also incur $18 to $100 in credit counseling fees. My clients generally pay $24 for both courses.
SIMPLE BANKRUPTCIES FROM $999
I have free initial bankruptcy consultations, either by phone or in office, except for complex cases and second opinions. I charge $1,500 attorney fees (plus the $338 filing fee) for the average no-asset uncontested chapter 7 consumer bankruptcy. But for the easier bankruptcies my fees start at $999 attorney fees, plus the $338 filing fee ($1334 in total unless filing fee is waived). Filing fees may be waived by the court for low income debtors. I file easy consumer as well as complex business cases. A business case can easily cost in excess of $2,500. Call for free price quote!
Fees for chapter 13: Chapter 13 bankruptcy on average start at $5,000 attorney fees (plus the $310 filing fee). Once again, this fee is predicated on the case going smoothly. Most chapter 13 bankruptcy cases have problems or objections and often the attorney fees will exceed $5,000. If an bankruptcy attorney quotes you $500 for a chapter 13 bankruptcy, it usually means that they will charge you $500 down with the remaining $3,100+ to be paid through the plan, as well as additional attorney fees if the case runs into trouble. Since the chapter 13 attorney fees are about the same with all bankruptcy attorneys, the right question to ask is what your projected total fee will be and how much of a down payment is required to get the case filed. I have one potential client after another tell me that another attorney has quoted them a fee of $500 to $1,000, but that will only be the down payment and they will ultimately charge from $5,000 to $10,000.
5) Membership in Bankruptcy Trade Organizations
Awards or memberships in bankruptcy trade organizations are the fifth most important factor. Find out what organizations the attorney belongs to.
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) is the only national trade organization specifically designed for consumer bankruptcy attorneys in the United States. A consumer bankruptcy attorney who is a member of NACBA shows a commitment to providing the very best in bankruptcy services to the general public. Check the NACBA Attorney Finder website for membership information.
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest trade organization for creditor bankruptcy attorneys. Their website unfortunately does not allow non-members to search through their members anymore.
I am a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and Colorado Consumer Bankruptcy Association, and have attended their seminars and national conventions for continuing legal education to keep me on top of all the new developments in bankruptcy law.