Good bankruptcy attorneys can advise you about all the necessary documentation and paperwork you need to support your case, they know local court rules and procedures, and they can answer any critical questions you may have about the process along the way.
But since bankruptcy lawyers don't come cheap, it's important to work with an experienced yet affordable attorney who can really help you work through this process and achieve your goal of getting out of debt. If you're considering filing for bankruptcy protection, use these six tips to find a qualified and experienced bankruptcy attorney:1. Look online for attorneys who specialize in bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy attorneys typically have much more experience in this area than lawyers who specialize in a different area or multiple areas. Review the attorney's website to find out where he or she went to school, how long they've has been practicing in the field of bankruptcy law, and how big or small a support staff/office the individual has. If the person is certified by the American Board of Certification (and most bankruptcy attorneys aren't), that's a big plus because it means the lawyer is a specialist in the field and has proven expertise in bankruptcy law.
2. Weigh the advantages and drawbacks of different types of law firms.
There are various pros and cons to going with an attorney from a large bankruptcy firm vs. someone from a smaller firm. Bigger firms with lots of lawyers may (or may not) charge higher fees, but then again, they may (or may not) have more experienced attorneys who really know their way around your local court system.
Smaller firms may (or may not) provide you with a bit more hand-holding through the process; the flip side is that those attorneys may (or may not) be less experienced. It really all depends on the specific attorney handling your case. Plus, many attorneys rely heavily on paralegals and clerks to assist them.
In either scenario – working with someone from a large or small law firm – it's possible to feel a bit "lost in the shuffle" if the lawyer you select is very over-worked. That's a distinct possibility considering that bankruptcy filings are on the rise. In 2010 alone, 1.5 million Americans declared bankruptcy. Also, the American Bankruptcy Institute predicts bankruptcies will continue to climb in 2011.
3. Contact your state bar association.
From California to Maine, every state has a bar association that lists practicing bankruptcy lawyers in your area. To find the website of your state bar association, simply Google your state name and the words "state bar" or "state bar association." From there, most bar association websites offer lawyer referral services, linking you to lawyers in your city, town or county.
Since state bar associations review complaints about attorneys, some association websites may also reveal whether a lawyer listed in their database has had any disciplinary action taken against them. If you find out about any serious infractions, look elsewhere for a good bankruptcy attorney.
4. Check with your local bankruptcy court.
In some parts of the country, courts may maintain a list of practicing lawyers in your area. To find out if this is true for your area, a simple call to the courts is likely all that's required.
5. Determine whether the attorney belongs to the NACBA.
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) offers several resources for people deep in debt. Check to see if the attorneys you're considering working with are members of this organization, which is a well-respected consumer bankruptcy organization.
6. Set up appointments with attorneys that offer a free, in-person consultation.
Many experienced bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations so they can review your situation in detail and determine whether they can help you. You need to feel confident that the attorney is highly experienced, and you should feel comfortable with the person who's going to be representing your interests.
While an initial, over-the-phone conversation can be helpful, once you've honed in on a few prospects, an in-person consultation can help you make the best choice when selecting an attorney. An office visit can show you how organized the firm is, the level of support a lawyer has, and give you a glimpse into the attorney's workload.
If you're among the growing number of U.S. consumers who are on the brink of bankruptcy, doing your homework to research several different lawyers can help you make a more informed decision and find a good bankruptcy attorney.
While filing for bankruptcy protection isn't free – due to court costs you must pay and fees to any lawyer you may hire – bankruptcy can be a way for you to get rid of excessive debts you simply can't afford. And when it's all said and done, you can bounce back from bankruptcy, move past it and recover from your current economic predicament.