How to Choose a Bankruptcy Attorney

Four Parts:Seeking Referrals for Bankruptcy AttorneysResearching Attorney’s BackgroundEvaluating Potential AttorneysFinalizing Choice of Attorney

Bankruptcy is an emotional and complicated process. You need to locate an attorney who is experienced handling bankruptcy cases like yours, who is well respected and will provide you individualized legal services, and with whom you feel comfortable. When choosing a bankruptcy attorney, it is important that you find experienced attorneys in your area, meet with the attorneys to evaluate their professionalism, and make a final choice that best meets your needs.

Part 1
Seeking Referrals for Bankruptcy Attorneys

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    Consider your bankruptcy goals. Before seeking a referral for an attorney, you should determine the type of attorney you need by evaluating what type of bankruptcy filing may be right for you. While an attorney is in the best place to evaluate your bankruptcy needs, in making an initial determination, consider:
    • Are you seeking to file bankruptcy for an individual or a business? Bankruptcy attorneys will most likely have experience in either personal bankruptcy or business bankruptcy.
    • If you are you having financial difficulty in your personal finances and do not have the ability to pay your existing debts, you may be looking to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
    • If you are an individual who is looking to restructure his or her debt so that you can make monthly payments and you have a steady income, you may want to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
    • If you are an individual or a business that does not qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy because your debt is too great (unsecured debt is more than $336,900 and your secured debt is more than $1,010,650), you may be able to restructure your debt through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[1]
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    Ask your family, friends, and coworkers for a referral. Someone you know and whose opinion you value, may have hired a bankruptcy attorney in the past. A personal referral can provide you with information about how it was to work with the attorney, what they liked and didn’t like, and whether they would recommend that attorney to someone else.[2]
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    Talk to lawyers and tax preparers. If you know any attorneys or tax preparers, you should ask them whether they have a referral for a good bankruptcy attorney. Often professionals maintain a list of other professionals whose services their clients may need. They may be able to provide you several names of attorneys in your area who they recommend to their own clients.
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    Contact state and local bar associations. There are a number of ways to find experienced attorneys in your area. Most state and local bar associations provide attorney referral services. Bankruptcy associations also maintain lists of bankruptcy experts.[3]
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    Choose attorneys with the correct specialization. In compiling your list of bankruptcy attorneys, you should narrow your list by area of practice. You want an attorney who specializes in the type of bankruptcy that you need. For example, if you need an attorney that handles bankruptcy for businesses, eliminate any attorneys that only handle consumer/individual bankruptcy.[4]

Part 2
Researching Attorney’s Background

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    Assess an attorney’s experience. Once you have gathered the names of several potential bankruptcy attorneys, you want to examine their experience. When examining an attorney’s experience, consider the following:
    • Focus not only on how long an attorney has been practicing law, but also how long they have been practicing bankruptcy law.
    • Whether bankruptcy is the main focus of their practice?
    • Do they have specialization certificates in bankruptcy?
    • Are they members of bankruptcy organizations?[5]
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    Research the attorney’s background. You should be able to find a lot of information about your potential attorneys online. Conduct an internet search for each attorney’s name and evaluate the search results with an eye towards whether or not the material indicates specialization, success, and experience in bankruptcy law.
    • Read through any client reviews.
    • Closely evaluate an attorney’s website for professionalism and areas of practice.
    • Consider the attorney’s educational background.
    • Read articles or blog posts that they have written.[6]
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    Check for disciplinary actions. Contact state and local bar associations to determine whether the attorney has even been disciplined or if any complaints were filed against them. If unhappy clients filed the complaints, you may want to consider using a different lawyer.
    • You can also ask whether the bar association certifies bankruptcy attorneys and, if so, ask whether the attorneys you are researching are certified bankruptcy experts.[7]

Part 3
Evaluating Potential Attorneys

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    Narrow your choices and meet with attorneys. After you have completed your research, narrow your list to your top 3 or 4 attorneys. You should contact the attorneys to see whether they offer free or discounted initial consultations. If none of the attorneys offer those services, begin by making appointments with two attorneys to save yourself some money.
    • When making your appointment, consider how you were treated on the phone. Was the staff courteous and professional? Their conduct reflect on the law practice as a whole.[8]
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    Bring your financial documents to the meeting. In most initial consultations, you may only have an hour with the attorney, so you want to make sure that you are prepared for the meeting with questions that you want to ask (discussed below) and also with copies of your financial documents. When gathering your financial documents, be sure to:
    • Compile a list of all present and past debts, property that you own, and all of your financial accounts with balance information.
    • Bring a copy your tax returns and paycheck stubs.
    • Bring a copy of the deed to your house, if applicable.[9]
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    Evaluate the attorney’s experience. When you meet with the attorney, you want to evaluate how they are treating you, whether they meet with you personally, and whether they answer your questions directly. Additionally, you want to evaluate their level of experience in handling bankruptcy cases like your own. Some questions that you should ask the attorney include:
    • Have you handled any bankruptcy cases similar to mine?
    • How long have you been practicing bankruptcy law?
    • How many bankruptcy cases do you file each month? You want an attorney that has significant experience handling bankruptcy cases but not one who files a lot of cases a month because they may not be able to provide you with individual attention.[10]
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    Discuss your case. Once you discuss your financial background with the attorney and show him or her your financial documents, you want to evaluate how the attorney would proceed with your case. This strategy may change once the attorney has more time to review your materials but you can still get a sense of their approach, style and knowledge.
    • Ask the attorney what type(s) of bankruptcy may be right for you. This provides you with additional information about types of bankruptcy and gives you an opportunity to evaluate the attorney’s legal knowledge and demeanor in speaking with clients.[11]
    • Ask who would be handling your case and whether they would be available to answer your questions. You want to make sure that the attorney isn’t going to dump your case with someone outside of the law firm. Some firms, known as bankruptcy mills, take more cases then they can handle and then retain outside lawyers to take over cases. You do not want to retain a bankruptcy mill.[12]
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    Discuss the attorney’s fees. When making your appointment, you can ask what an attorney charges for a typical Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy. However, many attorneys may want to evaluate your case and meet with you before discussing the particulars of their fees. When evaluating fees, you should:
    • Call several attorneys in the area and ask what they charge for a typical Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy. This will give you a starting point to evaluate the reasonableness of the fees.
    • When discussing a fee, ask what specifically the fee will cover. Generally, for Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy filings, the flat fee should include: a consultation and evaluation of your financial situation; preparation of all court filings; and the attorney should represent you at the bankruptcy hearing.[13]
    • Most flat fees will not include representing you in contested hearing.
    • If the attorney is offering a fee that is much lower than the other attorneys, you should be worried that they are not considering your specific case.[14]
    • Attorney’s fees vary by the location where you are seeking an attorney. Nationally, between the years 2005 to 2009, average attorney’s fees for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy ranged from $1,080 and $1,200. However, in some states, such as Idaho fees were as low as $700 and as high as $1,530 in Arizona. Currently, fees between $1,200 and $2,500 are considered reasonable.[15]
    • In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, attorney’s fees between $2,500 and $5,500 are considered reasonable depending on your location.[16]
    • Most bankruptcy attorneys will expect you to pay your fees upfront before they file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, attorneys may allow you to pay some of your fees through a payment plan after they have filed your case.[17]

Part 4
Finalizing Choice of Attorney

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    Evaluate the initial consultations. After meeting with the attorneys, you should take some time to compile your thoughts on each person. It is important to consider the following for each candidate:
    • Whose background and skills seem most in line with my needs?
    • Who seemed to exercise the best judgment when offering advice?
    • Who did I feel most comfortable speaking with?
    • Whose fees seemed reasonable and fair compared with other attorneys?
    • Will I receive individual attention? [18]
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    Know what to avoid. When choosing a bankruptcy attorney, you must look for certain warning signs that indicate that the attorney may not be reputable or experienced. During your initial consultation be on the look out for the following warning signs:
    • During your initial meeting, was the meeting run by an attorney or another staff member, such as a paralegal? If you did not meet with an attorney, the law firm may be a bankruptcy mill that will not provide you and your case individual attention.
    • How long did the meeting last? If the meeting was 30 minutes or less and the person did not get into the specifics of your case, this again may reflect a bankruptcy practice that will not provide you with individualized attention. Most initial meetings will last around an hour so that the lawyer has a chance to understand the specifics of your case.[19]
    • When you left the meeting, did you understand what your options for filing a bankruptcy case? If you leave the meeting without having a good sense of potential options, the attorney did not do his or her job in providing an informative consultation.[20]
    • Did you feel pressured to sign a fee agreement? Attorneys realize that you may need time to consider all of your options. If an attorney is pressuring you to sign a fee agreement with them immediately, they may continue to exert pressure on you throughout the case, which is not great for your working relationship.[21]
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    Make your final choice. After you have weighed the pros and cons of each attorney, you should choose the attorney that will meet your needs, provide individualized legal services, and with whom you feel comfortable working.
    • Once you have decided on an attorney, sign the fee agreement and pay your retainer.
    • If you don’t feel comfortable with any of the attorneys, trust your instinct and interview additional bankruptcy attorneys.


  • Be prepared for your initial meeting with potential attorneys. In order to maximize your time, bring written questions and information about your financial background.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Bankruptcy