How to find the right bankruptcy lawyer for your needs

Female attorney with client and paperwork using laptop in courthouse corridorImage: Female attorney with client and paperwork using laptop in courthouse corridor

In a Nutshell

Asking someone you trust for a recommendation is probably one of the go-to ways to find a lawyer. But if that’s not an option, there are other ways you can find a bankruptcy lawyer to represent you.

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If you’re looking for a bankruptcy lawyer, there are a variety of resources available to help you find the right one for your particular situation.

Bankruptcy laws are complicated, so it’s probably in your best interest to work with a bankruptcy lawyer. But you don’t want to choose just anyone to handle your case.

The bankruptcy process involves disclosing a lot of personal financial information, and you’ll want to make sure you’re working with someone you feel comfortable with. That may mean you need to speak with a few candidates before you find the one who’s right for you.

In this article, we’ll explore how to find and vet people for the job.



Finding a bankruptcy attorney

If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, getting a referral from someone you trust may be a good way to find an attorney to represent you. Your friends and acquaintances may know more about your specific situation and needs, and could even have firsthand experience to draw on.

But not everyone has this option. If you can’t get a recommendation from someone you know, here are a few other options to consider.

  • Legal aid: Legal aid offices provide free legal advice to low-income individuals. If you qualify, they may choose to represent you for free.
  • National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys: The NACBA is a professional trade association for bankruptcy attorneys who represent individuals. You can search the organization’s member directory to find an attorney near you.
  • National Association of Consumer Advocates: The NACA is an organization that advocates for consumers on a range of issues, including bankruptcy.
  • Online directories: A variety of online resources list lawyers and law firms by location and by specialty. Examples include NOLO, lawyers.com, Avvo and LegalZoom. A lawyer’s appearance in one of these directories is not an endorsement of their legal abilities, though some resources include peer and client reviews.
  • Your state bar association: These groups can help connect you with a local lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy.

Benefits of working with a bankruptcy lawyer

If you’re struggling financially, bankruptcy may seem like the most direct way to solve the problem. A good bankruptcy lawyer can help determine if another option would actually be better for your situation.

“Bankruptcy should be your final option, not your first,” says Ashley Morgan, a bankruptcy attorney in Northern Virginia.

A lawyer can help you assess your financial situation to determine whether other debt relief alternatives might be in your best interest. And if bankruptcy is your best route, a lawyer can tell you whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

If you choose to move forward with bankruptcy proceedings, an attorney can guide you through the process.

During the process, an attorney can help with the following:

  • Provide advice about the best time to file bankruptcy, so you don’t end up in a worse financial situation than before you filed.
  • Offer guidance on assets. When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, certain assets are exempt from the proceedings, which means you get to keep them. Your lawyer should understand which exemptions you qualify for and help you not lose assets unnecessarily.
  • Help complete paperwork that’s required to file your bankruptcy petition.
  • Represent you at the meeting of creditors.

Above all, the bankruptcy lawyer helps you navigate what can be a complicated process for the uninitiated.

“You have an advocate in your corner who’s there to make sure you’re treated right at the end of the day,” Morgan says.

FAST FACTS

What is a meeting of creditors?

At this meeting, creditors and the trustee assigned to a bankruptcy case can ask questions about the filer’s finances. The filer (you) must answer these questions under oath. Untruthful answers risk claims of bankruptcy fraud and perjury.

What to look for in a bankruptcy attorney

When hiring a lawyer for bankruptcy proceedings, it’s important to choose someone who’s experienced in that area of the law. That suggestion might seem obvious, but the attorney’s base of knowledge can make a meaningful difference in your case.

According to Morgan, working with an attorney who regularly practices in the geographic area where you’re filing is essential. Otherwise, the lawyer may not be familiar with the details of that particular bankruptcy court. Morgan recommends looking for someone who’s regularly filing two to five cases a month in that jurisdiction.

But just knowing the law isn’t enough.

“I tell all of my clients you want to be very comfortable with your bankruptcy attorney,” Morgan says. “You need to be able to communicate freely.”

A lack of openness could cause problems during the bankruptcy process, she says.

5 questions to ask when vetting candidates

Many bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations, so it makes sense to use that opportunity to find a lawyer you’re comfortable with.

When you take those meetings, it’s important to be prepared. Here’s a list of some of the questions you may want to ask to help evaluate an attorney.

  1. Do you specialize in bankruptcy? Bankruptcy laws are complicated, so it’s important to make sure you’re working with a professional who understands the most-minute details of the law and how it may impact you. You may want to avoid working with an attorney who has little or no bankruptcy experience.
  2. How many bankruptcy cases do you file each year? Morgan suggests working with a lawyer who’s filing two to five cases every month, or roughly 50 per year. 
  3. Who’s going to be handling my case? Morgan doesn’t recommend having a paralegal be your primary point of contact. Because there’s so much at stake, it’s essential that your lawyer works with you from the beginning and knows the ins and outs of your financial situation. If you won’t be meeting with your attorney until the meeting of creditors, you may want to find someone else to work with. 
  4. What is your fee structure? Many bankruptcy attorneys are willing to work with their clients to set up payment plans, but even so, full payment may be required before filing. 
  5. What’s included in your fee? In general, attorney fees cover …
  • Determining whether you qualify for bankruptcy
  • Putting together and reviewing your bankruptcy petition
  • Representing you at the meeting of creditors
  • Filing the necessary documents

You’ll also want to ask if any services are excluded from the fee, or if additional services are included. For example, Morgan works with clients to clear up post-bankruptcy problems with their credit reports.

How much will all of this cost?

Attorney fees vary widely based on the type of bankruptcy you file for, where your attorney practices and the complexity of your financial situation. In general, you can expect to pay $500 to $3,500 for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and $2,500 to $6,000 for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Understanding that their clients are in a tough financial situation, many lawyers are willing to work with their clients to set up payment plans. If you’re filing Chapter 7, your payments will be due before you officially file. If you’re filing Chapter 13, you may be able to pay part of the fee before you file and the remainder during the repayment period.

If you can’t afford an attorney at all, there are other options available. Legal aid offices provide free legal advice to low-income clients and may represent you for free if you qualify. In addition, many lawyers dedicate a certain number of hours to helping individuals who can’t afford their services, so it may be worth looking for one who will take your case pro bono.

How much does it cost to file for bankruptcy?

Bottom line

There are many ways to find an attorney to represent you if you’re filing for bankruptcy. If you can get a referral from someone you know and trust, that’s probably a good way to go. If not, consider looking into other resources, like legal aid, professional associations or your local bar association.

No matter how you find a bankruptcy lawyer, be sure you do your homework to ensure your attorney is qualified, experienced and someone you feel comfortable working with.


About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Tow… Read more.