Hiring the Right Attorney Is Critical! Some Common Pitfalls to Avoid

By Rachel Sherman

The importance of hiring a competent, experienced attorney to represent you in a bankruptcy case cannot be overemphasized. People file for bankruptcy because they are in dire circumstances and need help, and hiring the wrong attorney can have a long-lasting impact on your life, as well as your ability to complete the bankruptcy and obtain a discharge. And if your case gets dismissed because it was mishandled, even if it’s completely the attorney’s fault, it can impact your ability to file for another bankruptcy in the future.

To draw an analogy, think of a burst pipe in your kitchen — water gushing everywhere, running into the next room and ruining your rugs and furniture, and creating a large mess. You want to bring in a plumber who can fix the problem at the source, not merely put a Band-Aid on it. We all know this is the right way to go about it because we know how it plays out if we do not — the numerous plumber visits, the time taken off from work to meet the plumber, the mess you’re left to clean up. It can be a hassle.

Hiring a bankruptcy lawyer has many similarities; you need to hire the person who will do the job right the first time. Otherwise, you end up dealing with unnecessary trips to the courthouse, going back to the attorney’s office several times to sign amended forms, dealing with other unnecessary delays or, worse yet, having your case dismissed. An experienced bankruptcy attorney knows what is needed from you in terms of documentation and information, and can assist in making your case run very smoothly.

I’ve met with many people who, before the consultation even begins or on the phone before coming in to meet with me, want to know what our firm charges. While in some cases it’s simply curiosity (“how much is this thing going to cost me?”), my experience is that more often than not those people are merely shopping around for the best price. Unfortunately, these people are usually not concerned about the type of representation they get. I always tell people that they may save a few hundred dollars by going to the cheapest lawyer, but they always get what they pay for. Sadly, I have been in court on many occasions and have witnessed unnecessary and regrettable outcomes in cases in which the lawyer did not know what he or she was doing and the client paid the price. In other cases, trustees and judges have requested that other attorneys intervene or take over a case that is about to sink or where it is clear that an inexperienced attorney is mishandling the case in a way that could result in very serious consequences for the client. All documents filed with the court are sworn to under the penalty of perjury, so if an attorney has failed to ask you the right questions, some critical information will not be included and your forms will be inaccurate.

How can you avoid this problem? One thing to keep in mind is, go with your gut. Hire the attorney who has the answers to your questions during the intake or who at least gets back to you with the answers to your questions if he or she does not know them. This demonstrates a commitment to doing things the right way. Do not be intimidated or turned off by an attorney who asks for a lot of documentation or information; he or she is merely doing the job they’re supposed to do and it will only benefit you in the end. Do some research and check the state bar website to see if any disciplinary action has been taken against a lawyer you are considering, and if you know a good lawyer ask him or her for a referral. Good lawyers know other good lawyers. Ask the attorney how many cases he or she has filed, or how long he or she has been practicing bankruptcy law. In the end, taking the time to pay attention to the person you’re going to be hiring to assist you with a very serious legal decision will pay off.

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