The only thing worse than navigating the treacherous waters of bankruptcy on your own is doing so with an inept captain at the helm-it's like trusting Gilligan over the Skipper when it comes time to get off the island. But, considering just how many attorneys are out there, you may find yourself at a loss when it comes time to choose who to guide you through the bankruptcy seas. Don't panic. By following some simple steps, the process can be virtually painless. (A good thing considering the stress your finances are already putting you through!)
1. Procrastination is Not Your Lifesaver. Facing the reality of declaring bankruptcy can be rough to do, but procrastinating will only make things worse. It's best to start investigating potential bankruptcy attorneys as soon as that reality becomes a likely scenario. The more time you have to research, the less chance of making the wrong choice due to a sudden time crunch. Also, your attorney will need enough time to review your situation so he or she can adequately prepare your case.
2. Seek Referrals from Those You Trust. Whether a family member or friend who's had a great experience with a savvy bankruptcy attorney, or your own lawyer who practices a different area of law, seeking out referrals from those you trust can be a powerful tool. Rather than breaking out the Yellow Pages and throwing darts at the bankruptcy pages, this gives you a logical starting point to begin your research. You can get firsthand experience from those who have already worked with the suggested attorney, which can be a distinct advantage in deciding whether he or she would be a good fit.
3. Visit Law Offices. Many attorneys-such as Allmand & Lee in Dallas, Texas-provide free initial consultations or online evaluations to those interested in filing for bankruptcy. By visiting their offices in person, you can get a good feel for how organized and professional the attorneys and staff members are. This can be a clue as to how the attorney would handle your case. You do not want a completely disorganized or scatterbrained person steering your "ship" through the often complicated waters of bankruptcy.
4. Play 20 Questions. Okay, the number doesn't have to be exactly 20, but make sure you prepare a detailed list of questions to ask each attorney. Some good examples are: What are your certifications? How many bankruptcies have you handled? What jurisdictions are you qualified to practice in? Will I easily be able to get in touch with you while you are handling my case? Can I interview the person I would actually be working with? What are the procedures for going through this process? How long will it take?
5. Fees! Fees! Fees! Make sure you find out all the fees involved in filing for bankruptcy, from filing fees, to court fees, to-of course-attorney fees. Find out just what is and is not included in the quote the attorney provides, and ask if any extra fees could come up during the process. For instance, hiring a forensics accountant for complicated filings. One more tip: do not hire the cheapest lawyer. You may not have a whole lot of cash lying around in your current circumstances, but still-you get what you pay for. You want a competent and plain ole good attorney handling your case. Putting someone cheaper but less experienced in charge could backfire and make your financial situation worse.
6. Rely on Your Attorney's Expertise, but Stay Involved. While you should certainly feel comfortable trusting your attorney to handle your case (assuming you conducted plenty of research before hiring him or her), remember that it is your bankruptcy case. You have the most invested in this and so the most at stake. Don't call your attorney every day hassling him or her; but don't allow yourself to drop completely off the radar either. Staying abreast of the proceedings will keep you fully informed, and make sure that you and your attorney are on the same page.
These steps should get you well on your way to smooth sailing through treacherous financial seas-hopefully with no three-hour de-tours.