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Things to consider before scheduling a consultation with a Bankruptcy Lawyer
FIRST, DON’T BE INTIMATED:
You should feel comfortable, have good chemistry, with anyone handling something as important as your legal and financial affairs. Bankruptcy filing can be scary so you want someone who is responsive, accessible, picks up the phone when you call, and actually listens to you.
Before hiring a bankruptcy lawyer, ask questions, read thoroughly the attorney client agreement. It is not unreasonable to negotiate the fees, ask how long they have been practicing Bankruptcy and how many bankruptcy cases they filed. How to find a Good Bankruptcy Attorney: Consumer Resources by National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
SECOND, IT’S IMPORTANT TO RECEIVE ADEQUATE COUNSELING BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER:
Is the attorney generous with their time? Are you dealing with the attorney directly or with clerical staff who are not qualified to answer questions and provide legal advice? Are the legal fees you will pay buying you adequate time and attention from an experienced San Diego Bankruptcy lawyer. You want a lawyer who not only understands bankruptcy laws, our San Diego local rules and procedures, but also your specific concerns, your situation, your case?
It can be extremely frustrating to deal with an inaccessible attorney who is handling too many cases and barely know your name. How about attorneys who ghost their clients, don’t return calls or e-mails? Good bankruptcy legal representation means adequate and ongoing communications with your bankruptcy attorney. It means a confident successful hearing, timely discharge, great results with little to no worry or stress, money well spent. See 2014 published court opinion: Judge offers harsh words for attorneys operating “bankruptcy mills”
At TLC you are assured with direct prompt and frequent contact with your attorney.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPER BANKRUPTCY PETITION PREPARATIONS:
Who will be preparing your petition, an attorney or clerical staff or will the work be outsourced to third party petition preparer? Some years ago TLC obtained a solicitation for preparing the petition forms super cheap by a foreign firm. Do you want your personal financial information like tax records, social security number, bank statements farmed out to who knows where? Even if the preparer is San Diego based and trustworthy, quality will depend on attorney’s efforts in supervising and reviewing the preparer’s work. Will a bankruptcy attorney who delegates the petition preparations dedicate adequate time and proper effort to thoroughly review that completed petition to be filed with the Court and the documents that will be submitted to the Trustee?
At TLC case preparations are done by your attorney who is familiar with your case to ensure proper attention to detail.
A FAMILIAR TRUSTWORTHY FACE AT A TRUSTEE MEETING (CREDITORS MEETING):
San Diego’s Local Court Bankruptcy rules state that if an “appearance attorney” is to attend the Trustees Meeting, that appearance attorney must PERSONALLY meet with the debtor(s) AT LEAST ONCE (SPECIFICALLY NOT AT THE TRUSTEE OFFICE JUST PRIOR TO THE MEETING) and be thoroughly knowledgeable about the case. The attorney who understand your case can address any questions or concerns at the meeting. Clients should also have received adequate counseling so that they know what to expect and come to all hearing(s) confident and prepared.
TLC does not use appearance attorneys to handle hearings. Your attorney, who is familiar with all aspects of your case, will attend all hearings with you, and provide you with proper instructions to prepare you for important meetings.
TRICKMEISTERS “START YOUR CASE FOR LITTLE OR NO MONEY DOWN” “$100 STARTS YOUR CASE” “BANKRUPTCY CASES FOR AS LITTLE AS $699”
If I wasn’t broke I would not be here reading this. Understandably paying a bankruptcy lawyer is a challenge. Beware of “Start your case with little to no money down” or “bankruptcy representation for as little as $699”. It may not be illegal advertising but maybe it should be because it is very disingenuous. It suggests that the law firm will file your bankruptcy case for as little as X dollars. Nope, absolute nonsense. Preparation of the petition and filing of the case will happen AFTER ALL the legal fees are paid in full (see below). Oh yes, the firm will create an office file for you, hopefully send creditors letters of representation after receiving a retainer but that doesn’t really “start your case” now, does it? “You could lose as much as 50 pounds in two weeks on this diet” but of course “your actual results may vary”. Buyer beware.
Until your bankruptcy petition is actually filed with the court, you and your assets are NOT, repeat NOT protected.
TLC is frank and honest, the goal is to under promise and over deliver, exceed client expectations so that when the case is finished the client can say confidently they hired a great San Diego bankruptcy lawyer who was worth every cent.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT BANKRUPTCY LEGAL FEE PAYMENT INSTALLMENT PLAN:
Here is something many people don’t know. Unpaid legal fees are a “pre-petition unsecured debt” in Chapter 7. You might say “so what, who cares?” All debts must be listed in your bankruptcy petition Schedule F. A creditor, and if you owe the bankruptcy lawyer legal fees ironically that makes them your lawyer and also a creditor in your bankruptcy case, who attempts to collect on a pre petition debt while the case is pending is in violation of the automatic stay. Some districts, more recently, have allowed some financing schemes to handle the fees. For now, the local district in San Diego, has not moved in that direction.
A creditor who attempts to collect after discharge order is granted is in violation of the discharge order. There is NO exception to discharge for bankruptcy attorney legal fees. So, if you haven’t paid your bankruptcy lawyer before he/she filed the case, Congratulations! You don’t have to pay them. They however are required to perform all the tasks specifically listed in the Chapter 7 Rights and Responsibilities Form and the Chapter 13 Rights and Responsibilities Form. Both of these forms list in Section I all the tasks attorney must perform as part of bankruptcy filing representation. Only specific items in Section II & Section III can be billed post filing and paid at that time. So while installment plans for legal fees are okay all the payments must be completed, in other words the legal fees, paid in full BEFORE the attorney file a case.
TLC legal fee payment arrangements are flexible and designed to work with client needs. The payment plan is spelled out in the attorney/client agreement. The case is prepared and filed promptly as soon as all legal fees are paid in full. The sooner the client can pay the fees the sooner the attorney can prepare and file the case. Discuss your circumstances and need for payment arrangements with the attorney.
BEFORE CONSULTING WITH A BANKRUPTCY LAW FIRM:
- WHO IS THE ATTORNEY AND ARE THEY LOCAL? Each bankruptcy court has their own local rules. San Diego Bankruptcy Court is in the Southern District of California. It handles many things differently from Central District for Los Angeles or Riverside. Even courts in same state have own local rules. Although a California licensed attorney located anywhere in the world is not prohibited from filing a case in the Southern District Bankruptcy Court in San Diego they might not be familiar with the Local Rules of the or having to adjust to different procedures. Out of town Attorneys must also either spend on travel to San Diego for hearings or hire appearance attorneys to attend on their behalf. Many clients would much prefer to not have anyone but their attorney who should be very familiar with their case attending hearings.
- THIS MAY SEEM RIDICULOUSLY SIMPLE BUT IS THE INDIVIDUAL YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING HIRING ACTUALLY LICENSED AND IS THEIR LICENSE IN GOOD STANDING? It is surprising how many people assume and do not check out the lawyer’s license status BEFORE hiring them. This Link to State Bar of California shows not only if the license is current but how the attorney has been in practice and whether there have been complaints, license suspensions, disciplinary actions by the State Bar. (Red Flag: Disciplinary or Administrative Actions)
- DOES ATTORNEY OR LAW FIRM HAVE POSITIVE CLIENT REVIEWS: This is pretty straight forward. Check for client reviews. One or two negative reviews could be past clients with unreasonable expectations but several negative reviews usually signal a problem. Better Business Bureau, Google, Yelp, Avvo, Nolo, (Red Flag: several complaints)
- IS ATTORNEY MEMBER OF A PROFESSIONAL BANKRUPTCY ASSOCIATION – Consumer Bankruptcy attorneys typically join the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and San Diego Bankruptcy lawyers specifically join a local bankruptcy association the San Diego Bankruptcy Forum/California Bankruptcy Forum. If attorney doesn’t have a membership with at least the national association it could indicate that this lawyer is not very active in bankruptcy practice. It also means they don’t support an organization that is lobbying Congress for laws favorable to debtors’ interests. Just as it isn’t wise to hire a chiropractor to perform an eye surgery it typically is not wise to hire a personal injury or some other kind of attorney to handle a bankruptcy case. Bankruptcy is a specialty, has its own court, even separate from federal courts. Typically attorneys pay membership fees and join associations specific to their area of practice so that they can access continuing legal education seminars, updates on legal precedents, share knowledge and expertise with other local attorneys in the same practice.
- WHAT IS THE ATTORNEY’S BREATH OF EXPERIENCE IN REPRESENTING DEBTORS IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS?: This one is a little harder. There is a way to search attorney names online and see all the cases that attorney has filed with the court. It may cost a few dollars because there is a charge for search results on a per page basis. This Link to PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records allows the public to look up cases by name, search of attorney name should produce list of cases previously filed. Red flag: either little or no cases have been filed or there is a pattern of filed cases ending in dismissals)
- IF A SAN DIEGO BANKRUPTCY LAWYER IS ADVERTISING THAT THEY ARE “CERTIFIED” OR “A BANKRUPTCY SPECIALIST” confirm that in fact that lawyer has received certification from the State of California Bar Association in Bankruptcy. To practice Bankruptcy competently certification is NOT necessary but ethical rules forbid attorneys to advertise that they are a “specialist” if they have not actually been certified as a specialist by the Bar. If a lawyer is not complying with this basic rule makes one wonder what other compliance issues there may be? How about how that attorney handles client trust accounts?
TO HIRE BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY THE LAWYER BY LAW MUST PROVIDE YOU WITH AT LEAST TWO THINGS:
- ATTORNEY/CLIENT AGREEMENT: with both A) Legal Fees and B) Scope of Representation CLEARLY spelled out and
- BANKRUPTCY DISCLOSURES legally required by Bankruptcy Rules