Choosing Your Bankruptcy Lawyer: Experience Matters

by Hermin Dowe on December 18, 2012

How do you go about choosing your bankruptcy lawyer? Most people never expect to be faced with bankruptcy. Then there’s the embarrassment factor. Facing bankruptcy is not something that most people are anxious to share with friends and neighbors. It’s not like asking for advice about a hairdresser or lawn service. So how do you know who to choose?

The most important factor in choosing a bankruptcy lawyer is experience. Bankruptcy is an extremely complex area of law. Proceeding without a lawyer is risky. Proceeding with a lawyer who is not well-versed in bankruptcy law and procedural rules can be just as (or perhaps more) risky. And, though we all had to start somewhere, you would be quite justified in deciding that you don’t want to be the guinea pig for someone’s first foray into the bankruptcy court. Your goal is to get to the end of your case, when the court enters an order that prohibits your creditors from continuing to try to collect from you. You want that order to resolve as much debt as possible, and you want to get there as efficiently as possible. There are decisions and judgment calls to be made all along the way. Contrary to what some people believe, bankruptcy involves more than filling out a set of forms and handing them in.

My office regularly receives calls from people who ask the same basic question: How much do you charge for a simple bankruptcy? I can answer that question, but it would be misleading. Unless you are an experienced bankruptcy lawyer, how do you know that you have a simple bankruptcy case? Your case can be affected by something as simple the amount of time you’ve lived at your current residence, or how long it’s been since you filed your tax returns.

So how do you know how much experience is enough experience? And how do you find out how much experience a lawyer has? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that. I do think you need to do your homework, and find out something about your potential bankruptcy lawyer. I also think that you have the right, and frankly the obligation to yourself, to ask questions. You can ask questions about the lawyer’s experience. You can look up a lawyer’s resume on her website. You can and should ask questions about your case, and you should be comfortable with the attorney’s answers to your questions. You should have some level of comfort that the lawyer is familiar with how bankruptcy will affect your situation.

You should also know who you are meeting with, or talking to. Are you meeting with an actual bankruptcy lawyer, or are you meeting with a paralegal? When does a lawyer become involved in the decision-making process in your case? There are all kinds of ways to handle the decision-making process as it relates to a bankruptcy filing, but you have the right to know what that process is, and not be misled about who is making those decisions, and what level of expertise that person has.

I think that many prospective clients go into the process with one overriding concern: the cost of bankruptcy. The outcome of your bankruptcy case may be proof positive of the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” The irony of the focus on cost for many people is that it backfires. It always costs more to straighten out a mess than to prevent the mess in the first place. Yes, an experienced bankruptcy lawyer may cost more than someone who just “dabbles” or has just hung out a shingle and will take whatever fee-producing matter comes along. But remember this: The reason you are hiring a bankruptcy lawyer in the first place is that you don’t know enough about bankruptcy to identify the pitfalls. Find someone who does.

The Dowe Law Firm is very experienced with reasonable fees. Call us today at 510-233-7700 to schedule your free consultation.

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