Tips for interviewing your prospective Bankruptcy Attorney

Tips for interviewing your prospective Bankruptcy Attorney

So you’re either thinking about filing bankruptcy…

Before you file you will ultimately pull the trigger on signing a retainer agreement with someone who will represent you throughout your case. But who do you choose? How do you know the attorney you’re talking to is the best person to lead you through the journey?

One sure way to find someone that other people are happy with is to ask your friends and colleagues for a referral. But, what if you don’t know anybody who has filed bankruptcy, what if the person you know who filed wasn’t happy with their attorney? What then?

Hopefully, if you’re reading this blog entry you’ll be calling my office to see how I stack up.

I think there are 4 concepts to think about when you interview me (or someone else).

1. Experience
2. Demeanor
3. Reputation
4. Fees (yes, that’s last on my list for a reason).

Experience
This is pretty obvious. You want to hire an attorney who has the experience to get you on the road to recovery. There are many bad things that can happen to you if you file a bankruptcy petition without having received competent legal advice. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How much of the attorney’s practice is dedicated to filing bankruptcy petitions? Are you thinking of hiring someone who ‘dabbles’ in bankruptcy, or who maintains an A-Z law practice? Or are you thinking of hiring someone whose practice is solely devoted to bankruptcy? (My practice all bankruptcy all the time–Yes, I really love it that much!)
  • When did your prospective attorney start his or her bankruptcy practice? Are you thinking of hiring someone who is testing the waters with your case, or are you thinking of hiring someone who is pre-seasoned? (Bankruptcy petitions took over my life in 2008–so no, I haven’t been doing this for 10 years, but I’ve been feeding my family with legal fees I’ve earned from a diverse set of clients and cases since the get-go.)

Demeanor
How does the attorney treat his or her staff? How does the attorney treat you? Does the attorney answer your emails and phone calls? Does the attorney devote herself to you when you are in her office, or is she answering calls, checking her blackberry, etc.

  • Who meets with you to conduct the interview and follow up? Is it the attorney you’re thinking about hiring, or his paralegal? Who will be in court with you? The attorney you’re thinking about hiring, or an appearance attorney? Whose phone number will you be given to call when you have questions and need answers–NOW! (You guessed it, you meet with me, you have my cell phone number. I go to court with you. I continue to answer your calls and emails until you no longer need to talk to me. I keep my practice small enough that I can deliver this level of service to each client I represent.)
  • Believe me, you want to hire someone who makes you feel comfortable and assured and cared about. This is not the time to be made to feel self-conscious about your situtation. Similarly, you can bet that the attitude you see in the office will be the attitude you see in court. (You’ll check out my demeanor when we meet.)

Reputation
The community of attorneys who practice bankruptcy law in Atlanta is fairly small. That means that your attorney’s reputation in the court will precede your case. This works in your favor if your attorney has a reputation for running a tight ship ethics-wise. This works against you if your attorney is a sleaze ball of whom the court is suspicious. If your prospective attorney is saying things like, “no one will ever know….” or “don’t tell the court that…” or “well, it’s supposed to be this way, but in your case….” RUN. RUN. RUN! (Yes, I run a tight ship. I view my reputation in the legal community as my most valuable asset.)

  • Another tool I swear by as a consumer and that I’ve recently adopted for my practice is online community reviews like Yelp, AVVO, and Kudzu. My practice can be found on these sites as of this week (links on my blog). I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t think there are reviews of me yet from past clients. I’m telling you I’m there before the reviews so you know I take feedback seriously. I welcome reviews of my work.

Finally, Fees.
Clients sometimes shop around for the cheapest attorney. I answer these calls the same way every time. “No, I am not the cheapest attorney, but I will be up front with you from the beginning about the cost of your case. I offer service that other firms can’t. The bankruptcy code is my life.” Fees are on my list, but it’s last because it really shouldn’t be the first thing you consider. It takes time for an attorney to evaluate your case and determine the fees. Anyone who says, “I’ll do it for $X” over the phone without interviewing you, looking at your credit reports, and talking to you about your financial history in the year or so leading up to filing doesn’t know what the heck he or she is doing. (There I said it, I feel better).

Since the bankruptcy code is written at the federal level, this list pretty much applies to Georgia as well as any other state. This is a very long list. Some of the things on this list will look like Greek to you. But this is something to keep in mind: a lot can happen down the trail. Make sure your attorney is being honest about what’s ‘in your buggy’ at check-out.

Like what you read?
Call my office at 404-418 8879 to set up your consultation with me.