Selecting the Right Bankruptcy Lawyer - Online Resources
With an influx of bankruptcies—both individual and business—in recent years, bankruptcy attorneys are more prevalent. They are easily accessible online and with so much information and so many options, the challenge then becomes: “how do I select the right bankruptcy lawyer?" It's recommended that anyone facing bankruptcy conduct thorough research before deciding on an attorney. There are a number of factors to take into consideration.
Reviewing an Attorney's Website
Most attorneys these days have a website advertising their services. They often provide short informational videos along with pages of information that can give you insight into the process and nature of their office. But looking past the bells and whistles, there are a few things to take note of regarding these websites:
First, review the focus of law on the site. Bankruptcy law can be a complicated overlap of federal law, bankruptcy laws, and administrative rules. If most of the website is dedicated to family law issues, they are probably just doing bankruptcy work on the side. This does not mean that they can't competently handle a bankruptcy matter, but it does provide a better indicator of what they know the most about. It is recommended that you hire a lawyer who knows as much as possible about bankruptcy law, specifically.
Second, see if there is a list of staff members who work for the attorney. Look for a lower ratio of support staff to attorneys. If you see a firm with one attorney and twenty paralegals (a high ratio), the chances are that the various paralegals actually handle the bankruptcy filings and the attorney is just signing off on the paperwork.
Look for Attorney Reviews on Other Sites
After reviewing the bankruptcy attorney’s website, look for any external reviews of the attorney’s previous work. The Better Business Bureau website or other consumer feedback sites may be a good place to start. Social networking sites such as Facebook may also provide uncensored criticism, or praise. Information gleaned from these sources can indicate whether or not you'll be treated like a client or just a number; bankruptcy can be an emotional process for many people, but the stress can be somewhat alleviated if you feel your attorney actually cares about your case. Even if the feedback you find on these websites doesn't sway you with any certainty one way or the other, it may provide you with considerations and questions to address with your prospective bankruptcy attorney, before hiring them.
Refer to Your State Bar's Website
Another great source of information is your state bar’s website. Every state has a different website, but most will offer at least basic information like how long the bankruptcy attorney has been practicing law, in what areas of expertise and where. If an attorney only lists two or three areas of expertise, they have probably been focused on honing their bankruptcy skills. If an attorney lists fifteen different practice areas, you should be concerned that they are not completely focused on bankruptcy issues and will therefore not provide the level of service you're seeking. Some state bar sites will also offer information concerning notice of grievances or other complaints filed against attorneys practicing in your state.
Taking the Next Step: Meeting with the Attorney
Armed with information, the next step is to meet the attorney and his or her staff. Yes, meet the staff too. You may like the attorney, but if the staff makes you uncomfortable, you might end up feeling reluctant to divulge some information. It is crucial for a successful filing that you openly inform your attorney, and any staff members working closely with you, about your financial situation. Filing for bankruptcy involves a deep look into your personal finances and some personal situations. You have to be comfortable talking to the people involved in every step of this process.
Poor communication makes for poor results in a bankruptcy action, regardless of how informed an attorney may be in bankruptcy law. It's also important, before finalizing your decision to hire a particular attorney, to discuss cost of representation: fee structure, accepted payment plans, and use of paralegals to reduce costs are all points you may want to address.
Highly specialized law firms, commonly referred to as "boutique" firms are quite impressive. But take advantage of the free consultations offered by other firms; shop around for the best fit for your situation. Bankruptcy is a last resort financial option, you are looking to invest your last spare dollars into a bankruptcy filing—take the time to find an attorney who is more than a sound-bite on a commercial. Find one willing to help fight for your financial freedom.