Meeting with a Bankruptcy Attorney How to Prepare & What to Expect
Every bankruptcy attorney has their own process when it comes to interacting with potential or established clients, but there are items that you can expect most bankruptcy attorneys to cover in client meetings, including: general preparation, gathering of documents, completion of documents, and payment of fees.
Free Initial Consultations
Many attorneys now offer free consultations. A general consultation is exactly what the name implies—a general overview of your bankruptcy case. If you have prepared a list of debts, property, and income, before heading into the consultation, a bankruptcy attorney will be able to offer a more accurate assessment of your options.
This first meeting is not the time to be shy about your situation. No one wants to be in bankruptcy and attorneys understand the reluctance. But remember if this reluctance causes you to withhold important information, it can result in a misguided assessment of your bankruptcy options. If after a consultation, you decide to go through with a filing and hire a bankruptcy attorney, you will then go through what is known as a client intake process wherein you will dive deeper into your financial history with your attorney.
Information & Documents You Will Need
The first couple of meetings with a bankruptcy attorney usually focus on gathering information. Until a bankruptcy attorney has a full assessment of your finances, they can’t advise you of which type of bankruptcy will be best for your situation. Some attorneys have a general intake form to gather and document your information.
If you are asked to complete one of these forms, an associate or paralegal will go over it with you to explain the questions and items. You will usually be asked to take the form home, complete it, and then return the completed version with any necessary supporting documents.
The type of information usually required with an intake form includes: a list of bills, a list of all property, savings/checking account balances, and current income. Some are more detailed and inquire about recent life events such as divorce or personal injury lawsuits. Documents requested by a bankruptcy attorney usually include: deeds, titles, pay stubs, orders regarding any child support payments, copies of bills (electric, gas, phone, etc.), and copies of tax returns. Some law firms have started using email as a primary means to gather forms and documents, this may prove easier for some, while others may prefer printed documents.
A debtor will usually meet at least a couple of times with an attorney or paralegal before a bankruptcy is filed, some filings may require more meetings depending on how complex the bankruptcy, whether there are extensive property issues, or pending civil suits, among other factors that could prolong a filing.
After the pre-work is completed, the bankruptcy petition and other documents must be completed prior to filing. This will include schedules detailing a list of creditors and list of property. Some attorneys have their paralegal complete these forms, while others send them home with you to complete and return. Before your attorney files your petition with the bankruptcy court, they will generally require you to pay the filing fee, which is around $300.
After Filing Your Bankruptcy - 341 Meetings
After a bankruptcy is filed, you will meet an additional time or two for court proceedings. Bankruptcy proceedings do not require frequent meetings as other legal matters like child custody disputes. The meetings are scheduled and planned for specific, limited purposes. Around 20-40 days after the filing, you will be required to attend what is known as a 341 meeting with your attorney and the bankruptcy trustee. Your creditors are also free to attend this meeting.
The purpose of the 341 meeting is to review and confirm all items listed in your bankruptcy petition. It usually takes less than 30 minutes for a basic bankruptcy. You will also be required to complete a credit counseling class; your attorney, however, is not required to be present at this class. Once your bankruptcy plan is approved, you generally do not have to continue meeting with the bankruptcy court or your attorney. Your duty is simply to make the payments you agreed to in your bankruptcy plan.
Filing for bankruptcy is a process that involves multiple steps and meetings. Considering the potential benefits, the number of meetings is nominal compared to a child custody suit. However, the discussions about your financial affairs should be as frank and forthcoming as in any other lawsuit. These meetings are designed to gather information so that the bankruptcy attorney can give you the best possible advice. Good pre-work at intake level will ensure a smoother ride through the bankruptcy process.