Every bankruptcy attorney has a different approach to learning more about you. I personally don’t ask potential clients to fill out a questionnaire; I prefer to get that information through face to face conversation. And I don’t ask you to bring in a credit report; pulling that information is part of my due diligence.
Regardless of style, every bankruptcy lawyer is thinking about certain questions during an initial consultation: How helpful will filing a bankruptcy case be to this person? Which would be more helpful: a Chapter 7 case or a Chapter 13 case? Are there any red flags or complications?
As the potential client, you should be asking questions, too.
Maybe you’re “interviewing” lawyers to find the best one. But you also need to know what’s in store for you if you decide to hire this person. With that in mind, here are five questions to ask a bankruptcy lawyer before signing an agreement:
- Does this person make me feel comfortable? This is one you ask yourself, not the lawyer, but it’s the most important question. You’re putting a great deal of trust in this person, and you’re counting on him or her to accomplish something very important. Does he or she seem competent? Does he or she take the time to answer your questions? If it feels as if you might receive insufficient personal attention, or if the lawyer seems mostly interested in his or her own pocketbook, maybe you should look elsewhere.
- Is [thing that I’m worried about] going to complicate my case? Everyone’s situation is unique, and everyone has some detail that they’re concerned about. Most of the time, there’s nothing to worry about. Other times, the thing a client thinks is no big deal actually has a major impact. There’s no way to know unless you ask. Believe me, your lawyer wants to know about potential problems, and you’ll be happier with the outcome if he or she does.
- What’s the most likely outcome, and what’s the worst case scenario? Your lawyer wants your case to go smoothly. Unfortunately, not every case can go smoothly. Sometimes there are potential complications that might (or might not) arise. Other times there are complications that are virtually certain to arise. Find out what he or she thinks will probably occur, but also find out what he or thinks is a worst case scenario, and how likely that scenario is.
- What would happen if I filed a different chapter instead? This question gets to the heart of what the lawyer wants to accomplish for you in your case. Why is he or she recommending Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7, or vice-versa? This question will also help you understand how bankruptcy law works and how it will affect you.
- What are the factors on which you based your quoted fee? It’s perfectly reasonable for you to inquire into quoted fees. I don’t recommend choosing a lawyer based solely on price: You get what you pay for after all, and I think comfort with your lawyer is more important (see question #1), but fees do matter. If a lawyer is quoting you more than he or she might quote a different client, it should be due to additional work he or she thinks your case will require, and that’s something you want to know about.
There you have it: Five questions to ask a bankruptcy lawyer before signing an agreement. You might notice that I didn’t include any questions about who will appear at your Meeting of Creditors or about the impact of a case on your credit score. Those questions are important, and you should certainly ask them. However, these five questions listed above get to the heart of the lawyer’s representation of you.