CHOOSING A BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY
Choosing a bankruptcy attorney is a decision of utmost importance. After all, your financial future is at stake! It is important to do some homework before you proceed. Because bankruptcy has become a highly specialized field in recent years, it is probably a good idea to focus on a firm that specializes in bankruptcy or practices exclusively in the bankruptcy field. At the Bankruptcy Clinic, we focus exclusively on the practice of bankruptcy law.
The Yellow Pages
The yellow pages are often a good source for finding a bankruptcy attorney. Attorneys are usually categorized under the sub-heading of “Bankruptcy Law” or “Attorneys.” However, your decision to hire an attorney should not be based solely on yellow page advertising. Rather, this should be a starting point.
Recommendations by Other Attorneys
Probably the best way to find a bankruptcy attorney is by asking an experienced attorney in your geographical area who does not practice in the field of bankruptcy. That way, you can be assured of receiving an unbiased, objective opinion. For instance, if you used an attorney in the past to prepare a will or perform a divorce, and they do not specialize in bankruptcy, that would be a very good starting point. Further, you should probably be wary of an attorney that is receiving a “referral” fee from the law firm they are referring you to. Some attorneys, particularly in the areas of personal injury and worker’s compensation, will pay a “referring” attorney a portion of the fees they receive from you. Such practices may raise the following ethical concerns: 1) the attorney who is referring you may be influenced more by a desire for monetary gain rather than your best interests; and 2) the attorney receiving the referral may tend to overcharge for their own services in an effort to compensate for a portion of your fees being paid to another attorney who has performed no services. Although a very sizeable percentage of our bankruptcy cases come from attorney referrals, which we greatly value, we make it a point to not pay referral fees to third party law firms or attorneys under any circumstances.
Recommendations by Friends and Family
Another good source is recommendations from friends or family. Obviously, bankruptcy may not be something most people are openly willing to share with friends or family. Similarly, our duty of confidentiality prohibits us from disclosing information about our former clients or their specific situations. However, if you have a close friend or family member who was satisfied with the results of their attorney in a prior bankruptcy, that is generally a good starting point. We are proud to say that approximately 50 percent of our clients are from client or attorney referrals.
Information Found Over the Internet
The internet is fast becoming a marketplace of ideas, both good and bad. You should treat attorney “search” services over the internet with a sense of caution and common sense. These are services in which the subscribing attorney pays a third party Internet provider or service for referrals or advertising placement. These lawyer finder services have no way of monitoring the quality of the services you receive or the professional reputation of the attorney they are advertising for or referring you to. Further, and more concerning, you should probably take “anonymous reviews” found on search engines or websites as just what they are. These could be written by anyone, even the attorney himself or some crony working under the guidance of an attorney. One area bankruptcy attorney has such a review proclaiming he is an “Excellent lawyer!” Unfortunately, that same attorney has been banned from even practicing before the Chief Bankruptcy Judge of the district covering all of Southern Illinois because of perceived ethical misconduct. At a bare minimum, any “anonymous review” posted on the internet, good or bad, should be taken with a grain of salt. If you are not sure, at least ask around and get a second opinion.
Direct Attorney Solicitations
A direct attorney solicitation is one in which the bankruptcy attorney contacts you directly by mail or otherwise because the lawyer has sent someone to the courthouse and discovered you have been named in a lawsuit. Such direct solicitations have been prohibited by ethical rules governing attorneys until only very recently. Akin to “ambulance chasing,” such solicitations are now technically allowed under Illinois Professional Rule 7.3 so long as they are not “coercive” and are plainly labeled as “advertising material.” Nevertheless, such solicitations are still frowned upon by much of the legal profession. One Southern Illinois bankruptcy attorney utilized this tactic heavily in recent years. Unfortunately, many individuals were taken advantage of for many years by his incompetence. He has since been suspended from the practice of law in Illinois. We do not engage in direct solicitations because we believe it borders on the unethical. If you receive a direct solicitation from an attorney, we recommend you consider searching elsewhere. We believe the vast majority of attorneys would agree with us.
Stay Relatively Close to Home
Bankruptcy is a very personalized and individual area of the law. For that reason, it is generally a good idea to stick with an attorney or law firm whose main office is located less than 90 miles from your residence. If, for instance, you live in Southern Illinois, you will invariably be best served by an attorney whose offices are close to home. If you are to be competently represented, you need to personally meet with an attorney at length on a one-on-one basis rather than being interviewed over the phone or the internet by a secretary or paralegal. Approximately one month after your case is filed, you will have to personally attend a Meeting of Creditors with your attorney. It is human nature for clients to be nervous during such meetings. There is nothing more disconcerting for a client to discover for the first time at a Meeting of Creditors that their attorney will not be present. Rather, the client’s attorney farmed out that responsibility to some “local” attorney who knows nothing about her case or situation and is not even affiliated with the attorney’s law firm. This invariably leads to anxiety and frustration for the client. If you utilize our services, an attorney from our firm will be the one representing you at your Meeting of Creditors and throughout the handling of your case.
Experience Really Does Matter
When selecting a firm, make sure the members of the firm are experienced in the area of bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy has become a very technical and highly specialized area of practice. You should inquire into how many cases the attorney has filed and how long he or she has been practicing. Our attorneys have filed well over 10,000 cases in Southern Illinois over the last 18 years, a statistic few others can claim. Bankruptcy is all we do, so we believe we know it very well. Yet we are not a bankruptcy mill. In fact, our attorneys spend more one-on-one time with each client than any other firm we are aware of. Also, make sure you know how long your attorney has been practicing in your state and geographic region to ensure they are familiar with its local court rules and procedures. Your rights could be compromised by a less experienced firm. Finally, you may want to inquire if the attorney practices all areas of bankruptcy law, including Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11. You do not want to be placed in the wrong Chapter because an attorney does not know what he is doing. You need to be assured your case will be handled in the best professional manner possible.
Free Consultation With a Lawyer
Contact us today for more information about your debt reduction options. We have offices in Carbondale, Marion and Mt. Vernon, Illinois, to serve you. Evening and weekend appointments are available.
We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code.