How to file for bankruptcy — choosing a bankruptcy lawyer

Typically, after consumers with debt problems gather all their bills together (or sometimes before), they will set out to contact a bankruptcy lawyer to help them with the process.

Choosing the right lawyer to handle your bankruptcy case is an important decision, but it shouldn’t be an all-consuming or paralyzing one. There are many good attorneys out there, so spending too much time agonizing over whether a particular firm is the perfect fit is probably a mistake. Of course, if you live in the Lawrence, Andover, or Salem, NH areas, I have a definite suggestion about who you should choose, but much of what is written here will apply to anyone, nationwide.

When talking to your prospective bankruptcy attorney, the most important consideration I would give is to the lawyer’s attitude toward yourself and to bankruptcy cases in general. Above all, you need to find someone who understands at a gut level what it feels like to be in debt, and who understands what it takes to get them out of the situation they are in. The last thing any potential bankruptcy filer needs is an attorney with an imperious attitude. We all know that you should want to pay your bills, and that you should in fact pay them. But consumer bankruptcy cases are not morality plays; they are simply a mechanism for debtors to be able to try again with a clean slate. Having an attorney who understands this is a tremendous advantage.

Close behind attitude I would rank accessability. If you can’t get in touch with your lawyer, he or she really isn’t going to be much use to you. All lawyers sleep and go on vacation, so it is unrealistic to expect 24/7 access, but by the same token, waiting weeks for simple answers or updates or –gasp! — an initial consultation, is unacceptable. As soon as you find yourself being routed toward dealing with a paralegal or secretary, take it as a warning sign and find another firm.

A word about experience; while it is certainly useful for a lawyer to have some, I don’t believe it is the be-all and end-all in bankruptcy law. A lawyer with 20 years experience is not twice as good as a lawyer with “only” ten; quality is simply not distributed that way. My first client back in 1994 got her discharge just fine in the same amount of time as my clients do today; while I certainly have learned a lot in the ensuing years (and will give the benefit of that knowledge to the people who hire me), attitude and enthusiasm are the real keys to an effective bankruptcy practice.

Finally, a word about price. This is obviously a sensitive topic, as you wouldn’t be thinking about filing bankruptcy if money grew on trees. While there is no need to assume that the highest priced lawyer is the “best” by virtue of his enormous fees, there is definitely an element of “you get what you pay for” at work in the bankruptcy field. As tempting as it may be, try to stay away from firms offering the very lowest rates. The reason is that you may find yourself buying in to someone else’s problems instead of fixing your own; law is a stressful life, and every published study I have ever seen shows that lawyers suffer from drug addiction, depression, alcoholism, gambling problems, and the like at about twice the rate of the general population. A low teaser rate that lets a lawyer get his hands on your money for the sole purpose of tending to his own problems is a headache you don’t need.

Anyone with questions about bankruptcy or choosing a bankruptcy lawyer is welcome to call me at (978) 975 – 2608.


By Doug Beaton

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