Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?
The short answer? Yes. A bankruptcy lawyer assists and advises clients through the legal processes to reduce or eliminate debt and/or to file bankruptcy. But how do you know if you really need to hire a lawyer to file for bankruptcy? It is not required by law, but unless you are a practicing bankruptcy lawyer yourself, there are many good reasons to consider hiring one.
Pro Se/Pro Per
People always have the option of representing themselves in court or any other legal proceeding. This is known as “ In Propia Persona”, pro se or pro per for short. However, even the simplest bankruptcy requires you to produce a mountain of paperwork, file a petition, attend a court hearing, and adhere to federal and local rules and procedures. As a result, most experienced lawyers would recommend you do not represent yourself in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Bankruptcy is a Multi-Step Process
Bankruptcy can be a lengthy process, sometimes lasting years. The process requires hearings, payment schedules, counseling sessions, trustee meetings, and many other deadlines. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer will be familiar with these steps and can help you meet all your deadlines. In bankruptcy, failure to meet certain requirements may result in the case being dismissed without any of the debts being discharged.
What to look for in a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Always meet with a few different lawyers, whether in person or on the phone. Then, consider the following criteria before deciding which bankruptcy lawyer to hire:
- Signs of Professionalism. A good bankruptcy lawyer is actively practicing and up to date on the latest laws.
- Are they a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys ?
- Are they State Bar Certified as a Bankruptcy Specialist? Many states have specialist certifications for lawyers that have (1) practiced for a certain number of years, (2) passed an exam, and (3) received positive peer reviews.
- What ratio of the lawyer’s practice is comprised of bankruptcy?
- Alternate Resolutions. Upon evaluating a case, an ethical lawyer will determine if there are other viable options to bankruptcy and present them to the client. Alternate resolutions might include debt management or debt resolution.
- Consistent Fees. Courts often cap the fees an attorney can charge, so if a few different lawyers have evaluated your case, chances are they’ll all be in the same general ballpark. If a firm charges a fee unusually higher or lower than the ballpark amount, be warned.
Hiring a lawyer to assist you is one of the most important steps in successfully filing bankruptcy and avoiding legal consequences. After taking the time to research and meet with various attorneys, you should feel confident in moving forward with managing your debt once you’ve found the right lawyer who meets all your criteria.