Five Steps to Finding the Right Bankruptcy Attorney Near You.
Being overwhelmed with debt to the point you need to seek a bankruptcy attorney’s services is extremely stressful. Trying to find the right bankruptcy attorney to hire is almost as stressful as being deep in debt. Here’s a practical approach to finding the right bankruptcy attorney near you.
As a veteran bankruptcy attorney in Dayton, Ohio, for over 33 years, I’ll help you find the right bankruptcy attorney and avoid the common mistakes I see people make in their search.
Finding the right consumer bankruptcy attorney to advise you is critical to getting a full financial recovery, which is your goal. Although many people focus only on their debts, which is understandable, it is also crucial to remember that recovering your credit after the debt is managed.
Important! Failure to focus on this critical fact will result in an incomplete and unsatisfactory result for you.
Step One. Research attorneys on the internet.
Searching attorneys online is the first step. Many people start with “bankruptcy attorney near me” to find nearby attorneys. But, “bankruptcy attorney Dayton Ohio” for those who live in Dayton, Ohio, for example, may not be a smart choice. Most folks only file one bankruptcy in their entire lifetime.
The best bankruptcy attorney for you may not be in your backyard. It’s a good idea to expand your geographical search to up to an hour’s drive. Because I am a well-known board-certified specialist, it is not uncommon for my clients to drive over an hour to meet with me.
Internet search is essential. It’s the “word of mouth” of our modern age. It’s even better than word of mouth. Regularly, I have witnessed “word of mouth” referrals turn into disasters for people.
Why? Because the friends, co-workers, and neighbors who make these referrals are generally not competent to judge the referral’s quality. Or, the facts of these folks are not like yours, so an attorney who was a good choice for them may not be a good fit for you.
Even recommendations from attorneys, you may know, might not be helpful. I have frequently consulted with clients who told me their “family attorney recommended so and so” for their bankruptcy needs. But when they went to “so and so”, they were not impressed or, worse, got the impression that the attorney did not know bankruptcy law very well. So, why the referral? Probably “so and so” was a friend of the family attorney.
A good indicator of the kind of reputation and results an attorney has would be to find out how many cases the attorney files. If an attorney has, year after year, developed a solid reputation for high-quality work, and many people take the time to provide good reviews, this is a reliable indication of the quality of the attorney.
Numbers matter. A larger group is inherently more reliable and statistically valid. While one individual review may or may not be a true reflection of an attorney’s work quality, many reviews will almost certainly be a valid indication.
Step Two. Evaluate qualifications.
Every attorney will have (or should have) their qualifications on their website. Bankruptcy law is a very complex and narrow field. It is not a place for general practitioners to play. Attorneys, like doctors, can be Board Certified in either consumer or business bankruptcy. The board certification process is not easy, and, therefore, not too many attorneys are board-certified.
In all of Ohio, there are only ten board-certified consumer bankruptcy lawyers. Board certification, in Ohio, gives the attorney the legal permission to advertise as a specialist. Only board-certified attorneys are permitted to use the term “specialist” in their advertising. Also, look at their BBB rating.
Other attorneys who are not board certified may advertise that they “limit their practice” to consumer bankruptcy. A good indication that they are very familiar with bankruptcy law and keep up with the continually changing rules and processes.
The number of years spent practicing bankruptcy law is also a good indication of competence in this practice area. Not just the number of years as an attorney, but the number of years spent practicing exclusively or mostly in the consumer bankruptcy area.
Step Three. Review the attorney website.
An attorney’s website is a reflection of the attorney. Take the time to review the entire website carefully. Does it answer a lot of your questions? Does it convey the impression that the attorney has in-depth knowledge of consumer bankruptcy?
Can you tell me if the attorney wrote the website? Attorneys can “buy” a pre-fab website, with “cookie-cutter” content, which may be accurate but is generic and “blah.” If the attorney’s website is pretty much the same as all the others, what does this tell you about the attorney’s practice?
Ideally, you should get a “feel” for the attorney’s personality, practice, and idea about the attorney’s kind of person. After all, the website is the attorney’s “window to the world” to showcase why that attorney is different and best suited to help you.
Step Four – Credit After Bankruptcy
What you want is a full financial recovery. Bankruptcy can deal with your debt. Bankruptcy does not, by itself, do anything to help your credit. This is often the “missing piece of the picture” in a financial recovery plan.
Bankruptcy attorneys tend to focus on bankruptcy. It is understandable, as credit recovery is not part of bankruptcy or bankruptcy law. But it IS a necessary part of your financial recovery. Having a plan to help you recover your credit after bankruptcy is critical to your success. The attorney should be able to provide you with a plan, program, or a referral to help you do this.
If this is missing, you would be wise to keep looking, because this is your financial future, and it requires more than just dealing with your debt.
Step Five. The Consultation.
Once you have researched the attorneys in your geographical area, and narrowed the field by carefully reviewing the reviews and studying the attorney websites, it’s time to select 2 or 3 and schedule a consultation. Most bankruptcy attorneys in Dayton Ohio, offer free consultations. Your evaluation will begin with the phone call and end with the follow-up after the consultation.
Pay attention to how the phone is answered. Is the staff pleasant, or do they answer the phone in a way that makes you feel like they are not interested in taking your call?
When you arrive at the appointment, are you in for a long wait? Look around. The condition of the waiting room and office, in general, will tell you something about how this law firm operates. Is it clean and in good repair, or can you tell it’s neglected?
The attorney’s appearance is essential. Although not all wear ties and suits in the office, they should have a good impression. Their demeanor and attitude will give you a good sense of their level of knowledge and if they seem to be interested in you, as a person genuinely, and helping you solve your problems.
Some questions to ask:
If I don’t need a bankruptcy, will you tell me?
Will you carefully consider both chapter 7, chapter 13, and non-bankruptcy options during our visit?
What about fees? How much will it cost? Are charges hourly of flat? Is the filing fee included?
Do you offer payment plans?
How long have you been practicing bankruptcy law?
How many cases do you file in a month or last year?
What services do you offer, if any, to help me rebuild my credit after bankruptcy?
Who will be working on my case with you?
How many bankruptcy attorneys and dedicated bankruptcy staff are employed at the office.
What the answers mean, and why they are important
The way these questions are received is as important as the answers you get. The attorney should welcome your questions, as they allow the attorney to demonstrate to you how open and transparent he or she is and convey the firm’s strengths in these areas. If the attorney seems offended by the questions or doesn’t have ready answers to them, this is a red flag.
I know this because these are the very questions I answer for my clients, even without them asking. It is a reliable indication of an excellent attorney presentation when you get answers to all of these and any other questions that may naturally arise in your visit without you even asking them.
A good attorney already knows the issues. And should have the answers. You may be nervous, or perhaps you are unsure of what to ask. An attorney who has conducted thousands of these interviews will be able to guide you through the issues you need to know about. This is the mark of a very experienced and caring attorney.
Finding the right bankruptcy attorney can be a daunting task. Most of my bankruptcy clients have never needed the services of an attorney before. Financial problems are sensitive, embarrassing, difficult to discuss. Most consumers have no experience with lawyers in general and bankruptcy lawyers in particular. So they are vulnerable to being misguided by well-intended referrals from people not qualified to recommend a bankruptcy lawyer.
Following the steps outlined above, you will sort through the numerous attorney websites – research their qualifications. And focus on the things that matter most in selecting a bankruptcy attorney that will be most likely to help you get the full financial recovery you deserve.