KMJQ Featured Video
Vulture Sitting On A Falling Graph

Source: kbeis / Getty

If you think that being bankrupt is the worst thing that could happen to you then, you’d better think again! Yes, that’s right.  The worst could be on the horizon.  However, you can eliminate the possibility of a worst case scenario, by simply making correct decisions!  Hiring the wrong lawyer can make your worst nightmare a reality.

So it is better that before hiring an attorney, you do some basic research and make sure that you find an attorney with the experience to help you to navigate through the mess the led you to bankruptcy in the first place.

Facts about selecting the Attorneys

Because many attorneys are very often overworked, they may not be fully attentive, that is to say listening for all of the facts and getting all of the details of your case before you file. You might even come to feel that your attorney isn’t pursuing your case in the way that you want. Before long, you will feel irritated and unhappy.

Many attorneys aren’t well qualified to handle your bankruptcy case.  Some, with little or no experience, will take your case because they view bankruptcy cases as a new stream of income.   So those attorneys don’t fulfill your expectations.  Simply having a license to practice law is not enough to prove that they are qualified to handle your case.

How to Find the Right Lawyer

Getting information from friends won’t necessarily lead you to a good attorney unless they have had experience with the attorney themselves. It may also be helpful to speak with other legal professionals or attorney referral agencies to get the right bankruptcy attorney for you.

You might even go to bankruptcy court and observe the attorneys there for yourself.  Maybe during your observations, you will find some attorneys who make you feel confident that they are good enough for you.

After You Find the Right Lawyer

Once you find the right attorney, a short conversation can tell you a lot more about the attorney you have chosen. You can ask him or her about their expertise and you can determine if your personalities are compatible. The attorney will certainly be evaluating your personality to determine if they feel comfortable working with you.

Once you select an attorney, there are certain things you must discuss. You need to know whether s/he will charge for a consultation and most important, what type of bankruptcy should you file.  Consumers filing bankruptcy will file either a Chapter 7 which eliminates all of your unsecured debt, or a Chapter 13, sometimes called a wage earner plan which provides you protection while you make payments on your secured debt.

In most cases you will also pay some money on your unsecured debt.  What you don’t pay may be discharged after you complete your Plan. Your attorney will apply the “Means Test” and advise you on which you are able to file.

The Bankruptcy Process

Secondly, you need to ask about the bankruptcy process. You have to understand residency requirements and the Federal District in which you are permitted to file your case. Where you have been living for the past 180 days and the location of your principal assets will be the determining factors.

Thirdly, you must know the fees that are involved in the filing for bankruptcy. The total fees will comprise of the attorney’s fees plus the court filing fees that will be needed to file your bankruptcy case. You will need information about the pre-filing credit counseling and post-filing financial management courses. Ultimately, the attorney will prepare the necessary paperwork that is needed and will file your case with the courts.

Fourth, you must know where you should appear for the Meeting of Creditors, officially, the 341 meeting.  You are required by law to appear at this meeting. You need to consult your attorney on how to get there and what documentation you are required to bring.

Effects of Filing for Bankruptcy

Finally you must know the after effects of filing for bankruptcy.  Your creditors will receive notification from the court of the filing.  The filing of your bankruptcy will immediately operate as an automatic stay, preventing various forms of creditor action against you, the debtor.  A creditor cannot begin or continue a judicial proceeding against you.  The creditor cannot repossess your property, nor create or enforce a lien.  The creditor will not be allowed to contact you for payments.

Designed to Give You a “Fresh Start” 

As stated above, a court hearing will be set and the case will proceed based on the type of bankruptcy filed.  If done properly and in a timely manner, you might feel that filing bankruptcy was the best financial decision that you’ve ever made.  It is all designed to give you a “fresh start.”  But remember, this is your fight, not your attorney’s.  You attorney will fight with and for you but, you have to be really involved and follow your case. You can’t expect to just drop off a shopping bag full of papers and disappear, leaving everything on the attorney!

* J Thomas Smith is host of “Sunday Morning Live” on KMJQ/Majic 102.1 (9-11 am). He is an attorney, author, keynote speaker and mental health consultant. Your comments are we welcome: Follow on Twitter @drjtsmith102.