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I often find when I meet with new or potential clients they have a litany of questions about the process, the meaning of the law, and the issues that are relevant to their specific circumstances. I generally attempt to anticipate and answer most of the important questions that a client might have without having to be asked, but if I do not, or if you are interviewing another lawyer, you should be certain that she addresses your questions and concerns. I am always somewhat surprised when a new client has nothing to ask of me. I like to imagine I’m just that good at anticipating everything they might be thinking, but I can’t believe that is always case. Here are a few things that you should be asking your bankruptcy attorney, if she doesn’t address the question up front:
1. How much of your practice is devoted to the practice of bankruptcy law? For me its easy, my practice is about 90% specific to bankruptcy and insolvency work, with the vast majority of that work being directly related to representing debtors in Chapter 7 (liquidation/”straight bankruptcy”), Chapter 11 (reorganization) and Chapter 13 (debt adjustment) cases. If the answer is 25% or less, I would be highly suspicious. I would probably avoid anyone whose practice isn’t at least 50% bankruptcy. It is quite difficult for any lawyer to keep up on too many areas of law, and bankruptcy is just too filled with traps for the dabbler.
2. Is bankruptcy really the best option for me, and why? An attorney should be looking at options both inside, and if available, outside of bankruptcy. When I first meet with a prospective client I typically want to have an idea of their income, a basic idea of what their asset situations looks like and a reasonable handle on the amount and type of debt. While this initial information is not nearly enough to cover everything, it should at least give me a good idea whether bankruptcy is a particularly bad idea, whether their might be non-bankruptcy alternatives available, and what, in general, their case would “look like” in a Chapter 7 case or whether a Chapter 13 would be a good avenue to explore.
3. What will be the benefits to me if I file for bankruptcy? Your attorney should be able to address this question immediately. Bankruptcy advice is not one size fits all, and the benefits of bankruptcy are not always the same for each filer. Bankruptcy filers may have a myriad of different reasons for filing a bankruptcy case, even beyond simply discharging debt. Your bankruptcy attorney should be able to pinpoint the main benefits of filing your case — such as being able to identify the types of debts that will go away altogether in any case and whether a Chapter 13 case might have a positive effect on some otherwise non-dischargable debt. The attorney should also be able to explain how your secured debt, such as your house and car will be affected.
4. What about the potential negative effects of filing for bankruptcy? Many clients ask about this in the context of what effect a bankruptcy filing will have on their long term ability to get credit. That is an issue, but credit worthiness can be rebuilt. I do explain to clients the long term effects on credit of filing versus ignoring the problem or treating the issues piecemeal or outside of bankruptcy. It is also very important to understand whether there may be issues such as fraudulent transfers, preferential payments, assets that might be at risk, etc. I personally spend a great deal of time and seek a great deal of information to be certain that there are no such pitfalls waiting around the corner, and if there are, we address them prior to filing to determine the best approach.
5. What kind of information will you need from me? I give every person I meet to discuss bankruptcy a packet of information which also contains my questionnaire and a list of documents that, at a minimum, I need from every client. I will often supplement that with additional items that I need from people based on the things we discuss at our initial consultation or after I review the documents and information the client gives me. It seems like a very extensive questionnaire and list and really it is. A good bankruptcy attorney will always err on the side of wanting more information rather than less. The bottom line is, in any bankruptcy I will need a lot of information about the four big areas of inquiry: (a) Income, (b) Expenses, (c) Assets and (d) Liaiblities. This will include not only your belief as to the numbers, but also documentation to back those numbers up. Its important that you are dilligent in getting your attorney everything she asks for, because, as I always say, if I don’t know about it, I can’t protect you. Most people want to tell me about their debts, but really, statements, bills and credit reports are usually what I need for that. I actually care much more about what you own than what you owe, at least in the planning phases.
6. What Chapter is right for me? Even without knowing a whole lot of information, your attorney should be able to advise you on the best Chapter of bankruptcy for your situation. I will usually give my advice on the pros and cons for each person of each of the chapters available, as well as my advice on the best fit for the person. In most cases, I can tell someone if they will qualify for a Chapter 7, whether they should consider filing a Chapter 13 instead, what the drawbacks of each will be and, while not a precise science at the first consultation, at least have a ballpark figure for what their monthly plan payment (in Chapter 13) will likely be, and what my fees will be.
This is by no means expected to be an exhaustive list of what YOU should ask me, or another attorney you are considering for your bankruptcy matter, but it should at least get you started. Not everyone is the same, so you probably will have questions that are based on your own personal circumstances. If you are need someone to help you to find the answers to these questions and more, you should talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer today. Call the Law Offices of James Wingfield at 508-797-0200, visit the contact page on our website or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation today.
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The Law Offices of James Wingfield is proud to be a debt relief agency. We help the individuals, families and small businesses of the Worcester area file for bankruptcy relief under the United States Bankruptcy Code. The Law Offices of James Wingfield serves Central and Western Massachusetts clients in Worcester County, Hampden County, Hampshire County and Middlesex County including Worcester, Shrewsbury, Springfield, Westborough, Southborough, Framingham, Northampton, Natick, Amherst, Fitchburg, Leomister, Douglas, Uxbridge, Gardner, Belchertown, Holyoke, Wilbraham and Chicopee. The information contained and obtained in this website does not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Contacting us, be it through this website, via email of by telephone does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only created upon execution of an engagement agreement or fee agreement.