A Bankruptcy Attorney specializes in giving legal advice to a client about bankruptcy, prepares legal documents for the client and represents the client in court. An attorney must hold a law degree and be licensed in the state where they do business.
As your guide through the bankruptcy process, a lawyer can advise you about matters such as:
- Whether to file for bankruptcy
- Which type of bankruptcy to file
- How the bankruptcy process works
- Which court-provided forms need to be completed
- What kinds of debts can be reduced or eliminated
- Whether you’ll be able to hang on to your home, car or other property after the bankruptcy case is finished
Overall, a bankruptcy lawyer can steer you in the right legal direction. If you handle a bankruptcy case without a lawyer, you may make legal mistakes that carry long-term financial consequences.
What I Expect from a Bankruptcy Lawyer?
Bankruptcy, like most legal matters, is a process and the safest route is to have an attorney guide you through the process if you want to succeed.
A good bankruptcy attorney will give you peace of mind if they provide at least these four things:
- An initial consultation – usually free! – to get an overview of your case
- Advice on options available, including what type of bankruptcy to file
- Completed paperwork necessary for filing bankruptcy
- Representation when the case goes to court.
The bankruptcy process begins with a 30-60 minute interview between you and a lawyer,If you are married, both of you should attend so that all questions can be answered honestly and accurately.
The attorney will be able to lay out your options including the potential to file bankruptcy without a spouse.
Making guesses about how much you owe and who you owe it to is not a good idea. The attorney will want some paperwork that backs up your answers on how many assets you have and how much you owe.
Don’t hold anything back if you want an honest and accurate assessment of your situation. The advice your attorney gives you is only as good as the information you provide.
When the attorney has enough documented evidence to evaluate your case, he should offer advice on how to proceed.
A good attorney does not always recommend filing bankruptcy. It’s possible your problem could be resolved through less drastic means like debt settlement or maybe even a debt management program.
If your decision is to file bankruptcy, the next thing to expect from an attorney is filing paperwork with the court. Remember that the attorney is there to protect as many of your assets as they can, so chime in on what is most important to you.
The next step depends on the type of bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 case, you would appear before a Chapter 7 trustee for a review of your bankruptcy petition.
In most cases, your lawyer has done all of the heavy lifting up front. By providing thorough and complete schedules along with back-up documentation to the trustee, these meetings are normally painless when you use an attorney.
In a Chapter 13 case, things can get tricky. Not only must you meet with the Chapter 13 trustee, but you must present a Chapter 13 Plan which will be accepted by the Court.
This is the part where most people struggle when filing without a lawyer. Your Chapter 13 Plan must meet all requirements in the Bankruptcy Code to be “confirmed” by the court.
Do I Need a Bankruptcy Attorney?
Consumers may choose whether to hire an attorney or represent themselves in filing bankruptcy, but as the numbers cited above from the American Bankruptcy Institute clearly demonstrate, hiring an attorney is a huge advantage.
The math on this subject is overwhelming:
- Only one in 25 consumers using an attorney is denied a discharge when filing Chapter 7. One out of three who files on their own, do not receive a discharge.
- Only about one in 50 consumers filing for themselves in Chapter 13, receives a discharge. Hire a lawyer and your chance for success is better than four-out-of-10.
The reasons are fairly obvious. Bankruptcy is a complex subject,creditors want to get paid by consumers who say they don’t have the money. Lawyers on both sides are trying to convince judges that their client is right.
If you are not experienced in filing legal documents or arguing your case persuasively, you could lose on ridiculously simple mistakes.
An experienced attorney knows what papers must be filed and what deadlines must be met an experienced attorney knows the judges involved and what arguments they must make to get the result.
Not only that, completing the paperwork incorrectly can have disastrous results. It’s entirely possible that the Chapter 7 trustee can sell your house because of a paperwork error.
Those types of mistakes do not typically occur when using an attorney, but occur frequently for people filing on their own.