Interviewer: That’s what I wanted to ask you. What signs should people look for when they’re talking to a bankruptcy attorney to tell them, “Don’t seem like the right person?”
Paul: Well, one thing I would really warn against is an attorney who just wants to the client to come into their office, without at least finding out some basic information. That would be a concern of mine. This is because when I’m speaking to someone on the telephone, even initially, or via email, I always try to explain that for me to properly assess what documents we’ll need and what avenues might be appropriate, I need to find out certain information. So, if someone wants to right away bring you into his or her office that would raise a red flag with me.
The other thing is, that always concerns me is I’ll meet with client to say, “I spoke to an attorney. He just mailed me a packet and asked me to complete it and bring it in.” There are always certain gray areas that just don’t fit neatly in questionnaire form.
As you speak to a potential client, or counsel them, part of what that process involves is kind of assessing. You might even follow just the feeling you’re getting. You might feel that this person won’t be appropriate for this type of bankruptcy, even though that’s what they came in looking for or this asset that they didn’t even mention now becomes an issue, even though originally it wasn’t.
So, I think when someone’s looking, they want to make sure that it’s an attorney who has a lot of experience and, as well, an attorney who doesn’t want to just rush them in and then have them potentially meet with a paralegal to complete the beginning information.
Interviewer: What about the firms that advertise, “Bankruptcy, $ 499,” or “We take payment plans.”
Paul: Well, I think that should really raise a red flag as well simply because–well, we try to be fair with prices and we certainly believe we’re very competitive. Properly evaluating someone’s situation takes some time, and you meet with people who sometimes have very, very complex situations.
I spoke with someone today who owns multiple businesses, who was thinking about filing a Chapter 7. For that type of person, even for the person who has a much simpler situation, it’s the old, “If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
It’s still time-consuming, properly completing a petition and, just as importantly, properly counseling a person. People should especially be aware of what’s called a “non-attorney bankruptcy preparer” because they’re not bound by the same rules that bankruptcy attorneys are, and, really importantly, they’re not supposed to be getting any legal advice. They’re only supposed to be, literally, putting down the information that you provide them with, without providing any advice.
I think most people aren’t in a position where that is all they need. I find that the great majority of people are comforted when they feel like they’re in good hands and they’ve spoken with someone who properly assess their situation.
It’s a major decision for most people. When you consider the amount of debt that they might be discharging, the amount of assets that might be involved, I think most people have to be cautious in making sure–you’re probably only going to do it once in your lifetime, so you don’t want it to be a rash decision, just based upon someone being a few hundred dollars cheaper. I don’t think that attorney’s fees should be the primary concern.