Meeting your Bankruptcy Lawyer

Detroit Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Consumer Bankruptcy Filings

It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you are not prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared can end up costing you money, because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your bankruptcy matter.

The lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted, and a little about your personal and business background. A lawyer will clearly want to understand your relationship to your business and be comfortable that you have the authority to speak on behalf of the organization. Therefore, you need to write down all this information in a logical matter and have it available for the lawyer.

If you’re going into bankruptcy, it will be necessary to file detailed schedules of assets and debts with the bankruptcy court. Your lawyer may ask you to try to fill out the schedules before your meeting. Sometimes, a lawyer will also try to make a first meeting more productive by sending you a questionnaire to fill out. If this happens, be sure to fill it out and send it in to the lawyer’s office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.

Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer is going to want to know about possible conflicts of interest. If you’re filing bankruptcy, bring a list of all your creditors. If the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm represents anyone on “the other side of the fence,” he or she will have a conflict and will usually not be able to represent you.

A disclosure of all your financial affairs is extremely important in a bankruptcy setting. Tell your lawyer everything. If you fail to do so, you could be accused of bankruptcy fraud, which could prevent you from getting your debts discharged. In the worst case scenario, failing to disclose information to the court could be a crime.

Written documentation of your debts and liabilities is especially important in a bankruptcy setting. Even if a lawyer doesn’t ask for documentation beforehand, it’s still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting:

  • It’s absolutely essential that you bring the originals and a copy of any and all loan or financing documents that you have in your possession, including a loan agreement, title policies, insurance policies, a promissory note, a security agreement, guaranties, “UCC” filings, deeds of trust, mortgages, and notices of default.
  • Bring any information you have to show payments that were made (bank statements, canceled checks, money order receipts)
  • If you’re involved in a foreclosure proceeding, bring a copy of all foreclosure documents that you’ve received.
  • Bring the originals and a copy of all correspondence that you may have sent to or received from creditors.
  • Dates can be critical. Get a calendar and mark down dates of when things happened and when you received any notices or other documents. Bring the calendar to your meeting to use as a reference.
  • If anybody guaranteed a loan or a lease for you, the lawyer will want to know who the guarantor is. You should have this information available, as well as a copy of any guaranty documentation.
  • Your lawyer will want to know who you talked with, including the names of any representatives at financial institutions. You should have addresses and telephone numbers available.

Questions To Ask Your Potential Lawyer

Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. Some questions you might ask a bankruptcy lawyer would include:

  • Should you file bankruptcy?
  • What might your other options be?
  • How many bankruptcy cases has he or she handled?
  • What percentage of his or her practice is in the area of expertise that you need?
  • Does the lawyer usually represent debtors or creditors?
  • What problems does the lawyer foresee with your case?
  • How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process?
  • How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?
  • How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
  • Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer or support staff in the firm? If other lawyers or staff may do some of the work, could you meet them?

Money Matters

You’ll want to ask how the lawyer would charge for his or her services:

  • What is the lawyer’s hourly rate?
  • What would the estimated fees be for your matter?
  • Would the lawyer consider doing the work for a flat fee?
  • Would a contingency fee be possible (for creditor’s work)?
  • Does the lawyer advance out of pocket costs?
  • Would there be a retainer payable up front?
  • Would any unused portion be refundable?

Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer’s retainer agreement and have it explained to you before decide on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer’s law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer who you retain so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.

Your initial meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer should give the lawyer an opportunity to assess your financial situation, your goals, and the options that are open to you. It should give you a chance to determine if you communicate well with the lawyer and if you have confidence that your matter is approached with care and competence.
  • Write down your questions before the meeting, so that you don’t miss gathering information that is important to you.
  • Ask how much of the lawyer’s practice involves bankruptcy and what portion of the bankruptcy cases involve clients like you.
  • Note whether your questions are answered in a manner that you understand. Are you comfortable asking for further clarification? Bankruptcy is stressful enough without having to wonder if you understand what is happening.
  • Ask whether there are difficult issues in your case, or matters that are hard to predict. Understand what the possible outcomes are and the cost involved.
  • Review the pricing structure of the lawyer’s services. Most bankruptcies are done for a flat fee. Ask what costs there may be in addition to the flat fee. Get the fee arrangement in writing.

You’ll want to meet the lawyer’s staff. Most bankruptcy lawyers have paralegals or assistants who’ll interact with you and prepare the paperwork. You should have the same comfort level with the staff as you have with the lawyer.

But avoid a law office that wants you to deal exclusively with a paralegal.

You should leave a first meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer understanding your options, or what additional information is needed to lay out your options, and with an opinion as to how well you and the lawyer will work together. Don’t be reluctant to leave that meeting without retaining the lawyer. If you have concerns about the match between you and lawyer, interview another lawyer. Be willing to think your choices over before committing yourself.

Bankruptcy law is a specialty, so you’ll want to find a lawyer who does most of their work in this field of law. While a simple bankruptcy is simple, it may take a specialist to know if your case is simple.

Consider what your goal is going into a bankruptcy: a fresh start through a Chapter 7, which is generally simpler, or a reorganization of a business or your personal finances through a Chapter 11, 12, or 13? These are generally more complex, and bankruptcy lawyers tend to have sub-specialties in these areas.

Gather names of prospects

  • Ask lawyers or tax preparers you know for recommendations
  • Check local bar associations, state bar groups and specialization/ certification programs for bankruptcy lawyers in your community
  • Identify the bankruptcy trustees in your area by calling the bankruptcy court clerk or the United States Trustee’s office, and ask the trustee or his staff which attorneys appear most frequently. You can ask for some names of attorneys you might interview

Most bankruptcy lawyers advertise, since they hope not to have repeat business, but must continually draw new clients.

Narrow the list

Gather information about the lawyer, including:

  • The number of years in practice
  • Specialization certificates in bankruptcy
  • Membership in bankruptcy organizations. These affiliations suggest how focused the lawyer is on bankruptcy; the more complex your financial situation is, the more you will benefit from the skills of a lawyer who concentrates his practice in this field and has done many cases like yours
  • Check the web for information by or about the lawyer
  • Call the office of the lawyer and ask about the lawyer’s experience and how much of his/her practice is devoted to bankruptcy of the kind that you think you’ll be needing

Make an appointment

Many consumer bankruptcy lawyers offer free or reduced-cost initial appointments. Find out whether there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Don’t assume that free is necessarily better. You can’t afford to have your case done badly, no matter how much money you appear to save.

Note how you are treated on the phone. The staff should be a reflection of the attitude of the lawyer. Are your questions addressed courteously, with attention to your concerns? Are you prompted for the information you should bring to the first meeting?

If you’re still trying to decide which lawyer to interview, tell the staff that and ask what are the strengths and experience of their firm.

If you make an appointment and later decide not to keep it, have the courtesy to call and cancel the appointment.

What are your lawyer's professional obligations?

All lawyers are subject to strict standards of professional responsibility. These standards are set forth in codes of conduct and Privileges, ethics, rules of professional conduct that are established by state bar associations. Although the rules will vary from state to state, here Here are some basic ethical and professional rules your lawyer must follow:

  • Your lawyer must represent you ethically, zealously and within the bounds of the law
  • Your lawyer must competently analyze legal issues and exercise knowledge of the law applicable to your case
  • He or she must communicate with you in a timely and effective manner
  • Your lawyer attorney owes you, as the client, a duty of loyalty. Your lawyer can't simultaneously represent you and another client with legal interests that conflict with yours. An example of an obvious conflict would be representation of both the landlord and the tenant in an eviction action.
  • For so long as he or she continues to represent you, your lawyer is required to follow your directions in handling your case unless those directions are illegal
  • Your lawyer must keep your personal property separate from his or her own property, and must keep your money in an escrow account. Any time you demand it, your lawyer must return your money or property.
  • Except in rare circumstances, your lawyer is required to keep client confidences confidential
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, lawyers may be prohibited from having personal relationships with their clients
  • Unless he or she first obtains your informed written consent, your lawyer is prohibited from taking on representation that is adverse to your interests.

Your attorney may have other responsibilities to you, depending on your case and the ethical rules that apply in your jurisdiction.

If a lawyer fails to abide by these rules, he or she can be disciplined by any bar association of which he or she is a member. It's possible the lawyer may even be disbarred for serious violations. Criminal prosecution is also a possibility. And a failure to comply with the rules may be the basis for a malpractice action.

Are your discussions with your lawyer confidential?

Yes. When you speak with an attorney about a legal matter, your communications with that attorney are privileged. This means that subject to some very limited exceptions, and unless you give permission, your attorney can't disclose any information you provide to a third party.

What responsibilities do you owe your lawyer?

First of all, look at the retainer agreement that you may have signed when your hired your lawyer. Typically, these agreements will set out certain duties and responsibilities of the client. By signing the agreement, you are contractually bound to abide by them. Such duties and responsibilities may include:

  • Being truthful with your lawyer
  • Being cooperative with and responsive to your lawyer
  • Being available to your lawyer and attending legal proceedings, as requested
  • Paying your legal bills in a timely manner

These duties and responsibilities are pretty common sense, so they may be implied even without a retainer agreement that expressly reduces them to writing. Regardless, a failure to abide by them may result in a lawyer deciding to terminate your client relationship.

Bankruptcy attorney Walter Metzen represents clients throughout Southeast Michigan, including the communities of Detroit, Southfield, Warren, Roseville, Farmington Hills, Ann Arbor, Belleville, Canton, Clinton Township, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Holland, Howell, Lincoln Park, Livonia, Macomb, Northville, Plymouth, Port Huron, Redford, Rochester, Saginaw, Southfield, Sterling Heights, Taylor, Trenton, Troy, Westland, Wyandotte, Ypsilanti, Mount Clemens, Howell, Oakland County, Macomb County, Wayne County, Washtenaw County, Livingston County, and all of the surrounding areas.


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