Ten Tips on Choosing a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If there's anything worse than filing for bankruptcy, it's having to do
so and then hiring the wrong attorney for the
job. For many lawyers, bankruptcy filings have
become a volume business, and debtors facing
bankruptcy sometimes unfortunately obtain
inferior legal services. For this reason, you'll
need to do some research before hiring a
Ask lots of questions.
Once you have some candidates in mind, ask them
the following questions (The answers to each of
these questions are critical, so if you get
evasive answers, it's probably a red flag that
this is not the firm for you):
What certifications do you have?
Walter Metzen is one of only 6 Board Certified
Bankruptcy Specialists in the Detroit Area who
exclusively represents Consumers filing
How many bankruptcies have you handled?
Mr. Metzen has personally handled over 10,000
Bankruptcy cases in the past 15 years.
How much access will I have to you during my
Mr. Metzen is available by phone, email and
personal office consultations and will always
take your call if he is not in court.
How will the procedure work?
The idea of hiring a bankruptcy attorney has all
the allure of having teeth pulled. But don't let
this prevent you from beginning your
investigation for a good lawyer as soon as you
know you're going to need one. Waiting until the
last moment won't give a good attorney enough
time to adequately prepare your case.
Mr. Metzen has same day and walk-in
appointments. The Office is located one-block
from the Bankruptcy Court for fastest service.
Don't hire the cheapest lawyer.
Obviously, in this circumstance you don't have a
lot of cash to spare. But like most things in
life, you get what you pay for. You want a
lawyer who knows the system, and who will do the
best job of representing you. That may end up
costing a little more. Your local bar
association can probably help you determine
whether a proposed fee is fair and in line with
local standards. Anybody who charges too much or
too little probably shouldn't be your lawyer of
Metzen has payment plans to fit any budget.
Seek the advice of other legal professionals.
Ask yourself which business acquaintances you
know, who might in turn know a good bankruptcy
lawyer. If you have a personal attorney, that's
a good place to start. Understand, however, that
bankruptcy law is a specialty. If your lawyer
offers to handle the case as part of your usual
retainer, be certain he knows his way around
bankruptcy court. Many
Lawyers in Michigan refer cases to Mr. Metzen
because of his reputation and expertise.
Spend a day at bankruptcy court.
Observing bankruptcy attorneys in action might
give you an idea of the type of lawyer you want
You will probably see Mr. Metzen as he is in Bankruptcy
Court nearly every week.
out if the Attorney is a Board Certified
Specialist by the American Board of Bankruptcy
The only lawyers you'll find on this exclusive
list will be well-respected attorneys who
regularly appear in bankruptcy court and are
Certified Specialists in Consumer Bankruptcy
Metzen has attained this exclusive Board
Certification Specialty in Consumer Bankruptcy
Visit law offices.
An office appraisal can give you vital clues as to
how a lawyer would handle your case. Look around
the office and see how well organized it is. Is
it neat, or are there coffee-stained folders
strewn about the floor? You wouldn't go to a
doctor with a dirty examining room; don't hire a
lawyer with a disorganized office.
You are always welcomed to come to my office for
a Free Consultation. Call 313-962-4656 or
Evaluate the responses thoroughly.
For most law firms, Bankruptcy is a volume
business, which means the time you'll actually
spend with a specific attorney might be minimal
compared to what you spend with a clerk or a
paralegal. This is yet another reason to conduct
a thorough interview process, and to carefully
evaluate the responses. Do both the attorney and
the firm have the expertise you need? Do they
appear overworked already?
Mr. Metzen intentionally limits his caseload to provide
the personal attention each case deserves and
you meet directly with the lawyer, not a
paralegal or legal assistant.
Get fee specifics.
Find out exactly what's included in your lawyer's
fees and what isn't.
Mr. Metzen always discusses all fees up front
with clients and provides a written fee
agreement (retainer agreement).
Once you hire a lawyer, don't be content to let
him or her handle it alone. Double-check all
filings. Did any of your creditors get dropped
off the list? Staying on top of your bankruptcy
filing will help ensure that the proceedings go
smoothly and will keep your lawyer on his or her
Meeting with your Bankruptcy
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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?
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
- Would the lawyer consider doing the work
for a flat fee?
- Would a contingency fee be possible (for
- Does the lawyer advance out of pocket
- Would there be a retainer payable up
- 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.
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
- 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
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.
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
- Check local bar
associations, state bar
groups and specialization/
certification programs for
bankruptcy lawyers in your
- 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
Most bankruptcy lawyers
advertise, since they hope not
to have repeat business, but
must continually draw new
Narrow the list
Gather information about the
- The number of years in
certificates in bankruptcy
- Membership in bankruptcy
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
- Check the web for
information by or about the
- 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
Make an appointment
Many consumer bankruptcy
lawyers offer free or
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
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
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
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
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
- Depending on the
jurisdiction, lawyers may be
prohibited from having
personal relationships with
- 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
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
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
- Being truthful with your
- Being cooperative with
and responsive to your
- 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