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13 tips to avoid hiring a bad bankruptcy attorney
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"In the end 90 to 95 percent of people who file for bankruptcy don't have complicated issues and their filings can satisfactorily be handled by most attorneys or their paralegals," says attorney Mitchell. That's why, he says, it's important to use the interview process to determine whether you can work well with the whole firm as well as a particular attorney.

Consider whether candidates answered you fairly and in enough detail so that you can make an informed decision on who to hire.

Make sure the attorney (and firm) has the expertise that you need. Someone can be a great attorney who handles 60 business bankruptcies a month, but that probably isn't the attorney you want to handle your personal bankruptcy.

And while you want an experienced lawyer, you want to make sure the attorney doesn't have too much work. "You have to make sure that they are not spread too thin," says Vince Slusher, an attorney with Godwin Gruber, in Dallas.

10. Understand your role.
Go over time frames and filing requirements with the firm, says Rick Hoagland, a partner and shareholder with the CPA firm of Moore, Ellrich & Neal in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Make sure you know what is expected of you because if you do your part, you'll increase your chances of a successful filing. So a lawyer who briefs you on your role is probably a keeper.

11. Don't hire the cheapest lawyer.
You're obviously filing because you don't have a lot of cash to spare. But like most things in life, taking the cheap route in bankruptcy could cost you even more in the end if a bargain attorney makes mistakes.

"When it's all said and done, you want a lawyer who knows the system and will do the best job of representing you," Graves says. That may end up costing a little more.

Verify what the going rate is in your area. Your local bar association probably can 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 choice.

12. Get fee specifics.
Find out exactly what the costs of bankruptcy are. What's included in your lawyer's fees? What's not? In some complicated proceedings, for example, a forensic accountant may be needed, says Hoagland. If that's the case, is it included in your charges or is it an additional fee?

13. Stay involved.
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 toes.

"When you're hiring a bankruptcy attorney, you should remember that it's not just who you know, but what you know and what you're willing to learn," says attorney Slusher.

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.'s corrections policy-- Updated: Oct. 14, 2005
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