In this post I want to talk a little bit about the first step for someone considering a bankruptcy filing: the initial consultation with an attorney. This takes place before you hire an attorney or any money changes hands. Most attorneys, including our office, do not charge for the initial bankruptcy consultation.
The purpose of the consultation is not just to figure out if you qualify for bankruptcy. That is a part of the meeting, no doubt, but the bigger question we try to answer is “what options do you have available?” Usually, bankruptcy is but one of several options, and we can discuss the pros and cons of each approach.
When you have an initial consultation with an attorney, you are protected by attorney-client privilege. This is a two-sided coin: everything you say will be kept confidential, but at the same time, you absolutely need to tell the truth to the attorney. We can’t give good advice without accurate information, so it is vitally important that you disclose everything relevant to your situation, and answer our questions honestly.
Different firms vary on what documents and information they require in advance of an initial consultation. While our office tries not to demand too much up front, it is always helpful if you have a recent pay stub, a tax return, a copy of your credit report, and information about any lawsuits or foreclosure activity. As a general rule, bring what you can easily locate; we would much rather have a document and not need it, than need it and not have it.
The length of the consultation depends on the complexity of the situation. For a very simple case, in which you have low income, few assets, and no prior bankruptcy, the consultation may take less than an hour. More typical consultations last between one hour and ninety minutes. Very complex cases involving businesses, multiple properties, or other sticky issues can take several hours to fully discuss.
When you have an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, be aware that the meeting is also a two-way interview. You are interviewing the attorney, and figuring out if you have the comfort level needed to permit him or her to represent you. The attorney is determining whether your case is one he or she wants to take. Most bankruptcy attorneys I know are in the field because they enjoy helping people, so they can be picky about which clients they represent; our firm agrees to represent about half of the people with whom we have initial consults.
After your initial consultation, be sure to get the attorney’s card, and ask how they prefer to be contacted with follow-up questions. In my experience, most clients think of a few questions within the 24 to 48 hours after their appointment, and it is important that you ask how to get in touch with your attorney to get those follow-up questions answered.
The initial consultation is probably the most important step in debt resolution. It sets the tone for representation, and gives you a chance to ask questions and explore potential solutions.