Attorney fees and bankruptcy
I am always interested in hearing prospective clients experience with other law firms as they look about for one to represent them in a bankruptcy. For one, it helps me remember that my main objective is to provide a high quality service. Second, it lets me know where the market is going in terms of attorney fees. Two particular items have been prominent lately and I wanted to pass the information along so that you can make an informed choice when hiring a lawyer to help you get relief from debt.
First, make sure you get the entire cost. This should be fairly straight forward with a Chapter 7. There is typically a flat fee ranging from just under $1,000.00 to just around $1,700.00 in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Attorney’s charge this for reviewing your material, preparing the means test and petition, and attending the meeting of creditors. Some, like myself, also include processing reaffirmation agreements. There are additional attorney fees for amendments, contested matters and adversary proceedings but if your attorney reviewed your information carefully, he or she can anticipate those things and tell you those costs in advance. Also, appeals and audits are usually not covered by the flat fee. Now, where you see a difference is in how much time your attorney actually invests in looking at your situation and coming up with the best strategy. I, for example, have the goal when I file a Chapter 7 that it has a very high likelihood of obtaining a discharge without a contested or adversary proceeding arising unless it is one we planned for. So, I personally review the data closely and develop the best strategy.
I recently discovered something that probably should have been obvious to me. When other attorney’s quote the cost of a Chapter 7, they do not include the $299.00 filing fee that goes directly to the bankruptcy court. I have always included that as part of the price I quote. I have now begun quoting the price both ways so that people know exactly what they have to come up with. I suppose that is why some callers did not know that I charge less than many attorneys (and more than some). Anyway, lesson learned and I hope that you ask if the quoted fee includes all fees or just the attorney’s fee.
Next, I learned that many law firms are now charging as much as $200.00 more for a joint (husband and wife) Chapter 7 as an individual one. I had never even considered that option. I understand the logic and someday I might consider going that route, but as of right now I do not see the small amount of additional work in a joint filing as enough to charge extra. I would rather couples feel free to get rid of all the household debt that they can so they can truly experience the fresh start of a bankruptcy. So, when you call around, be sure to ask if that lawyer charges extra for a joint filing.
Finally, I know this is crazy, but I am still doing free initial consults. I am not talking about the ones limited to 30 minutes; I mean an honest to goodness, let’s look at the whole picture and get some options, hour long consult. Again, I may have to rethink that because I have had a number of families discover that they can resolve matters without the assistance of a lawyer and never retain me. For now, though, I’ll chalk that up to “treasure in heaven” and leave it as is.
So, just remember that the rate you get quoted for a Chapter 7 over the phone may sound like you will save a couple hundred dollars, but that might not be the whole story. They may not be telling you about the filing fees that aren’t included or they may charge more when it turns out that it is a joint versus individual filing. Most importantly, you may get someone who is a bit more careful and treats your bankruptcy as the individualized concern that it is so that you are far less likely to run into amendments, contested matters or adversary proceedings later on after you are already wedded to staying with that attorney. So, be sure you feel comfortable with the attorney you retain.
I plan to talke about Chapter 13 fees in the near future, so be sure to check back.
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