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Choose an independent attorney or a bankruptcy firm?

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  • Choose an independent attorney or a bankruptcy firm?

    I've met with several attorneys re: filing our over median Chapter 7. The top three contenders include two bankruptcy law firms, and one independent attorney who works out of a house converted into an office, and I'm looking for some advice on who to choose.

    The latter (Edit out attorney name) has no partners, etc. She does everything herself. She doesn't even have a secretary...answers all her own calls and emails. She was professional, but very informal during our meeting. She's been doing bankruptcy for 20+ years, and says she "knows the players in the game, what they're looking for, and how to work the system." I read this as, she probably has a good working relationship with the trustees, etc., and I feel (for no particular reason) this might come in handy in some yet-to-be-determined way. She doesn't handle collection calls, etc., but that doesn't matter to me so much since I have a way of blocking most of those on my own. I found her through AVVO, with tons of glowing reviews. She took the time to plug my numbers into her means test software and says she feels confident she can successfully handle our case. She also sent me a personal followup email a few days after our meeting to see if I had any other questions. On the flipside, she also at one point said the means test wasn't the end all for being able to file Chapter 7, and that she could still get us into a 7 even if we didn't pass, as long as our budget showed we had no extra money (contrary to what EVERY other attorney has told me). We should still be able to pass the means test anyway, so perhaps this is a moot point. But the "one-(wo)man-show" aspect of her practice also gives me pause after being used to meeting with attorneys with staff and real offices.

    The other option is to go with a bankruptcy firm...the kind of place that probably cranks out bankruptcies like China makes cheap toys and electronics. The balancing act here is looking at their experience (i.e., they file tons of cases so they should know how things need to work) vs the potential of getting lost in the shuffle and/or having any details overlooked due to that same "volume." The firm I'm leaning towards (edit out law firm name) did also take the time to plug my specifics into their means test calculator and did follow up with a phone call a few days later, as promised. And, the other firm (edit out law firm name) has been responsive to my emails, with a 1-2 day turnaround. And, I imagine both firms file many successful bankruptcy cases as well.

    Thoughts? Who would you trust with you case? The one woman show who's been at it for years and works out of a converted house?? Or, the BK factory who have a more professional exterior and handle several cases as a matter of course??
    Last edited by HHM; 12-27-2012, 09:34 PM.

  • #2
    My hubby chose a small firm father and son operation. It all depends who you feel comfortable with. I filed with a one woman firm. I found that you mostly deal with the paralegal, I liked the paralegal so I went with her. Turns out the paralegal was a former car salesman who was working undertable for cash. He did a great job.
    chpt 7 ,5-2009


    • #3
      My focus was that the attorney I chose be a specialist who is very knowledgeable in the process in the court where I would be filing. I wound up going with what some might call a BK mill, one lawyer with another associate, many staff. But I dealt directly with the principal lawyer as needed, the staff was capable, and the case went very smoothly, exactly as he told me to expect. A sole practitioner who has been doing this in your court for 20 years could be a good choice.
      Chapter 7 Filed 8/11/2009, Discharged 11/23/2009


      • #4
        I chose a one man firm, whose staff consisted of a secretary, for my chapter 13 and was very comfortable with that. What I liked was that unlike using a large place, I always knew who would be answering my questions, and attending my 341.


        • #5
          I went with a one man firm that does have a secretary (although, that had no bearing on my decision). My decision was based on his knowledge, experience, relationship with the local "players", and his attention to the details of OUR case. My suggestion... out of these three choices you've mentioned, go with the lady. The big office and the paralegals are just dressing.

          Best regards,

          The Bajan
          Filed Ch 13 Feb 9, 2012, 341 meeting Mar 15, 2012, Confirmed Apr 5, 2012
          Anticipated freedom party Apr 2015


          • #6
            You don't say how much experience the individual attorneys at the firms have. Who will be in charge of your case, what is their experience and what is the experience of their superiors in the firm? If a paralegal will be preparing the petition, what is the paralegal's experience? Ask about years of experience as well as numbers of cases. If they've done thousands of cases, are they all relatively simple cases or have they dealt with more complicated issues? How often do they do over the median Chap 7s?

            I like the idea of the one woman office. You know it is the attorney who will be doing the work and you know she is the one who will be answering your questions. She will probably know who you are when you call. 20 years experience is a big plus.

            It could come down to what you are more comfortable with. You seem to see the informality of the one woman office as a negative. I would see that as a positive. The right attorney for you may not be the right attorney for somebody else. Sometimes you have to go with your instinct when comparing two options with different pros and cons.
            LadyInTheRed is in the black!
            Filed Chap 13 April 2010. Discharged May 2015.
            $143,000 in debt discharged for $36,500, including attorneys fees. Money well spent!


            • #7
              I would go with the one-woman firm. 20+ years of experience and personal relationships with the trustees office are a big plus, and the personal attention can be a big asset. Apart from the bells and whistles you might get with a big firm, I don't see any advantages to a big firm over her. Just my opinion.


              • #8
                Personal relationship with the trustees is a double edged sword...what if general Patton was a personal friend of Hitler. Speaking from the inside, no "good" attorney has "personal" relationships with the trustee and in fact, it is unethical for an attorney to imply that they can get a better result because of such a relationship. Good attorneys have "professional" relationships and have garnered respect from trustees, but if any attorney tells you, "I know the trustee and this won't be a problem", run away.

                There are no generalizations in the level of service you can draw from generic factors. Big firms that file many cases are not always mills and have the resources to provide great customer service. Many many individual attorneys provide lousy service. Very few attorneys, in general, are good business people and therefore really run an adhoc sort of enterprise with no thought to customer service and value.


                • #9
                  I stayed away from the mills for our ch7 because our case had some non-standard issues. We interviewed three dif attorneys and i went with the one i liked them most and felt understood our case. He was also fairly well recognized (he has represented some bigger players in our area with cases similar to ours) for his work so both his interpersonal skills and his experience were key for us.

                  I am in the process of reopening our BK in an attempt to strip the 2nd in our 7 - scary - but i think it is worth it. This time i went with a more mill based company - (our atty had a heart attack and is taking a year off /sadface). I picked my attorney based on a few things (and this may sound crazy) but i liked him because i was able to manipulate the situation (that may not be the right word - but this time around i am much more educated and am doing a lot of the research). He asked good questions and let me explain everything and took all my advice and research with grace. I didnt feel like he was a "know-it-all" in a situation where we dont know what will happen (this is very new). Of course, this may come back to bite us in the arse latter, but i do not think that will be the case at all.

                  I like the smaller firm idea because you know who you are talking to - they know who you are - but they may be unavailable for immediate responses (if you are one of those who cannot wait for an answer, this may be challenging for you). And we even had a scheduling conflict with one of our hearings and our small atty office had another attorney friend (not part of his firm) attend our hearing - that was a little strange, but the guy was just as nice and knowledgeable. (it was a reaffirm on our auto we had equity in - our atty forgot to sign it. LOL).

                  Only you can make the decision in the end. GL!!!


                  • #10
                    Just a little clarification: BrokeTwinkie did not say that the attorney has a personal relationship with the trustee or that she implied she had some special influence. Just that she's been working in her district for long enough to know how things work there.

                    Originally posted by BrokeTwinkie View Post
                    She's been doing bankruptcy for 20+ years, and says she "knows the players in the game, what they're looking for, and how to work the system." I read this as, she probably has a good working relationship with the trustees, etc., and I feel (for no particular reason) this might come in handy in some yet-to-be-determined way.
                    LadyInTheRed is in the black!
                    Filed Chap 13 April 2010. Discharged May 2015.
                    $143,000 in debt discharged for $36,500, including attorneys fees. Money well spent!


                    • #11
                      Sorry, I was the one who said "personal relationship" but by that I just meant that the attorney seems to know them by name and knows how to work with them effectively.


                      • #12
                        We chose an attorney, who was a single practitioner in her own office. 'Hub chose her from an internet search. She seemed sympathetic with our situation, and retained her on the spot. That was a very BAD choice.

                        Said attorney had an assistant, 'Sue', who was very good at answering our questions. But when she left, and 'Adam' came on scene, the communications went rapidly downhill.

                        We retained this attorney in August 2006. For a variety of reasons, we had to wait until July of the following year to file. Attorney kept dragging her feet until we literally had to camp out in her office December 28. 2007--the last business day of 2007, as it is THIS year--to get her to file our case. Otherwise we would have had to wait until after July 1, 2008.

                        This woman gave us a general brochure about the various chapters of BK--none of which really helped. We were not educated at all in the process, and it was not until well after we had committed many needless mistakes, before we found this forum. [Though we searched diligently on the internet about bankruptcy, this site did not appear in our search results until after I queried about an AP.]

                        So, my advice is to interview several attorneys, and think long and hard about which one might be a 'best fit' for you, your temperament and your situation.

                        Good luck to you!
                        "To go bravely forward is to invite a miracle."

                        "Worry is the darkroom where negatives are formed."


                        • #13
                          Google is your friend on this stuff. Any attorney that has been around a few years will have their share of detractors if their service isn't up to snuff.

                          We somewhat reluctantly went with a guy who runs his office out of town - but only because he specialized in BK and had countless positive reviews. We may have saved a few bucks, but that was less of a motivating factor than being able to essentially do everything via electronic means that he was well prepared for and preferred to deal with. Frankly, we didn't really have many questions for him, having read the Nolo guide, aside from whether we would or wouldn't squeak by on the income threshold, but he was responsive enough about everything for us and traveled the 180 miles himself to handle the 341 meeting without tossing in additional charges - which was the other reason we chose him: Flat rate!

                          Other attorneys seemed to leave rates so open-ended that we were simply nervous about what it would actually cost. In the end, we received professional competent service that went off without a hitch. Regardless, I can't help thinking that if our case were not so simple, a local office would have been the preferred route regardless of everything else for no other reason than the convenience of being able to quickly drop off or sign documents.
                          Chapter 7 Filed 1/4/11
                          Discharged No-asset 4/1/11
                          And definitely NOT an attorney.


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