06 Jun Why Should I Use a Bankruptcy Attorney?
Most of my clients don’t have a lot of money. If they need to file for bankruptcy, they’ve usually gotten ads from “Bankruptcy Petition Preparers.” These folks advertise that they can prepare someone’s bankruptcy papers a whole lot cheaper than lawyers.
They’re right. They CAN prepare your bankruptcy papers a whole lot cheaper than lawyers.
Why? THEY’RE NOT LAWYERS!
They don’t need to go to law school. They don’t need to know bankruptcy law. They’re prohibited by law from offering legal advice–such as which chapter you should file under, how to value assets, how to fill out the schedules and Means Test, what needs to be included and what can be excluded. They don’t have obligations to the state bar or to the Bankruptcy Court. They usually don’t have malpractice insurance. They won’t appear with you for the Meeting of Creditors, or court hearings. They can’t advise you…and my clients need advice about what they should do.
I’ve taken over a lot of cases where clients “saved money” by paying a petition preparer. When they get in trouble because the papers are filled out wrong, or information was omitted, or they “didn’t know what they didn’t know,” they come to see me. Sometimes I can fix the problems, usually for a higher fee than they would have paid me in the first place. After all, it costs a lot less if it’s done right in the first place. Sometimes, I can’t fix things. I’ve seen people lose houses, cars, businesses, tens of thousands of dollars, and even their freedom, all because they wanted to save a few bucks.
Lots of people think that filing for bankruptcy is just “filling in a few forms.” It isn’t. Bankruptcy Court Chief Judge Gregory Kishel recently described why you need an experienced bankruptcy lawyer in his ruling in McDermott v. Jonak:
“[F]iling for bankruptcy is serious business, even for a consumer-debtor with modest assets and a debt structure that seems straightforward. The gravity and complexity of seeking bankruptcy relief have risen greatly since…2005. The number of abstruse pre- and post-filing issues is now considerable. They are both functional in nature (e.g., the daunting length of the necessary forms; the heightened statutory obligation to be complete and accurate in answering every last bit of it; timely dealing with the trustee’s requirements and the demands of secured creditors) and legal (e.g., recognizing and properly scheduling and treating interests in intangible assets; electing a claim of exemptions between state and federal law….
“All of this is best, most safely, and most predictably handled through representation by a licensed attorney.
“Members of the legal profession, and only they, are presumptively competent to protect a debtor’s interests under the onus of such complications. As an ultimate backstop, an attorney is subject to objective professional standards of conduct and performance,which protect the general interests of the public and the personal interests of clients. And as an officer of the court, an attorney is obligated to promote the courts’ need to orderly manage their dockets. This structure functions to see that it is done right, for consumer-debtors in bankruptcy,from the beginning.”
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