Why Should I Use a Bankruptcy Attorney?

06 Jun Why Should I Use a Bankruptcy Attorney?

formsMost 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.


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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Brett Weiss, a senior partner at The Weiss Law Group, LLC, represents people and businesses in all phases of bankruptcy. He has experience in complex individual Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, and in Chapter 11 small business restructuring and reorganization. Mr. Weiss lectures nationally on bankruptcy issues. He has testified before the Federal Bankruptcy Rules Committee, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and has twice testified before Congress on bankruptcy and credit issues. Brett Weiss is the co-author of Chapter 11 for Individual Debtors, and has written Not Dead Yet: Bankruptcy After BAPCPA, for the Maryland Bar Journal, as well as hundreds of blogs for the Bankruptcy Law Network. With his colleague, Daniel Press, he recorded a 13-hour basic bankruptcy training series, and leads intensive three-day Chapter 11 training boot camps. Mr. Weiss has received international media attention in connection with his work. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on The View, has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC News with Peter Jennings, the Montel Williams Show, National Public Radio, AARP-TV, the BBC World Service, German state television, and numerous local radio and television programs, and been quoted in Money magazine, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, among others. Brett Weiss is the previous Maryland State Chair for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network, on the board of the Maryland State Bar Consumer Bankruptcy Council, and a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute and the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland. He has received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for his work on behalf of consumers across the country. Mr. Weiss is admitted to practice before Maryland and District of Columbia federal and state courts, the United States Courts of Appeals for the DC, Fourth and Eighth Circuits, the United States Tax Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been practicing law since 1983.
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