Credit Infocenter

50 Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Bankruptcy Attorney

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: October 2, 2017

As though filing for bankruptcy isn't stressful enough, you're further challenged with finding a competent bankruptcy attorney you can trust. Naturally, it can be overwhelming, but it need not be difficult. It will most likely be a totally unfamiliar process and can be confusing and stressful. Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation.

Take this opportunity to meet with multiple attorneys and ask the kind of questions that will help you choose the right one. The toughest task is knowing what to ask of a potential bankruptcy attorney, but even that is made simple with this handy list. The specifics of your case, financial situation and personality are unique, so judging an attorney's answers to many of these questions will be subjective. Others are pretty straightforward, implying a definitive yes or no. A few of the questions, though, are a little more complicated, for which brief explanations follow.

Questions to Determine Background and Experience

1. How Long Have You Been Practicing Bankruptcy Law?

  • BAD ANSWER: A few months.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Three to five years.

2. How Long Have You Been With This Particular Firm?

  • BAD ANSWER: A few months.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Three to five years.

3. What Percentage of Your Practice is Devoted to Bankruptcy Law?

  • BAD ANSWER: Less than 25 percent.
  • GOOD ANSWER: More than 50 percent.

4. What Percentage of Your Practice has Been Focused on Bankruptcy Since the New Laws Went Into Effect in 2005?

  • BAD ANSWER: Less than 25 percent.
  • GOOD ANSWER: More than 50 percent.

5. How Many Bankruptcy Cases Have You Completed Since 2005?

  • BAD ANSWER: Five.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Five Hundred.

6. On Average, How Many Bankruptcy Cases Do You Handle Per Month?

  • BAD ANSWER: One or two cases.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Ten to twenty cases.

7. What Percentage of your Bankruptcy Clients are Debtors and What Percentage are Creditors?

  • BAD ANSWER: Twenty-five percent are debtors and 75 percent are creditors.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Seventy-five percent are debtors and 25 percent are creditors.

8. What Percentage of Your Bankruptcy Clients are Individuals vs. Businesses?

  • BAD ANSWER: Twenty-five percent are individuals and 75 percent are businesses.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Seventy-five percent are individuals and 25 percent are businesses.

9. How Many of the Bankruptcy Cases You Have Handled Were Moved for Dismissal for Abuse by the U.S. Trustees?

  • BAD ANSWER: Quite a few.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Only a couple.

10. What Sort of Relationship do You Have With People in the Court System?

  • BAD ANSWER: I know who they are.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We know each other very well.

11. Do You Know the People Evaluating my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

12. Do You Know the Local Bankruptcy Judges?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

13. Do You Know the Local Chapter 7 Trustees?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

14. Do You Know the Local Chapter 23 Trustee?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

15. Do You Know the United States Trustee in Your Area?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

16. Have You Ever Received an Ethics Disciplinary Complaint?

  • BAD ANSWER: Yes.
  • GOOD ANSWER: No.

17. Do You Have Malpractice Insurance?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

18. Have You Ever Been Sued for Malpractice?

  • BAD ANSWER: Yes.
  • GOOD ANSWER: No.

19. Are You a Member of Any Voluntary Bankruptcy Bar Groups?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes, I am a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).

20. How is Your Bankruptcy Practice Different From Your Competition?

  • BAD ANSWER: We're all pretty much the same.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We get to know our clients as people first, cases second. We also have a really effective follow-up program for helping you rebuild your credit and make smart, sound financial decisions in the future.

21. Can I Have the Names and Contact Info for Previous Clients Whose Bankruptcy Cases Were Similar to Mine?

  • BAD ANSWER: No, I wouldn't be comfortable with that, and neither would my clients.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Why of course!

Cost of Bankruptcy Attorney Services

22. What Type of Costs Can I Expect in my Bankruptcy Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: It depends.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Federal filing fee and attorney fees.

23. What Fees am I Expected to Pay You, and What do Those Fees Cover?

  • BAD ANSWER: Fees vary.
  • GOOD ANSWER: For Chapter 13, the federal filing fee is $274 and attorney fees could run $2,000 to $3,000. For Chapter 7, the federal filing fee is $299 and attorney fees could run from $1,000 to $2,500. These fees should cover everything necessary to complete your case, provided there is not some rare, unforeseen issue that requires more time and attention.

24. What is Your Retainer Fee and is it Refundable?

  • BAD ANSWER: $1,000 non-refundable fee.
  • GOOD ANSWER: $100 or more, depending on what you can afford. And yes, the fee is refundable.

25. Do You Use a Written Fee Agreement?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

26. Do You Have Options for Payment Plans?

  • BAD ANSWER: No.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes.

27. How do You Expect to be Paid?

  • BAD ANSWER: In cash, up front, today.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We can work out a payment plan that works for both you and the firm.

28. Have You Ever Gone to Arbitration or Court Over Your Fees?

  • BAD ANSWER: Yes.
  • GOOD ANSWER: No.

Determining the Particulars of Your Case

29. Why or Why Not is Bankruptcy a Good Idea for me, Based on my Unique Situation?

  • BAD ANSWER: You qualify, so it's good for you.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Bankruptcy may be a good idea for you if you have exhausted all your possibilities for paying off your debt on your own.

30. What Other Options are Available to me Other Than Bankruptcy?

  • BAD ANSWER: In your situation, there are no other options.
  • GOOD ANSWER: There are always options to bankruptcy. You may try re-evaluating your budget so as to start paying down your debts. You may try negotiating with your creditors. Or you may seek help from Consumer Credit Counseling Services.

31. After Reviewing my Case, What do you See as Some Potential Challenges that Could Arise?

  • BAD ANSWER: It is impossible to tell.
  • GOOD ANSWER: This varies widely from case-to-case. It may be something as simple as not being able to discharge everything you'd hoped to, or a more serious issue that threatens the bankruptcy case itself.

32. How Will Bankruptcy Hurt Me?

  • BAD ANSWER: You're getting out of debt. What could be bad about that?
  • GOOD ANSWER: Bankruptcy will negatively impact your credit score. The better your credit before bankruptcy, the harder the hit you'll take. Chapter 7 will stay on your credit report for 10 years, Chapter 13 for 7 years.

33. How Will Bankruptcy Help Me?

  • BAD ANSWER: Isn't it obvious?
  • GOOD ANSWER: Bankruptcy gets creditors offer your back, allows you to keep some of your assets under certain circumstances and, generally, gives you a fresh start.

34. Which of my Debts Can I Expect to be Discharged Through Bankruptcy?

  • BAD ANSWER: Bankruptcy discharges just about everything.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Bankruptcy discharges most unsecured debt, including credit cards and other unsecured loans.

35. Which of my Debts Will Probably Not be Discharged Through Bankruptcy?

  • BAD ANSWER: There's not much bankruptcy doesn't cover.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Chapter 7 will not discharge taxes, tax liens, student loans, alimony, child support or debt incurred through fraud, among others. Chapter 13 will not discharge certain taxes, child support, alimony, student loans, fines and restitution, or debt incurred through fraud, among others.

36. What Will be Your Gameplan if You Were to Proceed with my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: Like I always do - I will wing it.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Much like question #31, this answer is very subjective. The most important thing to listen for is a plan of some kind relative to the specifics of your case.

37. Will you be Doing all the Work on my Case, or Will you Assign it to Someone Else?

  • BAD ANSWER: As long as we get your case settled, what difference does it make?
  • GOOD ANSWER: I will be doing most of the work on your case. However, we do have other attorneys in the office who may help, as well as paralegals and other support staff who will assist as necessary.

38. Will you be my Main Point of Contact for Updates, Questions, or Concerns Regarding my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: You can talk to whoever is free.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Yes, I will be your main point of contact.

39. How Many People on your Staff Will be Working on my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: However many it takes.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Myself or another attorney with the firm will be handling the bulk of your case. However, we do have paralegals and other support staff who will assist as necessary.

40. Who Will Accompany me in Court?

  • BAD ANSWER: One of our paralegals.
  • GOOD ANSWER: If not me, then another one of the attorneys with the firm. If indeed, another attorney does accompany you in court, you will have an opportunity to meet with him or her prior to the hearing.

41. How Often Will you Keep me Updated About the Progression of my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: You don't need to worry about updates. We've got it handled.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We'll let you know anytime there is a development in your case and, of course, you are welcome to contact us anytime you want to check its status.

42. What will be Your Primary Mode of Contact?

  • BAD ANSWER: We'll find a way to get a hold of you, if the need arises.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We usually do a combination of phone and email, just to be sure we're both getting all the information we need to move your case forward in as timely a manner as possible.

43. What are my Responsibilities, as the Client, in Helping to Strengthen my Case?

  • BAD ANSWER: I think you've done quite enough already, don't you?
  • GOOD ANSWER: The most important thing you can do is respond fully and promptly to our requests for the information we need to build your case.

44. What Information do I Need to Provide you, Now and Throughout the Bankruptcy Process?

  • BAD ANSWER: Don't worry about it today. We'll let you know what we need, when we need it.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We do have a pretty comprehensive interview process. We'll be asking you a number of questions - verbally and/or in writing - covering details about your income, assets and financial situation.

45. What Should I do/Not do Before my Bankruptcy Case is Completed?

  • BAD ANSWER: Just go about your life as usual.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Do not apply for any new credit, make any major purchases or withdraw large sums of money from your bank account. Under bankruptcy law, certain luxury purchases over $1,000 within 60 days of the bankruptcy filing are presumed non-dischargeable. And cash advances aggregating $1,000 within 60 days of the bankruptcy filing are also presumed non-dischargeable.

46. How Long Before I Can Expect my Case to be Resolved?

  • BAD ANSWER: You never know. These things are complicated.
  • GOOD ANSWER: A typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is open for approximately 4 months. Chapter 13 is much more lengthy, as it involves a payment plan spanning up to 5 years.

Post Bankruptcy Procedures

47. How Will my Credit Score be Impacted by a Bankruptcy Filing?

  • BAD ANSWER: Bankruptcy shouldn't affect your credit score much at all.
  • GOOD ANSWER: The higher your credit score before bankruptcy, the harder the hit you'll take. If your score is already poor, you probably won't see as dramatic of a drop.

48. Will Filing Bankruptcy Affect my Ability to Get a Job?

  • BAD ANSWER: Well, a bankruptcy doesn't look good.
  • GOOD ANSWER: Bankruptcy law prohibits discrimination based upon a debtor filing for protection under bankruptcy law. That said, an employer is within their legal right to request a copy of your credit report. So a current or potential employer may know you have a bankruptcy. Legally, however, a bankruptcy cannot impact the employer's decision to retain or hire you for employment.

49. How May my Spouse's Personal Property and Credit be Affected by my Bankruptcy? (if not filing jointly)

  • BAD ANSWER: Isn't getting your debts discharged what really matters most?
  • GOOD ANSWER: Your spouse should not be affected, provided you do not jointly own any of the personal property included in the bankruptcy.

50. What Sort of Follow-Up Support do You Offer Your Clients?

  • BAD ANSWER: After your bankruptcy case is settled, you're pretty much on your own.
  • GOOD ANSWER: We offer six months to a year of support after the date of your bankruptcy filing. We can also be helpful in giving you advice regarding the rebuilding of your credit and the creation of a budget.

Though it is not necessary you ask these questions word-for-word, this list is at least a good place to start. Make notes from it or simply print out the entire list and take it in with you to the initial consultation. If you sense any hesitancy or judgment on the part of the attorney in response to these questions, move on. Any reputable bankruptcy attorney worth his salt should be ready and willing to answer any questions you may have in order to win your business. You may be at the mercy of the judge in the courtroom, but in the client-attorney relationship, you are the boss.