There are many different elements to consider when selecting a bankruptcy attorney. At Nova Law Group, we believe that clients should consider a variety of factors, both objective and subjective, in making the decision to hire a particular bankruptcy attorney. We have attempted to list some of the factors we think are the most important below.
Bankruptcy Practice Focus and Experience:
The first important element to consider when hiring a bankruptcy attorney is whether the attorney focuses on bankruptcy as a core field of his or her practice, or in the alternative, is a “general practitioner” who might only try to perform an occasional bankruptcy case and who doesn’t specialize in the area.
Zachary Tyson, managing bankruptcy attorney of Nova Law Group, thinks it is vitally important for clients to hire counsel who regularly practice in the bankruptcy field, because bankruptcy law can be very complex even for attorneys, and an attorney who doesn’t regularly practice in the field is more likely to make mistakes and be less familiar with the law in this specialized area. It has been his experience that the representation of debtors in bankruptcy is often too complex for attorneys who do not regularly practice in bankruptcy, and it is very important that the client hire an attorney who focuses in bankruptcy to handle the case, and not just “any attorney,” or one who practices in many unrelated fields of law. In essence, clients should not assume that simply because an attorney is “bar certified” or “licensed to practice law” in California, that he or she can handle the client’s bankruptcy case competently, or cost-effectively.
In selecting a great bankruptcy attorney, there are many sources that a client may turn to in making the selection.
First, most serious practitioners of consumer bankruptcy law are members of NACBA, which is an acronym for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. If the bankruptcy attorney you are considering is a member of this organization, then it is likely that the attorney you are reviewing considers bankruptcy to be a key focus of his or her practice, and is more likely to be familiar with the law in our field. NACBA is a professional organization that helps provide continuing legal education and professional seminars for bankruptcy attorneys, and most serious bankruptcy attorneys are members of this organization, because it helps us stay on the cutting edge of bankruptcy practice. All Nova Law Group attorneys are members of NACBA and most have been for several years.
Second, the attorney’s website and associated information may indicate whether the attorney focuses primarily on bankruptcy practice, or whether bankruptcy is only one of many fields in which he or she focuses. When viewing the websites of some attorneys, it becomes clear that the attorney doesn’t really practice bankruptcy law at all, and therefore, should not be selected. Other factors might include whether or not the attorney has informative bankruptcy content on his or her website, whether the attorney’s website seems credible, the representative engagements of the attorney and demonstrated experience he or she has in bankruptcy, and the organizations the bankruptcy attorney has worked for prior to entering private practice.
Third, it is advisable to check the educational history of your attorney and what law school he or she attended, as the quality of attorney practitioners who went to law schools of high caliber and those who did not can be very substantial. These qualifications are often posted on the attorney’s website, but if not, then the client can ask the attorney he or she meets with at the initial consultation where the attorney received his or her legal training. High caliber schools like Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, University of Chicago, Columbia, and other top-tier schools are very selective in their admission standards, and as a result, attorneys who graduate from top-tier institutions tend to have significantly better critical and analytical thinking ability, oratory ability, and writing ability than attorneys trained at less selective schools. The educational credentials of all Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys are posted in the education section of the attorney’s personal bio on our website.
Fourth, ask your attorney what experience he or she has in handling bankruptcy cases, and whether bankruptcy is a large portion of his or her practice. Do not make the mistake of assuming that an “older attorney” is necessarily a more “experienced attorney.” There are many older attorneys practicing in the bankruptcy field who have no clue how to successfully complete a bankruptcy case of moderate complexity, either because they never learned how to perform legal research or don’t handle complex cases, or because they only recently started handling bankruptcy cases. Please remember that not all bankruptcy attorneys are created equal—every attorney has different levels of expertise, personality, critical and analytical thinking ability, oratory ability, and willingness to work diligently toward the successful completion of the client’s case. Hiring a bankruptcy attorney is not like buying a gallon of milk at the store, and price is definitely not the only variable to consider when selecting a great bankruptcy attorney.
Bankruptcy Attorney Relational and Communication Ability:
The second element of hiring a great bankruptcy lawyer is also often one of the most overlooked by clients—the ability of the attorney to communicate effectively with the client in a professional and respectful manner. A client should hire an attorney who is courteous, professional in appearance, and who responds to the client in a timely and efficient manner. For example, at Nova Law Group we strive to return all client communications within 24 hours, and often much sooner, but this is not common practice at most bankruptcy firms. Quite to the contrary, there are some bankruptcy attorneys practicing in the field who return client calls late (or not at all), appear to client meetings in jeans and a T-shirt, fail to communicate with clients regarding important court dates, and in some cases, fail to attend the mandatory court dates at all.
At Nova Law Group we strive to not only return all client communications promptly (almost always within 1-24 hours), but also have extended office hours to service our clients. Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys schedule client meetings at the client’s convenience, and are available between 9AM and 9PM Monday through Friday, and on weekends by request to schedule meetings. We understand that often clients who are going through financial hardship cannot always take time off work to go see a bankruptcy attorney, and the bankruptcy attorneys of Nova Law Group hold extended evening and weekend hours at our offices in Mountain View, CA for this reason to accommodate our bankruptcy clientele.
In addition to the attorney’s availability, prospective clients should consider the attorney’s personality and whether the client can envision working successfully with the attorney on the bankruptcy case. Clients should find an attorney who can communicate effectively, speaks in a respectful manner, listens to client needs and wants, and answers client questions. Great bankruptcy attorneys are often also available to meet in person with clients, and in most cases, a client should be very skeptical about hiring any attorney who refuses to meet in person, or is frequently unavailable to talk with the client, as the attorney is likely to treat the client with the same level of indifference during the bankruptcy case as well. As stated previously, Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys are always available to our clients, whether by phone, email, fax, or in person for a face to face consult, and are often able to book meetings within a 1-3 day timeframe based on client needs. The superior customer service that Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys provide our clients is one of the defining characteristics of our firm, and we believe, the reason our bankruptcy firm is rated so highly by clients and recommended so frequently through referral. Whether you are seeking a bankruptcy attorney in Mountain View, CA, or in the Greater Bay Area or San Jose Metro Area in general, feel free to give a Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorney a call and we will be happy to assist you.
Bankruptcy Attorney Location and Geographical Area of Practice:
The third element of hiring a great bankruptcy attorney actually has nothing to do with the attorney’s credentials or personality, but rather is simply a consideration of where the bankruptcy attorney is located relative to where the client needs to file his or her bankruptcy case. The location of any prospective bankruptcy attorney is not only relevant in terms of convenience to the client and the ability of the client to meet with the attorney in person, but also is legally relevant, as bankruptcy attorneys generally only practice before certain bankruptcy courts and might not practice in the bankruptcy court where the client needs to file.
For example, as of the time this article was written, Nova Law Group’s bankruptcy attorneys are based in Mountain View, CA, within Santa Clara County. From our offices in Mountain View, our bankruptcy attorneys practice in the bankruptcy courts in San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, which service clients filing in almost every county throughout the Greater Bay Area. As a result, Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys can service clients in almost every county in the Bay Area, but there are bankruptcy courts in other states, or in Southern California, or up in Sacramento, where our bankruptcy attorneys do not practice at this time. Even though our bankruptcy attorneys are based in Mountain View, CA, we service clients filing in Morgan Hill, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and everywhere in between, including almost all cities throughout the Greater Bay Area region.
It is important for all clients to note that the Bankruptcy Code itself often mandates where the client must file a bankruptcy case. For example, in the vast majority of situations, personal bankruptcy clients must file their bankruptcy case in the bankruptcy division of the bankruptcy district where they have lived for the greater part of the last 6 months prior to filing. An illustration of this rule is the following:
John Doe moved from New York, NY to Palo Alto, CA four months before he planned to file his bankruptcy case. John Doe still owns a home in New York, NY, and most of his belongings are still in New York, as he didn’t have the money to move most of his possessions to Palo Alto, CA when he moved.
John consulted a Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorney in Mountain View, CA and asked where he should file his bankruptcy case. The Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorney told John that he must file his bankruptcy case in the San Jose Division of the United States Bankruptcy Court, because the San Jose Division serves Palo Alto, CA, and he has lived in Palo Alto, CA for the greater part of the last 6 months (John has lived in Palo Alto, CA for 4 months). Consequently, John will need to file bankruptcy in the bankruptcy court which services Palo Alto, CA (in this case San Jose Division), because he has lived there for the greater part of the last 6 months—where he lived before or where his belongings are is irrelevant.
This requirement, called “venue,” is a very important element for clients to consider when selecting a bankruptcy attorney, as it will help ensure that your prospective attorney practices in the division in which you must file your bankruptcy case.
Bankruptcy Attorney Fees and Costs:
The fourth important element of hiring a great bankruptcy attorney is cost, but it is evaluated last in this article, because it is often the least important element of hiring a bankruptcy attorney. That is right—it is the opinion of our firm that cost is the least important element of hiring a bankruptcy attorney to handle your case. Why you might ask? The following illustration should help clarify:
Suppose you are told by a reputable heart surgeon at an established hospital that you are about to have a heart attack, and that without a complex, time intensive surgery that only a specialist can perform, you might die within a few months time. This reputable doctor then gives you medical data that substantiates his opinion regarding your condition, proves to you that the surgery is needed, and says that he believes if he performs the surgery himself that it will cost you $10,000 for him to do the work.
Imagine now that you are approached by another surgeon, who you see on “Craigslist,” or meet at the local coffee shop, or see in a tiny web advertisement with cheesy catch-phrases (etc.), and with whom you happen to share your condition when you find out he also “performs surgery” (supposedly). He listens to your story, and then states that he’ll do your entire heart surgery for $500!
If you were in the situation described above, would you hire surgeon #1 or surgeon #2 to perform your life-saving heart surgery? I hope your selection was surgeon #1, or you’d likely end up getting a great bargain, but winding up dead on the operating table.
I give this illustration for one very important reason—to demonstrate to clients that when it comes to hiring a bankruptcy attorney, not all bankruptcy attorneys are created equal. Hiring a lawyer is not like buying a gallon of milk—price comparisons are largely meaningless. This is because so many elements go into the cost of hiring an attorney—experience, intelligence, effective communication, geographical location, quality of work product, attentiveness to client needs, efficiency, reputation, and many others. As a result, a client should never assume that a bankruptcy attorney charging $500 for a bankruptcy case is a “great deal” compared to another bankruptcy attorney charging $2,000 for the same bankruptcy case, as it is likely that the client will get very different levels of service and quality of representation from these two attorneys.
Over his career, Zachary Tyson, the founder and managing attorney of Nova Law Group, has seen the work product of thousands of attorneys. While there are many great bankruptcy practitioners who generate excellent work product and service the needs of clients in an exemplary manner, there are definitely a significant subset of bankruptcy attorneys who do not. Many, although not all, of the bankruptcy attorneys who perform work that is completely unacceptable or fail to meet basic professional standards, come from bankruptcy firms who offer “bargain rates” or other gimmicky sales pitches to lure in clients. Many of these ads, some of which claim that the client can hire a bankruptcy attorney for “$99,” or perform the entire case for “$799,” come from bankruptcy firms that are less than reputable or lack the expertise required to counsel the client effectively. For example, Mr. Tyson has personally witnessed attorneys of other firms, many of which represent “bargain firms,” negligently counsel their clients in all of the following ways:
- Inform clients that their family-owned bakery business could be kept open in a Chapter 7 case, even though the business was not incorporated. Outcome: The Chapter 7 Trustee shut down the clients’ bakery business permanently and called the U.S. Marshall out to ensure its closure, depriving the attorney’s clients of their only means of support.
- File a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case for two clients without checking the value of the clients’ home, resulting in significant non-exempt equity in the home that belonged to the Chapter 7 Trustee and the bankruptcy estate. Outcome: Chapter 7 Trustee informed shocked clients at the 341 meeting that he would likely sell their house for the benefit of the estate, ousting them from their home.
- Attorney arrived at the 341 meeting 30 minutes late with no excuse and then proceeded to sit and look bored, while completely ignoring what the trustee or her client was saying.
- Attorney arrived at the 341 meeting and didn’t know who the Chapter 7 Trustee was, or even what the Chapter 7 Trustee was there for at the meeting. He also didn’t know that the meeting was recorded, and seemed to have no idea regarding the purpose of the 341 hearing for his client, or how to represent his client.
The real-life situations above are just a sample of the attorney negligence of some practitioners of other firms, and we would advise clients to use caution when dealing with any gimmicky bankruptcy firm quoting a bargain-basement rate for legal services. Never has the following old adage been more true when hiring a bankruptcy attorney: “you get what you pay for.”
At Nova Law Group, we strive to provide exemplary service to our clients along with superior work product at an affordable price. Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorneys are neither the least expensive bankruptcy attorneys, nor the most expensive, but rather we believe we provide the best overall value to clients hiring a bankruptcy attorney. For bankruptcy law firms of our caliber and professionalism, we provide a very high-quality of legal work to the client at an affordable price. If you would like to inquire how a Nova Law Group bankruptcy attorney can service your needs in connection with a bankruptcy case, feel free to contact us and we would be happy to assist you.