You filled out the form to sign up for a free consultation with a qualified bankruptcy attorney near you. Now what? We’ll tell you exactly what to expect when meeting up for the first time face-to-face. This also includes what documents to bring and questions you might want to ask before you sign anything.
First, you want to feel confident that this is the right bankruptcy attorney to help you. A good lawyer won’t try the “hard sell” approach to get you on board as a client. Most bankruptcy lawyers admit that not everyone benefits from Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. In fact, a good attorney may suggest other options to get your finances under control.
Which Documents Should You Bring Along With You?
Showing up to your in-person consultation empty-handed is a huge mistake. Plus, putting everything on paper can actually help you focus on what debts to discharge or pay down. At a minimum, plan to bring copies of the following documents to show your bankruptcy attorney when you meet:
- Make a list showing all your outstanding debts. Check all bills you pay each month through auto-draft in addition to anything that’s currently overdue. Be sure to write down the creditor’s name as well as your current unpaid balance.
- List all your financial assets in a separate document. That includes things you own, such as your house, car, land, jewelry other than wedding rings, expensive art, trailers, timeshares, etc.
- Your most recent pay stubs, direct deposit statements and/or tax records.
- A rough monthly budget showing your combined household income (after taxes) and required expenses. Focus on things you cannot live without, like electricity, water and gas bills, mortgage, insurance and car payments (if applicable). This gives the bankruptcy lawyer an idea of your monthly income-to-debt ratio.
In addition, you should always bring a photo ID along with you.
How to Prepare for Your In-Person Bankruptcy Attorney Meeting
Plan to show up on time and ready to answer your attorney’s questions honestly when you arrive. Your lawyer isn’t going to judge you or your finances. In addition, you won’t owe any money today. Most people feel more confident dressed in the clothes they’d wear either for jury duty or church. In addition, make sure you know about how long your travel time will take to arrive. If you plan to take public transportation, plan your route ahead of time to ensure you don’t show up late.
Your in-person appointment with the bankruptcy attorney should take between a half-hour to as much as an hour. You can bring your spouse, if you so choose, but leave your kids at home! Please don’t arrive and expect the law firm’s front desk staff to babysit for you. They also should not sit in with you during your first face-to-face bankruptcy meeting.
10 Questions To Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney
In addition, you may wish to “interview” the lawyer before you’re willing to sign anything and retain their services. But what questions should you ask to quickly learn whether or not this bankruptcy attorney’s right for you? Here are some examples we recommend asking during your first in-person consultation:
- How many years of experience do you have handling bankruptcy cases such as mine?
- Does your firm provide fee payment plans for clients filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy as well as Chapter 13?
- What things might get my petition denied once I file in bankruptcy court?
- Which options do I have to protect my non-exempt assets?
- If I don’t pass the means test now, what steps should I take in order to qualify for bankruptcy? How long do those steps usually take?
- How many Chapter 13 clients of yours discharge their debts in three years instead of five?
- Why am I a good candidate for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
- Do you have any satisfied clients willing to talk to me about their experience? Otherwise, what about video testimonials? Written endorsements, etc.?
- What’s a realistic monthly payment for me if I decide to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
- Will I owe more in either state or federal income taxes the year I discharge any unsecured debts?
You don’t need to ask all the questions above during your consultation. Ask the ones that seem most relevant to your situation before you decide to move forward or sign anything.
Related: Which Debts Do Most Americans Discharge Through Bankruptcy?
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.