About one of the only things you may look forward to in life more than choosing an Orange County bankruptcy lawyer is selecting a mortician.
But when you're filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, choosing the wrong attorney can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case.
Orange County Bankruptcy Lawyer Vincent Howard is aware, for example, of a recent case out of Wisconsin, in which an attorney who fashioned himself as a champion of the destitute was formally chastised by a chief bankruptcy judge in Milwaukee for targeting destitute individuals who don't understand bankruptcy laws, overcharging them and a host of other violations.
He had reportedly posted fliers throughout the neighborhood - on light poles - saying he could help people keep their electricity on if they contacted him. While a number of his clients said they believed they had hired him to handle their bankruptcies - a very extensive and detailed process that requires a great deal of time and resources. Instead, he claims he was hired to do a "bankruptcy analysis," helping them to decide whether or not they should file for bankruptcy.
The judge scolded him for targeting people who were struggling to keep heat in their homes and food on their tables and then charging them between $200 and $450 each for what they thought would be to help them through the bankruptcy process.
Instead, he reportedly met with several clients at a time, leafed through their paperwork and then told them they would need to handle their bankruptcy cases on a "pro se" basis. What he didn't explain to them was that "pro se" means without a lawyer.
He was also encouraging people to file for bankruptcy who simply couldn't pay a bill here or there.
Bankruptcy is a tool for when you are desperate, buried in debt and can see no other way out. It can literally be a lifesaver. But it's not for everyone, and someone who is simply late on their electric bill might not be a good candidate.
Given that these were people who were not sophisticated consumers of legal services, the judge said, his violations were egregious.
He's been ordered to repay these clients and has been slapped with a fine.
More research by a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel revealed that this attorney had been suspended for a few months recently, after a panel of judges indicated he needed more education. And yet, the Wisconsin state Bar shows him as being in good standing with no previous disciplinary problems. A spokesman said sometimes these sort of issues can take anywhere from two months to over a year to update.
What all this really illustrates is the importance of being a smart consumer. That means thoroughly researching your attorney, their reputation and their track record.
Some questions you want to ask a potential bankruptcy lawyer:
- How many bankruptcies do you handle in any given year or month?
- How many of those bankruptcies are personal bankruptcies, as opposed to business bankruptcies?
- How much access will I have to an attorney during the filing?
- What sort of time table do you expect these proceedings to take?
- How does the procedure work?
Understand too that in these situations, cheapest is not best and you will get what you pay for. We certainly understand that it's tempting, given your current financial state. But this is not an area where you want to penny pinch because a good attorney is actually an investment that can mean the difference in negotiating better terms on your behalf.
Orange County Bankruptcy Attorney Vincent Howard at Howard Law can help. You can reach us toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.
Judge fines bankruptcy lawyer, By Cary Spivak, The Journal Sentinel