Your bankruptcy case is filed. It’s not going as smoothly as you expected.
In fact, you’re worried you’re going under.
Can you change bankruptcy lawyers after your case is filed?
Certainly, you can always fire your lawyer. It may be disruptive. It will certainly cost more money.
To decide you need to know how big are the stakes? Are your worries real?
How do you know if you need a new lawyer?
What’s troubling your bankruptcy case
Lots of things can cause you unease once your case is filed. Not all of them are predictable or preventable. Maybe they aren’t as serious as you fear.
Did you provide all the information required?
The bankruptcy schedules ask for a lot of information, about your financial history, your assets and your debts. Trustees, the court appointed official who reviews your schedules, have different standards about how detailed that information needs to be.
If your initial filing is challenged as to its completeness, your schedules can be amended.
Amendments usually cause no difficulty, unless it appears that you could not innocently have omitted an asset. Try telling the trustee you didn’t remember the vacation house is a stretch. If you forgot a timeshare you’ve never used, maybe it’s more plausible.
Have deadlines been missed?
Bankruptcy is chock full of deadlines and hearing dates. Miss those dates and your case may be dismissed or do-overs required.
If this happens in your case, was the problem caused by your failure to respond timely, or did your attorney fail to act? If the problem is you, a new attorney will neither fix the problem or make it less likely that it happens again.
Are there unexpected issues?
Trustee demands for turnover of assets or suits against the family members who lent you money suggest that the initial assessment of your situation may not have been thorough. A good initial interview between client and counsel should flush out the possible issues in your case for discussion and decision making.
Is communication inadequate?
Two different communication problems are possible. One it that you simply can’t manage to talk to your attorney. Attorneys often lead busy professional lives, but if you can’t get the attorney’s attention on serious issues in your, then you have a problem.
A slightly different problem is the attorney who is willing to spend time with you, but either can’t explain the issues so that you can understand them, or doesn’t welcome your questions or confusion.
Changing bankruptcy lawyers
My bottom line for deciding to change lawyers focuses on whether you’ve lost confidence that your current lawyer can right the ship.
If the issues are minor and you have confidence that your attorney is capable, even if not faultless, then economy and continuity speak for continuing as you are. You will incur more attorney’s fees if you bring in a new lawyer who has to get up to speed in your case before he or she can tackle the troublesome issues.
However, if the issues are serious and you have doubts about your attorney’s capacity, get a second opinion from the most experienced consumer bankruptcy lawyer you can find locally. Maybe that lawyer will assure you that either the problems aren’t as serious as you think or that they were unpredictable.
If the troubles turn out to be lawyer-caused, or lawyer aggravated, then changing counsel is probably worthwhile.
How to interview a bankruptcy lawyer
Don’t settle for a replacement who can’t explain to you the issue and the possible solutions. When things are going badly is no time for a failure to communicate. If you feel that the lawyer does not welcome your follow up questions, then you don’t have the right lawyer.
How is a substitution of attorney done
Mechanically, you change attorneys by filing a pleading called a substitution of attorney. Typically, the substitution is signed by the client, the old attorney and the new attorney. Then it is filed with the court.
You are entitled to a copy of your file from the first attorney. You may be required to pay the cost for copying the file for the first attorney’s records.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of how your new attorney is to be paid. Get a written representation agreement that sets out the billing arrangement and the scope of the services to be provided.
Bankruptcy representation is a partnership between client and lawyer. Commit to holding up your end of the deal.
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Image courtesy of Flickr and David Hawkins-Weeks.