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Types of Bankruptcy Preparers to Avoid
In life, to be somewhat blunt, there are some people who we are best off avoiding. I think you know who I mean - that clingy ex-girlfriend (or ex-boyfriend) who won't let go, the person you just inadvertently cut off on the highway, that old high school classmate who has held an irrational grudge against you for the last 20 years, your ex-mother-in-law. It can be a long list!
If you are considering bankruptcy, there is also a list of types of bankruptcy preparers to avoid. People who want your business, but to whom you are best off saying "no thanks". That list includes:
(1) Non-Attorney Bankruptcy Preparers:
These people can go by many names. They may call themselves "paralegals" (although they may have no actual paralegal training). They may call themselves "free lance or independent paralegals", or perhaps "document preparation preparers", or "legal document typing services". No matter what creative name they give themselves, they are all basically the same thing - people who are not attorneys who essentially want to perform a function that is best handled by an actual attorney.
In California (and San Diego), it is against the law for someone who is not an attorney to render legal advice. That is called "practicing law without a license". Do you know what constitutes giving legal advice? In a nutshell, it is nothing more than answering questions from clients. Can you imagine going to someone to handle your bankruptcy, who is not allowed to answer your questions? Trust me, everyone who is considering bankruptcy has questions - and usually loads of them. In 25 years of legal practice, I have never had a bankruptcy client who didn't. The non-attorney bankruptcy preparer, when asked a question from a client, has two choices - either to answer it or not. If they do not answer the question, then what service are they exactly providing, other than filling out the bankruptcy forms? If they do answer the question, they are practicing law without a license, which is illegal.
There is a reason why non-attorneys are not legally allowed to give legal advice. They do not have proper legal training - they did not attend an accredited law school for 3 years, graduate from that law school, pass the California bar exam (the most difficult one in the country), pass a moral character background investigation conducted by the State, and they are not subject to on-going regulation by the State. An attorney has done all those things, and is also continually regulated by the State Bar, which includes an on-going requirement to take approved continuing legal education courses once they are an attorney. As a result of this vigorous training, an attorney has highly developed legal skills; which frankly, a non-attorney does not.
The non-attorney will therefore not be able to give you the same type of highly trained, skilled legal advice that an attorney can. The attorney can spot problem legal issues in a bankruptcy, and avoid them before they occur, which is something the non-attorney will likely be unable to do. The attorney will also attend your Court hearing(s), as your legal representative. The non-attorney preparer is legally not allowed to, and will tell you to go to Court by yourself - leaving you to fend for yourself.
Regarding the preparation of the bankruptcy forms - it is certainly possible that the non-attorney bankruptcy preparer can provide correct answers to the questions asked in the forms. However, that is not the same thing as competent legal advice. Merely answering the questions correctly does not ensure that you even qualify for the type of bankruptcy you are filing for, or that you are properly protecting your legal rights. [See our "Is an Attorney Necessary?" page]. Merely answering the questions correctly does not address whether you are even filing for the type of bankruptcy that best suits your needs, whether bankruptcy is even appropriate for you, given your circumstances, whether you will lose assets in the process, whether your Chapter 13 plan will be confirmed, and a million other questions.
So why do people hire non-attorney preparers? I suppose they think it is cheaper than hiring an attorney. But the funny thing is, some of these non-attorney preparers charge the same fees as an attorney, or only slightly less. These are people to avoid.
(2) Attorneys who Do Not Specialize in Bankruptcy:
Starting from around 2007 or 2008, there was a huge surge in the number of attorneys who suddenly held themselves out as being bankruptcy lawyers. Why? That was when the Great Recession started - and the country has muddled along, economically, ever since. Because of the Great Recession, attorneys who specialized in other areas of law suddenly found themselves without paying clients in their specialty. Also around that same time period, and also due to the Great Recession, the number of people filing for bankruptcy skyrocketed. As a result, many attorneys, who had never handled a bankruptcy in their life, reinvented themselves as being bankruptcy attorneys. Criminal defense lawyers, divorce attorneys, real estate attorneys, etc.; all of a sudden, they were all now bankruptcy attorneys.
Don't get me wrong - lawyers are allowed to develop new specialties. But if your going to hire an attorney to handle your bankruptcy, you should hire an attorney who is serious about being a bankruptcy attorney - not someone who is just dabbling in it. At The Law Office of Henry Ahrens, we have specialized in bankruptcy for many years - long before the Great Recession ever started.
(3) Attorneys who will Not Give you the Time of Day:
Every lawyer runs their law practice differently. Some attorneys run their office like an assembly line - meaning they have high overhead, large number of clients, low profit margins, and no real time for any specific client. They have large support staffs, huge advertising budgets, and the clients almost never deal directly with the attorney - but only with the lawyer's paralegal or secretary. These lawyers advertise that they give a free consultation for bankruptcy - but when you get there, you find that it is only a 10 minute consult with the attorney, or worse, only with someone from the lawyer's support staff. If they treat you like this before you have hired them, how do you think they will treat you once you have hired (paid) them? Better or worse?
At The Law Office of Henry Ahrens, during your free consultation, you will meet only with me, Henry Ahrens. I am an attorney with 25 years of legal experience, and I will give you personalized attention. I will give you as much time as is needed (which usually is about one hour to one and a half hours of free legal time, sometimes even more), and I will explain the entire process to you, from soup to nuts. I am also always available to answer your questions later on (if I am not at the moment you call, I will call you back). Is that better or worse?
(4) Attorneys who have you Meet with Sales Staff at your Initial Consultation:
There are some very well known bankruptcy law firms in San Diego who actively employ sales staff. When you go to them for your initial consultation, they have you meet not with an attorney, and not even with a paralegal - but with someone who is a trained salesman. And I mean that quite literally; I could not make this stuff up. That person is not going to give you any legal advice at all (which is what you are there for). Instead, that person's sole function is to get you to hire that law firm on the spot - and they will employ every super aggressive high pressure used car salesmen trick in the book to do it. You see, like every salesmen, they have a monthly quota to meet. Does that sound like the type of law firm that you want to trust to handle your bankruptcy?
(5) Attorneys who Just Graduated from Law School:
OK, I do not want to say nasty things about these type of lawyers. It is not easy being a recent law school graduate. There are very few entry level legal jobs out there today, and most of these new lawyers have huge student loan debts from law school. Some of the bolder ones have opened their own law firms, and are starting out as bankruptcy attorneys - due to the large number of people filing for bankruptcy, since the start of the Great Recession in 2007 or 2008. However admirable their initiative may be - it still does not change the fact that these are brand new lawyers with no real experience in bankruptcy. Do you really want them learning the ropes at your expense?
You are better served by going to an experienced bankruptcy attorney - such as those at The Law Office of Henry Ahrens. A pair of steady hands to guide you through difficult waters.