Many Philadelphia area bankruptcy attorneys, our firm included, offer potential clients a free debt consultation. Although these meetings vary from lawyer to lawyer, your bankruptcy attorney should, at a minimum, review your financial situation and discuss possible solutions that might apply to your situation. Such options could include Chapter 7, Chapter 13, debt negotiation/debt settlement, and mortgage foreclosure defense), and answer any questions.
This first meeting is an opportunity not only to get a professional appraisal of your financial status but also to see if the attorney is a good fit. However, as with many things in life, to get the most from the meeting, it helps to be prepared.
Be ready to answer questions about your finances fully and candidly. Understandably, some people are nervous about meeting with a bankruptcy attorney. After all, who wants to discuss their personal finances with someone they have just met. However, the more information you share with your lawyer up front, the better your lawyer will be able to advise you. Don’t withhold information for fear of embarrassment. Whatever your circumstances, the odds are that your bankruptcy attorney has seen similar (or much worse) situations in the past.
A lawyer’s job is to help people find a solution to their problems, and not to judge them. (Unless, of course, the lawyer is a judge.)
You should feel comfortable enough with your bankruptcy attorney to answer questions thoroughly. If you feel you cannot be candid with your attorney, you need to find new counsel.
We have bankruptcy and debt negotiation information on our firm website and this blog, including a bankruptcy FAQ and links to bankruptcy videos. Many of my clients have found that viewing these materials before our first meeting made it easier to discuss their financial situation and understand their options.
Have your basic financial information ready.
Not all attorneys request the same information at the first meeting, but they will need to see your basic financial data. (I have a short initial consultation form that I ask potential clients to fill out and bring with them to the meeting.) At the very least, you should have the following information available:
I generally do not require anyone to bring a lot of documents to an initial meeting, unless it is an emergency filing. However, your attorney may find the following items to be helpful: the most recent statements from your creditors, your most recent pay stubs, and pleadings from any lawsuit pending against you.
Also, if you have obtained a recent credit report, you may wish to bring it along. Additional documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, etc. will be needed later if you decide to hire the attorney to file for bankruptcy.
You may wish to write your questions down. A good lawyer will be happy to answer them. (Lawyers like to talk, after all.) I certainly never mind if my clients bring a list of questions because I want people to leave my office understanding their options. If they have additional questions later, I encourage them to send me an email or call.
Bankruptcy is a major decision, and you should not take that step until you are fully informed.
At the end of the meeting, your attorney may give you a questionnaire, document checklist, and other forms to complete. (In my Philadelphia bankruptcy practice, I have a packet of forms and other materials that I give to clients at our meeting.) If you decide to retain the attorney, you should try to complete the forms and get the documents back to the attorney as soon as possible. Circumstances change over time, so your attorney’s advice may change if you wait a long time to return the forms.
Remember that your bankruptcy attorney is there to help you. If you are unsure what information you need for your first meeting, feel free to ask. A little preparation can go a long way in helping you make the most out of your initial consultation.