STEP ONE - THE CONSULTATION
It is hard to take the step to contact an attorney. I understand this, and I aim to make the process for my clients as easy as possible. With the hesitation of contacting an attorney most people also have the worry about what is going to happen if they make an appointment with an attorney. My I hope is to make the process of the consultation a little bit clearer, and less of an unknown with the information on this website as well as with each communication with my clients.
I believe that the attorney-client relationship is very important, and establishing that rapport begins at the first meeting. I believe that it is critical that the client feels comfortable with their attorney, and that the attorney believes that the client’s case is one that they are willing to take on. The relationship building and trust begins with that first meeting, and helps each party understand the goals and limits to the scope of representation.
I prefer to meet with potential clients in person, but I also find that phone consultations can be less intimidating and more convenient for scheduling. I will first schedule with you a consultation by phone or in the office. The consultation is free, so you are really not loosing anything by just setting aside some time to discuss your situation.
FREE ONE HOUR CONSULTATION
I offer a free one hour consultation. Sometimes the meeting can run a little longer, sometimes a little shorter; but you can expect that I have set aside one hour to be focused entirely on listening and discussing your case. We will first discuss your basic contact information, and also in general why you came to meet with me. I will also ask if you have transferred or sold any assets, whether you paid any credit cards, family members or friends, and whether you have filed Bankruptcy before. These are all important as they could determine whether you can file Bankruptcy, the type Bankruptcy or the timing of your next Bankruptcy.
The purpose of the consultation is to discuss your case and for you to decide if you want to move forward, as well as for me to determine if your case is one that I can assist you with. I answer any questions of yours that I can, and I also review through as much of your case as possible.
There are several areas that we will cover including your debts, assets, income and your goals in filing Bankruptcy. In reviewing through these areas we can get a game plan together of what type of Bankruptcy might be the best option. We may decide later down the road to change plans and file another type of Bankruptcy, but the point of the initial consultation is to review through the information and obtain a general idea of your goals and the facts of your case as well as an idea of the effects of Bankruptcy. The reason I mention that the plan might change is that I cannot provide any guarantees or warranties. No decent attorney would. Even so, we can gain a general idea of the effects of the different types of Bankruptcy based upon the information that we have at this point.
WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING
You do not need to bring anything to the first consultation. Sometimes it is helpful to bring your most recent paycheck stub, or information for any source of income including a year to date profit and loss statement, if you have a business, but that is not essential to the meeting. The documents that I will need to file your Bankruptcy I can only accept once you have retained me as your attorney.
We will review through all of your debts. Debts include everyone you owe money too. This includes banks, school loans, any personally guaranteed loans and even family and friends that you might owe money to. The reason we will want to know about all of your debts is so that we know what type of Bankruptcy is best in your situation. For example, there are limits to how much debt you can have in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. If that issue should arise we would discuss the other types of Bankruptcy that might be available, but we need to know if that is even an issue that needs to be covered.
In reviewing through your debts we may find that you have a second mortgage, taxes, or car loans that could be better addressed in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. For example, if we see that you have a second mortgage that can be stripped off (discharged) or car loans that can be reduced to the amount you owe (“crammed down”), then we may want to see if a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy would be an option. On the other hand, if it is not possible to cram down a car loan or you do not have a second mortgage, maybe it would be better to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
Knowing the types of debts you have, to whom you owe the debts and how much you owe is a critical step in determining what type of Bankruptcy is the best option.
We will also review through all of your assets. Assets are all of the things you own, even things that you do not owe loans against. This could include the paintings on the wall, the horse in the pasture or even that old clunker that has never run since you owned it. We want to know about all of your stuff because we want to know how best to protect all of your stuff.
In Bankruptcy we can protect assets with what are called exemptions. There are federal exemptions and there are state exemptions. If you have lived in California for the last two years we can use the exemptions from the California Code of Civil Procedure to protect your assets. There are only so many exemptions, and usually specific dollar amounts attached to those exemptions. So it is important that we review through all the stuff that you own and determine values for that stuff. If we see any potential issues with protecting your assets we will know that there is a liquidation issue in a Chapter 7 case, and that maybe a Chapter 13 would be a better option. Of course, in some cases we determine that even if there is a liquidation “issue” a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is still the better option. Knowing what assets you have and the value of those assets helps me to know what issues there may be and how best to proceed in your case.
In Bankruptcy we often refer to the ‘median’ income. This is the average income for a household of your size. As with the other areas we have already discussed, income is also a contributing factor to your qualification for the different types of Bankruptcy. By reviewing through your household size and all of your income we will have an idea of what type of Bankruptcy you qualify for.
What I will need to know is how many people are living with you, and all of your sources of income. Income could be from your employment or business, social security, child support, interest, pensions or even rent. For example, if you have roommates or a partner that lives with you I will need to know that. I will also need to know if they are contributing to the household income at all, and how much they are contributing. Are they paying rent? Do they pay for part of the groceries? Et cetra.
The reason all of this is important is that I need to know what type of Bankruptcy you can qualify for. If you are over the median income, in order to qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy you would have to “pass” the means test. The means test is basically a bunch of calculations using IRS standards that determines if there is money left over after all of your expenses to pay your creditors. If in reviewing through your information it appears that you would not “pass” the means test, we could discuss the other types of Bankruptcy that might be an option.
PLAN OF ACTION
Once we discuss all of the above main points, we can determine what the best course of action is for you. I will review through the different types of Bankruptcy that would apply in your case, and discuss why or why not each one would be considered an option.
We will also review through the cost of Bankruptcy. All fees, including the attorney fee and court filing fee, must be paid in full prior to filing your Bankruptcy case. I offer payment plans to help the process be a little bit more doable for you.
The current court filing fee for a Chapter 7 case is $335.00 and $310.00 for a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. The filing fee is in addition to the attorney fees.
I offer two types of payment options for Chapter 13 cases. The most common form of payment for a Chapter 13 case is the flat fee payment option. If you choose the flat fee option for Chapter 13 cases the total attorney fee is $4,000 - $6,000. Don't let that scare you, you only have to pay a portion of that prior to filing your Chapter 13 case. The remainder can be paid through the plan. The second option is billing for the Chapter 13 on an hourly basis, with a retainer fee to be paid prior to filing your case to retain me as your attorney.
CHAPTER 7 FLAT FEE
For Chapter 7 cases I offer a flat fee. This means that this is the entire fee to retain me as your attorney for the life of the Chapter 7 case. All court fees will be passed directly on to you. The scope of representation will be detailed in your fee agreement.
CHAPTER 13 FLAT FEE OPTION
Chapter 13 cases cost a total of $4,000 - $6,000 in attorney fees. This is a flat fee for the attorney fees and is the same for all attorney’s in this area. All court fees will be passed directly on to you. The portion of the fee that is paid prior to filing for the Chapter 13 will go towards the attorney fees and will be all that you have to pay for the attorney fees for your case to be filed. The remainder of the attorney fees will be put into your Chapter 13 plan. So for example, if you pay $2,000 prior to filing, that means that the remaining balance of $2,000 is paid for through your chapter 13 plan. You have the option to pay more of the attorney fees upfront and reduce the amount of attorney fees paid through your plan. I often offer a minimum amount that must be paid upfront to start the case. The attorney fee retains me as your attorney for the 3 to 5 years that your Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case is open.
The details of the scope of representation will be detailed in the fee agreement.
CHAPTER 13 HOURLY FEE OPTION
The other option for payment for Chapter 13 cases is payment on an hourly basis. How this will work is that you will pay a retainer fee which will secure me, or retain my services for you Chapter 13 case. This will need to be paid in full prior to filing your case. After your case is filed I will file motions with the court to approve any fees for the work that was completed. This can be beneficial because perhaps your case will require less time than other cases. You will then just be paying my fee at the hourly rate and upon court approval for the work that was completed. I will remain your attorney through the entire case, and provide all of the same services as in the flat fee arraignment, however, the fees you pay will be based upon the work completed rather than the flat fee.
The details of the scope of representation will be detailed in the fee agreement.
RETAINING YOUR ATTORNEY
If after reviewing through your situation you determine that you would like to move forward with filing the Bankruptcy we will review through and sign your fee agreement. I will provide you a list of documents that I will need to prepare your Bankruptcy petition. I also require at least some portion of your fee to be paid in order to retain me as your attorney. We can discuss payment plans at this point.
Once you have retained me by paying a portion of your fees and signing the fee agreement I can start accepting documents to prepare for your Bankruptcy and you can contact me with any questions regarding your case. After I am your attorney I can also begin to accept phone calls from your creditors on your behalf. After the consultation, you will move on to step two, preparing to file.
Please feel free to contact me for a free consultation and we can discuss your case.
Step One – The Consultation
Step Two – Preparing to File
Step Three – Filing the Bankruptcy
Step Four – Preparing the Chapter 13 Plan
Step Five - The Court Hearing
Step Six – Closing Your Case and Getting a Discharge