As you have probably noticed, there are many firms advertising on television and radio offering bankruptcy representation. Some of these firms have a long history of practicing in the area and have excellent knowledge of the workings of these cases. Others are adding bankruptcy as a practice area because with the hard-hit economy, it can be replacement revenue for the revenue lost in the areas in which these firms have historically practiced.

How are you supposed to know the difference between the attorney who has a legitimate history of practicing bankruptcy and who doesn't? Here are a few tips for choosing the representation that best meets your needs:

• First and foremost, when you make an appointment, it should be with a licensed attorney, not a paralegal or legal assistant. If the attorney will not answer your questions over the phone, don't be upset. Bankruptcy attorneys are held to strict standards and have rules to follow under federal law, some of which may prohibit an attorney from giving you legal advice without providing certain written disclosures.

• Don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask the attorney how long they have been handling bankruptcy cases and how long the firm has been handling bankruptcy cases. Ask the attorney what percentage of their caseload is bankruptcy. If you get the sense that most of their practice is in other areas or they don't have much experience that may mean they do not have the expertise you will need.

• The attorney should allow you time to explain your situation, ask you questions regarding the details of your financial history and answer your questions. As a general rule, you should not feel more stress after you meet with the attorney for the first time. You may receive a lot of information that is difficult to digest right away, but you should have a clear understanding as to your options and what the next step is in your plan.

• Think about whether you feel comfortable with the attorney you have met and whether you trust him or her. Remember, this person will be helping you through what can be a very stressful time in your life. Do you feel that they understand and care about your situation? Did you have a good experience with the staff at the office? You will also be working with the secretary and legal assistant in the office during your bankruptcy, so it is important that your contact with them is a positive experience - not a negative one.

The bottom line is that the attorney spending the most money on advertising isn't always the attorney with the most expertise. The only way to know who is the best match for you is to meet the attorney in person and consider it an interview. When you decide to file bankruptcy, it is a serious decision that can have major implications. If you are not represented by an experienced bankruptcy attorney, you may not be aware of some important issues that can arise and how to avoid problems. The best way to protect yourself is to choose an attorney with experience who is willing to take the time to give you the guidance you are looking for.

Denise K. Aguilar is an experienced bankruptcy attorney in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 455-1881. Additional information is available at


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