Part of my work includes training new lawyers in how to practice bankruptcy law. Over the past few years as the economy took a turn and bankruptcy became one of those “hot practice areas” (that’s code for “we can’t make money doing real estate and divorce work, so let’s do bankruptcy”) more people came to me asking to learn how to “do bankruptcy.”
I’m happy to teach as many new lawyers as feel a driving need to serve people having bill problems. The problem is how price has become a way for so many lawyers to compete against those who are well-entrenched in the marketplace.
It hurts everyone – the lawyer as well as you, the person who’s looking for the best help.
When Cheap Is All You Have Left
In the past year or so, at least 1,000 lawyers have filed at least one bankruptcy case in the Los Angeles court. Lots of them have web presences advertising their availability to take on bankruptcy cases, and more than a few advertise on the radio or television.
For the most part, all of the lawyers in Los Angeles who claim to help people file for bankruptcy say the same thing. For example:
- free consultation
- evening and weekend appointments
- easy payment plans
Left with no differentiation among the ads, however, all you’ve got to work with is a question of fees. Whoever comes in with the lowest price wins the battle for your business.
After all, how tough can this bankruptcy thing be?
Bankruptcy Lawyers Confront This Problem, Too
When I first became a bankruptcy lawyer I, too, competed on price. I figured that if the cheapest guy was charging $450 then I could charge $400 and make a killing. For awhile I was right.
Then another crop of lawyers came out of law school. They looked at me and figured that if I could charge $400 then they could charge $350 for bankruptcy cases – and they could make a killing.
They were, of course, right.
The smart bankruptcy lawyers were standing on the sidelines, laughing at our silly little game. What none of us realized when we began was that “cheap” is always beaten by “cheaper.” That’s a slow death because it’s a race to the bottom. Ultimately, lawyers begin to lose money on bankruptcy cases.
Cheap Is The Wrong Yardstick
When you look for a cheap bankruptcy attorney – in Los Angeles or elsewhere – you’re proclaiming that the only thing that matters is cost. Not skill, not convenience, not experience. So you end up getting what you pay for – a cheap experience from a lawyer who’s focused on the bottom line rather than on helping you solve your problem.
I’m not saying the cheap lawyers are bad, no more than I’m saying that the expensive ones are good. Believe me, I’ve seen enough cheap bankruptcy lawyers to know that some charge less than they’re worth. I’ve also seen enough top-dollar attorneys who are barely competent to cross the street without getting hit by a truck.
Instead, think about what you’re looking to accomplish and what you expect a lawyer to do for you. If you’re looking for someone to analyze your situation, get your bankruptcy handled properly, and provide you with a level of client service that will help you win the game of post-bankruptcy credit that’s going to call for a particular type of lawyer.
If, however, you’re OK with someone who will treat you like a number and process some papers on your behalf then maybe the cheap bankruptcy lawyers are the right way to go. It doesn’t make you a bad person – it merely allows you to get what you want out of a bankruptcy lawyer.
Los Angeles Has Room For All Kinds
Los Angeles is the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States, and more bankruptcy lawyers do business here than in most places I’ve seen. If you’re looking for someone to get the job done and don’t care much for the service, experience, analysis or post-bankruptcy help then find yourself the cheapest lawyers in Los Angeles.
If, however, you recognize that there’s a value to experience and expertise then maybe the cheapo lawyers aren’t right for you.
Either way, the decision is yours to make. This is your financial future, so choose wisely.
Image credit: Joel Abroad
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