The most dangerous thing you can do when hiring a bankruptcy lawyer is to go with the least expensive one.
When I first open my law firm and started to practice bankruptcy law, I figured it would be a good idea to charge less than anyone else in town.
I called around to every lawyer’s office, found out what they charged, and set my legal fees $50 below the cheapest one in the city.
In doing so, my thinking went, I could undercut the market and get all the clients.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Least Expensive Bankruptcy Lawyer
My brilliant plan in order, I set about conquering the bankruptcy world. Here’s what happened when I opened my doors in December 1995.
I got swamped with clients. Lots and lots of them. People crowded my waiting room from early morning to late in the evening, and messages from other people who wanted my help were stacked up so high I couldn’t see my desk. It was a success, thought I.
I ran out of time. There are only 24 hours in each day, and 7 days in each week. With so many clients to meet, I couldn’t possible have enough time to get the work done. The clock continually ran out on me, and I gave each task less and less of my time.
So I hired people to help out. When you’ve got 50 hours of work to do in a 40 hour week, you have to hire people to help. Qualified people lined up to work with me, which was terrific. I brought on a bunch of great folks.
But I felt the financial pressures. Qualified staff members cost a significant amount of money. I was charging very little on each client’s bankruptcy case, so I wasn’t making much of a profit beyond covering the office expenses. In fact, I wasn’t even taking home a salary to cover my own living expenses. That strain made me distracted, nervous and edgy – which in turn made me less attentive. My staff members had no guidance and my clients received poor service.
My clients were dissatisfied. I took my eye off the ball. I didn’t have time to call people back, and my staffers couldn’t get help from me to do their job because I was always running from appointment to appointment. Phone messages piled up on my desk, unanswered. Clients understandably didn’t like how they were being treated, so they started leaving. They sent their friends and relatives to other lawyers, too.
No Longer The Cheapest
By 1997 I was ready to chuck it all and close my doors. I was burned out, had very few happy clients, employees who couldn’t do their jobs because they had a boss who was never available to answer even the simplest of questions, and was constantly running around trying to put out the proverbial fire.
I wasn’t proud of my work, and neither was anyone else.
That’s when one of my colleagues sat me down and explained that the least expensive bankruptcy lawyer will always do the worst possible job – even if the attorney is the smartest one around.
There aren’t enough hours in a day to do an excellent job for enough people to keep the lights on and the bills paid.
He begged me to try a different way. So I did, albeit reluctantly.
I raised my fees so I could cover my business costs without overextending myself. That allowed me todo my best work for my clients.
Overnight, I was able to take good care of the people who entrusted their financial lives to me, and I made it my business to be excellent at what I did for a living.
My clients got treated better because I wasn’t spending all my time like a hamster on a wheel, always chasing the next bankruptcy client. Phone calls got answered faster, and I was able to spend more time answering each persons’ questions.
Suddenly, there was time to sit and read about the latest legal developments in the world of bankruptcy and consumer protection. My knowledge base grew, and with it my ability to do my best work for people.
When I saw my clients being treated unfairly, I had the ability to go to the mat for them. That meant I could file lawsuits for my clients who were being victimized by creditors that refused to update credit reports after bankruptcy. My clients won big victories, and got the help they needed.
Penny Wise Or Pound Foolish?
When you’re looking for a bankruptcy lawyer, I understand the desire for the least expensive one in town.
After all, you don’t have a lot of money and you need some relief.
But there’s always a sacrifice to be made when you skimp on price. That’s not to say you should be paying the most expensive bankruptcy attorney, either.
Instead, talk with a number of bankruptcy lawyers and ask yourself which one will be the best match for your needs. Take into account the legal fees, of course – but also remember that this is your financial future at stake.
Are you willing to trade personal attention and careful application of a well-developed expertise for the cheapest bankruptcy lawyer around?
Over the course of the past 17 years I’ve learned that the trade-off just isn’t worth it.