Experience is a term that bankruptcy attorneys throw around a lot. It is certainly important that your bankruptcy attorney has experience. But is there a point at which too much experience, or maybe too many cases, becomes a bad thing? Do you want to hire the attorney who files the largest number of Utah bankruptcy petitions?
I don’t think you do.
The bankruptcy firms that file the most bankruptcy petitions are known as “bankruptcy mills”. A bankruptcy mill is a law firm that performs a ridiculously high volume of bankruptcy filings. They are the fast food restaurants of the bankruptcy industry. If you want a fast and cheap hamburger, you may drive through at McDonalds. They sell more hamburgers than anyone. But they’re not good hamburgers, are they? Not when you compare them to a hamburger you can get in a restaurant, especially if the chef who prepares the hamburger really takes pride in his work. The McDonald’s hamburger is made from the cheapest frozen meat available, and put together by the dozen, in a hurry, by someone who – no disrespect intended – probably doesn’t care too much whether it is the best burger they’ve ever prepared.
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to get a hamburger prepared to order by a chef who takes pride in his work. Especially if it is the only hamburger I’m ever going to order again. When you file bankruptcy, don’t you want it to be the very last time you ever do it? Don’t you want to make sure that it is done correctly, by someone who takes pride in their work?
How do I know if I’ve hired a Bankruptcy Mill?
When you hire a Utah bankruptcy attorney, you should have lots of direct contact with him or her. You should have multiple opportunities to ask that attorney questions about your case, and you should feel that they know you and are familiar with your case. It is OK if that attorney has a staff that assists him or her in preparing your petition, and attending court appearances. But the key word is assist.
You can tell you’re working with a bankruptcy mill if you have lots of contact with staff members, or a rotating cast of attorneys. They will most likely have trouble understanding the particulars of your case, and you may find yourself telling each different attorney or staff member the same thing over and over. They may not be able to answer your questions because they are not familiar with you and your case.
It goes without saying that this is not how you want your bankruptcy attorney to treat you. Here are a few signs that you’re dealing with a bankruptcy mill:
- They have a large volume of clients. (hint: they have offices nationwide, they advertise on billboards, or their advertisements boast “thousands” of happy clients)
- At your initial consultation, you speak with an assistant or paralegal before you talk with an attorney, and that person collects all of the information about your case. You may not even speak with an attorney at all!
- They give you a really fat packet or worksheet – dozens of pages long – to take home and complete. (hint: filling out this worksheet means you are doing their work for them!)
- You speak with an assistant, or a different attorney each time you call, or visit the office.
- The attorney who attends your 341 meeting has never met you.
- They are cheap, in spite of their vast experience!
How do I fire the bankruptcy mill I’ve hired?
I know that it is difficult to get away from an attorney once you’ve gone through all the trouble of selecting one. And that goes for all types of attorneys, not just bankruptcy attorneys. But you deserve to have an attorney that you know, like and trust! Do not settle for anything less. There are lots of attorneys out there that can meet your needs better than a bankruptcy mill will. If you find yourself stuck in a “mill” you should know these three things:
- You have the right to have proper representation from an attorney you have confidence in.
- You have the right to fire any kind of attorney, at any point during any case you’re involved in.
- Even if you have signed an engagement agreement that states your fee is “non-refundable”, your attorney cannot charge you an unreasonable fee, and it would be unreasonable for an attorney to charge you for work they did not perform. You are entitled to a return of fees your attorney has not earned! (Note: this is not my opinion, it is the opinion of the Utah State Bar Association!)
With those things in mind, I would suggest that if you find yourself stuck in a “mill” you get out as soon as possible. Fire that attorney and hire someone you trust!