Filing bankruptcy involves the supervision of the United States Bankruptcy Courts. Depending on what type of filing you make--Chapter 7, 11 or 13--the process can be complex. An experienced attorney is always recommended to help navigate you through the inherent landmines associated with filing a bankruptcy. But how much should you expect to spend on an attorney? That often depends on whether you file for personal bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or 13) or business (Chapter 11 or 13).
Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires the liquidation of all nonexempt property to a bankruptcy trustee who then converts it into cash for the creditors. Often, a Chapter 7 involves the removal of credit card debt. An attorney is usually required to prepare the schedules of assets and liabilities, of current income and expenditures and a statement of financial affairs. Lawyers usually charge no more than $1,500 for a simple Chapter 7 filing. Fees are in addition, including a $245 filing fee, but if you pay more than $1,800 you are paying too much. Fees may be higher if the case is complicated (such as a battle over assets with an estranged spouse).
Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcies, a Chapter 13 filing requires a reorganization of assets and debts with the goal of the full or partial repayment of debts. Individuals can also stop foreclosure proceedings and pay any past due mortgage amounts over time. Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases are usually more complicated than Chapter 7 and attorney fees are generally higher. A standard Chapter 13 case in Florida, for instance, costs around $3,500 (not including fees). Attorney fees could be higher if the case involves complicated legal issues.
A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is often used to reorganize the debt of a business, whether it be a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation. The debtor operates the business under the supervision of the bankruptcy court. Unlike other filings, there are continual administrative burdens which must be met, including reports that must be filed on a continual basis with the court. Since Chapter 11 cases can last from several months to several years, depending on the filing, attorney fees can be substantially higher than with other filings. A small business Chapter 11 filing can cost $5,000 to $10,000. In a large corporate filing, attorney fees have exceeded $1,000 an hour. Attorneys involved in the Enron bankruptcy earned more than $750 million.
Finding a Lawyer
Finding a lawyer is easy. Finding a good lawyer, especially one experienced in bankruptcy law ,will take a little research. You can use the Yellow Pages as a starting point, or you can contact a bar association for a list of bankruptcy attorneys. Seek out referrals and references. It's better to spend a little time selecting an attorney who will help you through a difficult time.
If you're filing for bankruptcy, it could very well mean you don't have any money. That said, attorneys do expect to get paid. An attorney hired for a simple Chapter 7 filing will likely request to be paid up-front. For Chapter 11 or 13 filings, a deposit, or retainer, of 50 percent of the initial fee is usually required, with the remainder to paid over months without interest.