Debt ReliefIf you are reading this post, it is likely that you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy – and you are not alone.  Due to the recent economic crises, many Georgians have made the important to decision to file for bankruptcy in order to alleviate their debt burden and get their financial house in order.

For most people, filing bankruptcy should not be a do-it-yourself process.  Working with an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help ensure the process is as quick and painless as possible.  The first step in looking for a bankruptcy attorney is scheduling a consultation with the other attorney’s office and bringing your financial paperwork.  The second step is signing the bankruptcy retainer agreement.  Read on to learn more about this legal agreement, what it normally contains, and how you can make sure your agreement meets your needs and expectations.

What is a Retainer?

A retainer agreement is a contract for legal services signed by you and your attorney.  The purpose of the agreement is to memorialize in writing the terms and conditions of the attorney’s representation of your bankruptcy case.

What Should a Retainer Include?

At a minimum, the retainer should include the attorney fees and a projection of the bankruptcy costs that you will need to pay.  (The attorney fees are paid to the attorney him/herself and the bankruptcy costs are paid to the court).  Many attorneys charge a flat fee for simple Chapter 7 cases.  Flat fees are usually payable up front before the case is filed with the court.  If your attorney does not charge a flat fee, then you will need to carefully read and understand the part of the retainer that discusses the attorney’s hourly fee – how this fee is calculated, what is subject to the hourly rate, when you will be billed, etc.

Retainer agreements also typically include recitations of the attorney’s and the client’s responsibilities.  For example, it is the responsibility of the client to provide the attorney with the documentation needed to file the bankruptcy.  It is the responsibility of the attorney to provide the client with regular case status updates and to answer the client’s questions and concerns.  It is also the responsibility of the attorney to make sure the client has legal representation at the 341 meeting of creditors.

Additionally, many retainer agreements specify that the agreement only concerns legal filings that are specific to the bankruptcy process.  This is very important to understand because often the bankruptcy process reveals other legal issues such as the need to file back taxes, settle a claim dispute, or obtain a new deed.  Many attorneys are happy to assist a bankruptcy client with such legal issues, but additional legal fees and responsibilities usually apply and must be explained and agreed to in a separate retainer.

Many retainer agreements also outline which other attorneys or support staff in the law office may assist your primary attorney with your case.  It is pretty standard for staff (including secretaries, assistants, and paralegals) to assist an attorney with administrative tasks such as copying, filing documents with the court, and managing the attorney’s schedule.  However, you should think twice about a retainer agreement that requires a client to only contact an administrative staff member and basically forbids contact with the attorney.  This clause may indicate that the law firm is a bankruptcy mill which should be avoided .

What if I Want to Change Parts of the Retainer?

Clients are absolutely encouraged to suggest changes or ask for more clarification if there is a provision of the retainer that they don’t understand or with which they are not comfortable.  Remember, a retainer is like any other contract and can be negotiated by either party.

If you have questions about the bankruptcy process, contact our office today to speak to one of our attorneys about your case.  We look forward to working with you!