Why would you spend money on an attorney when you struggle to pay your debts already? It seems like taking a step backwards, but it helps ensure you receive a discharge at the end of the bankruptcy. The process entails deadlines, paperwork and legal requirements that easily induce frustration and stress when attempted alone.

Missing even one deadline, failing to follow one request from the court or forgetting one piece of paperwork puts your ability to obtain a discharge in jeopardy. Furthermore, the judge or trustee retains the right to require additional documentation or information from you during the course of the proceedings. In addition, your creditors retain the right to attend any court hearings in your case. Many cases proceed along the same line without any surprises, but yours might not.

So what should I look for in a bankruptcy attorney?

You should “interview” an attorney with the following needs in mind:

1. Your attorney needs experience in this area of law. Numerous attorneys take clients requiring a variety of legal needs, but bankruptcy law requires an intimate knowledge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the local court rules and all of the potential pitfalls.

2. Laws change periodically. Your attorney must remain up-to-date on any changes that potentially affect the success of your case. The last major changes to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code took place in 2005 and changed the eligibility requirements for filing either Chapter 13 or Chapter 7. An attorney who only occasionally practices bankruptcy law might lack an understanding of those changes.

3. You deserve individual attention. You should find an attorney who does not treat you like just another file number. Your unique circumstances require more than just fill-in-the-blank treatment.

4. You should feel comfortable with the attorney you choose. Personality and “bedside manner” count.

5. This is not the time to bargain hunt. You should choose an attorney meeting the four criteria above and work out the cost.

Following these steps will provide you with the best chance of finding an attorney you feel understands your needs and offers the best chances at a successful bankruptcy.