Deciding to take control of your debt is a huge first step and hiring the right attorney for you is just as important.
During your consultation you should be ready to provide some basic details: your monthly income, whether you're aware of any pending lawsuits against you, if your mortgage lender has scheduled a foreclosure date, your estimated total debts, etc. But a thorough consultation should not be limited to you answering the attorney's questions and then listening to them tell you what to do. A productive consultation should be a conversation about what your priorities and the different ways you might achieve your goals. After providing the attorney with your relevant details, you should make sure to discuss the following topics.
1) "Is bankruptcy right for me? Are there realistic non-bankruptcy options for me to deal with these debts?" I represent people who need to file bankruptcy and those who may not need to file bankruptcy if they can get 1 or 2 of their debts resolved. Someone with 1 problematic debt will have a different outlook than someone else facing wage garnishment and an upcoming foreclosure. Even if the facts of your situation would strongly suggest a particular recommendation, the attorney should still be able to walk you through why they would advise against alternatives.
2) "Will you be the attorney handling my case?" Some people prefer individual, 1-on-1 attention and others like the idea of a team made up of staff members each handling a particular aspect of the case. I don't think one structure is inherently better than the other, but you should know what you're signing up for when selecting an attorney. If the attorney for your consultation is not the person who will handle the case going forward, you may want to meet with the person who will be your lead attorney prior to proceeding.
3) "If filing bankruptcy is my best option, is it better for me to file now or at some date in the near future?" The timing of when someone files a bankruptcy case can play a huge factor in what Chapter they might qualify for, whether they can retain a piece of property, and whether they can make the process as smooth as possible. Generally speaking, when someone makes the decision to file it's best to do so as quickly as possible. But there are many situations in which it make sense to wait a week or a month, depending on that person's circumstances. For example, there are income limits for most people if they want to file Chapter 7 and if someone did a consult today and were told they make too much to file a 7 and have to do a 13, they might think that's the end of the story and proceed with a 13. But that determination is based on the past 6 months of income (Aug '21 - Jan '22 if filing in Feb '22). If that person's pay fluctuates significantly from month to month and Aug '21 was a particularly high earning month and Feb '22 was significantly lower, that person may qualify for a 7 in March '22.
4) "Based on what we've discussed so far, what concerns do you have about my case?" An experienced bankruptcy attorney should have a good idea of any problematic aspects of your case after a thorough consult and this is a good opportunity to discuss ways that you can mitigate those concerns.
5) "How will this filing affect my spouse/co-borrower/co-owner?" A bankruptcy filing can impact co-owners and co-borrowers but the nature of severity of those impacts will depend on the type of property and the type of debt. You should be given the opportunity to understand those impacts and discuss them with your co-borrower prior to filing bankruptcy.
6) "If I qualify for both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, what are the pros and cons of each for my situation?" This can be fact-specific but in many cases it comes down to what the client values more: the speed and fresh start of a 7 or the ability to retain property in a 13.
No consultation can cover every possible scenario that might arise during representation but an experienced bankruptcy attorney can work with you to help you understand your options and how those options can help you achieve your goals.