The success of a bankruptcy case is frequently determined at the first meeting between client and lawyer.
The information that is exchanged and the confidence that is built at that encounter shapes the client’s expectations, the choice of chapter, the timing of the filing and much more.
So I cringe when I hear stories about the first, frequently “free”, consultation between prospective debtor and bankruptcy lawyer.
The free consultation with another lawyers that one of my clients reported consisted of a 20 minute sales pitch from the lawyer. The client was asked to bring no information and apparently couldn’t get a word into the “consultation” edgewise.
Information flowed in only one direction; at the end of the consultation, the lawyer was no better informed about the client’s situation than at the beginning. Which means that the lawyer had delivered only generic information to the client. You can’t tailor the message if you know nothing about the client’s circumstances.
Another client reported on a consultation in which the entire time was spent with the lawyer starting to fill in the bankruptcy forms: no discussion of whether this couple planning divorce should file together, none explaining the non obvious kinds of disclosure required by a bankruptcy filing, no relationship building that would foster inquiry or disclosure.
Just charge ahead to filing.
Then, one of my bankruptcy lawyer friends opens the conversation with a gambit intended to get the client to commit to filing in advance of gathering or conveying any information about the client’s situation.
While my experience is that very few people make an appointment with a bankruptcy lawyer who don’t need to file a case, if we are going to be seen as sources of knowledge and know-how, we don’t structure our all important first impression to be one of sales rather than service.
And if we don’t build a rapport with the client, we aren’t likely to get all of the information really necessary to do a good job.