3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Meet with a Paralegal for a Bankruptcy Consultation
By Tracy L. Hirsch
Here’s why meeting with a licensed attorney matters.
When it comes to setting up a bankruptcy consultation in Kentucky, there are several standards that you should have right out of the gate. You’re already in a stressful situation, and you want the best legal representation possible.
If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy, and thus spending your hard-earned money to obtain representation from a local attorney, you need to make sure that you find an attorney who is in your corner from the get-go.
When you call any bankruptcy law office to schedule a consultation, you need to ask the receptionist or administrative assistant, “Will I be meeting with an attorney?” If the answer is “no,” then move onto another law firm.
Whether you live in Louisville, KY, New Albany, IN, or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter, you need an attorney who not only knows all of the state and local bankruptcy laws, but one who can also practice law in your area.
Here’s the most important takeaway: The paralegal works for the lawyer, and the lawyer works for YOU.
Here’s why allowing a paralegal to handle your consultation and/or bankruptcy case is not a good idea.
1.) Paralegals are not allowed to give legal advice. If a paralegal is the only one meeting with you during a consultation, and he or she recommends that you file a bankruptcy petition based on your financial circumstances, that’s legal advice. While many paralegals are familiar with the Bankruptcy Code, they cannot give legal advice or represent you in the court of law.
Here’s the bottom line: Paralegals are hired to work directly for the lawyer, not the client.
The KY Bar Association Rules of the Supreme Court of Kentucky (SCR 3.700) makes that clear in their definition of a paralegal [emphasis mine]:
“For the purposes of this rule, a paralegal is a person under the supervision and direction of a licensed lawyer, who may apply knowledge of law and legal procedures in rendering direct assistance to lawyers…”
It goes on to specifically state how paralegals provide “direct assistance to lawyers.” It states that paralegals can apply their legal knowledge when assisting attorneys in legal research, document interpretation, developing office processes and procedures, and analyzing procedural problems.
To sum it up, a paralegal can’t work independently from an attorney, and only works directly for an attorney. Period.
According to Sub-rule 2 of the aforementioned KBA Rules of Supreme Court of Kentucky, paralegals are allowed to meet with or talk to a client to pass on advice and suggestions that come from the lawyer in relation to that particular client’s case, but the paralegals themselves cannot give independent advice to the client, and they have to state upfront that they are not an attorney.
The paralegal can state facts about the bankruptcy process, but cannot advise clients to take or not take certain actions in relation to their bankruptcy case, unless the lawyer supervises his or her paralegal in that process.
If you set up a consultation where there is no attorney present in the entire office, then it’s not possible for the attorney to supervise and oversee what the paralegal is saying and doing.
Even if there’s a lawyer physically present in the office building, but they’re not present during the consultation, they’re still not operating in good faith since the bankruptcy attorney is the one who should be providing guidance.
2.) You’re being charged attorney fees to meet with and/or work with an individual who is not an attorney. You pay certain fees because you want the knowledge and experience that an attorney offers. While a paralegal may be intelligent and organized, he or she has not taken the Bar Exam, and does not have a license to practice bankruptcy law.
Even if your consultation is free, the person who’s meeting with you at the consultation should be the same person who would legally represent you in your bankruptcy case.
If your consultation is with a paralegal, it’s wise to assume that the paralegal will be the one doing most of the work in your case. If that’s the case, you should be paying way less in legal fees, as paralegals are paid about one-third to one-fourth of what attorneys are paid.
In the state of Kentucky, there is a flat attorney fee for most Chapter 13 cases, so if the state mandates that a debtor has to pay an attorney a certain amount to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, then why would you pay ‘attorney’ fees when the person who’s doing most of the work on your case is not an attorney?
3.) Your attorney knows nothing (or very little) about you when they meet you for your first Court date. Once you officially file a bankruptcy petition, you have a “Meeting of Creditors,” which is mandatory. This is where you go before the Trustee, with your bankruptcy attorney, and you verify that everything in your bankruptcy petition is true (based upon the information that was provided during your consultation and filing appointment).
If your attorney wasn’t present for the consultation and the filing, they’re not going to know you as a person, and they’re not really going to know the ins and outs of your case. Knowing the details of your case is detrimental not only for the Court Meeting, but for additional correspondence regarding important decisions.
If your attorney hasn’t invested the time to meet with you face-to-face, as well as file and/or study your petition themselves, they’ll most likely be very hard to get a hold of down the road. Here are some questions to ponder:
> On a personal level, if your attorney doesn’t take the time to meet with you at any point before your Court date, are they really invested in helping you? If you hired any other type of lawyer to represent you (for example, a malpractice lawyer), you wouldn’t go to trial without ever having spoken to them.
> If you have an issue that comes up over the next five years in your Chapter 13 case, will you be able to speak with your attorney directly? If so, will they know anything about your specific case needs?
Filing for bankruptcy is an important decision, and it’s imperative that you feel comfortable with your legal representation. When you hire a bankruptcy lawyer, they are supposed to work directly for you.
I strongly believe in making sure that clients are taken care of, which is why I provide my personal cell phone number to all clients, so that they can call or text me with questions.
If you’re looking for a bankruptcy attorney who will directly handle your case from beginning to end, you can call or text me at (502) 435-2593. I’m here to help, and will do whatever I can to provide hope for a better financial future.
All the best,
Tracy L. Hirsch
Ready to schedule a free consultation with me? Text or call me at (502) 435-2593!