HOW DO I FIND A GOOD ATTORNEY?

OUR FIRM IS FOCUSED ON HELPING, NOT RAKING IN AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE

Diane L. Drain

Diane L. Drain, bankruptcy attorney, retired law professor, mentor and community spokesperson.

We all need help at least one in our life.  I am here to help people understand their rights in bankruptcy.

We understand that someone with financial problems does not have a lot of money to pay a lawyer. The needs of my clients are more important than the balance of my bank account.

Our goal is to offer excellent legal advice for very reasonable fees.

Those fees are based on the complexity of your situation and what you need bankruptcy to accomplish. I will provide you the exact fee as part of our free telephonic discussion. My job is to help you figure out how to pay my fees. Unlike other lawyers I do not change my fees from the original quote unless your situation becomes more complicated then originally discussed.

IMPORTANT: I always put my client’s needs first, so if your situation is better served by an attorney with more experience in certain areas of law I am very happy to provide you with referrals.  I believe that every lawyer should have the same oath as physicians: “first do no harm”.

Hippocratic Oath

SO HOW DO I FIND A GOOD ATTORNEY?

As with any profession, there are many lawyers to choose from. Do your homework before hiring an attorney because hiring a bad lawyer is like hiring a bad plumber. You are left with a mess to clean up at the end. If someone qualified is willing to help you clean up the mess unfortunately they will have to charge much more than if the job had been done correctly the first time.

– Diane L. Drain

CLIENT HORROR STORIES ABOUT OTHER LAWYERS

There are thousands of stories about lawyers putting their own interests before the interests of their clients.

The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Corporate Legal Times, and Associated Press on CBS 5 – April 20, 2009:

” PHOENIX (AP) — The managers of well-known Phoenix law firm Phillips & Associates are facing sanctions from the Arizona State Bar. Jeffrey Phillips and Robert Arentz where responsible for lapses .. The State Bar, which licenses and regulates the state’s attorneys, says the law firm’s aggressiveness is sometimes directed at its clients and has recommended that the firm managers be temporarily suspended from practicing law.” “The findings really go to the structure of the intake process they have at that firm and how that system is really incentivized to get as many people in as possible without any particular safeguards in place,” said Maret Vesella, acting chief Bar counsel. The complaints range from a potentially misleading advertisement to the company’s reluctance to refund money to dissatisfied clients. Phillips and his associates deny any wrongdoing.

12/16/09: Phoenix Business Journal/ Channel 12/ Arizona Republic: Phillips & Associates

Supreme Court sanctions Jeffrey Phillips and Robert Arentz: The Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Arizona is recommending that the Supreme Court sanction Jeffrey Phillips and Robert Arentz for violation of the state Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct. The Disciplinary Commission on Monday recommended that the Supreme Court suspend Jeffrey Phillips for six months and one day, plus two years of probation. The commission also recommended the suspension of Robert Arentz for 60 days, plus two years of probation. The commission’s decision states that … Phillips and Arentz’s business practices caused “actual injury to clients and to the profession”. If the Supreme Court orders the suspension of the attorneys, they would not be allowed to practice law in Arizona during the specified time period. Phillips would be required to apply for reinstatement to practice law in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic: 5/21/10:

Robert Arentz suspended for 60 days. “Their focus was on getting people to sign on the dotted line and get as much money up front as possible,” said Maret Vessella, chief Bar counsel. Rather, she said, consumers should expect to meet with an attorney, have that person listen to their problems and receive a fair evaluation of their situation before deciding whether to hire the firm. A disciplinary committee of the Arizona Supreme Court recommended the suspensions, along with two years’ probation for each attorney and restitution of nearly $14,000 to three clients. UPDATE: 1/2011 Phillips and Associates “sells” their bankruptcy clients to David Wroblewski.  UPDATE: 2013 – David Wroblewski files bankruptcy for David Wroblewski & Associates Law Center, P.C.; Wroblewski & Associates, P.C. file for bankruptcy.  UPDATE: 2012 – Jeff Phillips files bankruptcy for Phillips & Associates Law Offices, P.C.; 2014: litigation pursued against Phillips in Bankruptcy Court (still on-going 1/2015).

Zero Money Down Bankruptcy Firms Cost Their Clients Plenty

In Arizona it started in the 1980’s with a family of used car sales men referred to as the “Major brothers”. These men decided to coerce naive, young attorneys, to sacrifice the sanctity of their law license for a fast buck. Time and again the same scheme has played out in Arizona: starting with Duane Varbel of Varbel & Associates Law Office, then Joseph J. Hessinger of Hessinger & Associates, followed by Michael S. Manning, Manning & Associates, then Jeffrey Phillips of Phillips & Associates (article “Zero down bankruptcy firms cost their clients plenty”), and now a new player (a young, attractive blond woman married to a member the Majors family) is currently advertising on TV. This problem has been going on for more than 20 years. There are several government agencies involved in trying to prosecute the the Major brothers and it still continues today.

The following is an excerpt of the Arizona Supreme Court regarding the disbarment of Michael Manning: THE FORMAL COMPLAINT STATED 30 COUNTS OF MISCONDUCT WITH RESPECT TO MANNING’S DEALINGS WITH 14 CLIENTS. THE COMMISSION FOUND THAT MANNING’S CONDUCT IDENTICAL WITH EACH CLIENT. MANNING ACCEPTED REPRESENTATION OF A CLIENT AND ACCEPTED FEES FROM THE CLIENT, AND THEN FAILED TO DILIGENTLY REPRESENT THE CLIENT, FAILED TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE CLIENT, AND FAILED TO PERFORM ANY SERVICE FOR THE CLIENT. MANNING THEN ABANDONED THE PRACTICE OF LAW WITHOUT INFORMING THE CLIENTS. IN ADDITION, THE COMMISSION FOUND THAT MANNING HAD SHARED LEGAL FEES WITH NON-LAWYERS, FAILED TO ADEQUATELY SUPERVISE NON-LAWYER SUBORDINATES, AND ASSISTED NON-LAWYERS IN THE UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW.

The following are just a couple of the horrible tales that I have seen over the last several years.

Clients ask why my fees are a lot less than those charged by TV advertising lawyers. Remember these TV ads cost millions of dollars and someone has to pay for them – namely the clients. I am told that the TV firm’s fees were double or triple my fees, plus there was an attempt to use strong-armed tactics to bully people into signing contracts to retain the TV firm. If you are being treated like you are buying a used car – run, don’t walk out of that office. There are also numerous reports about these TV advertising firms that the clients were treated like cattle and, other than at the creditor’s meeting, never saw, or were allowed to talk to an attorney. This is not the practice of law – this is cattle or sheep herding.

The reports go on to say that these folks were not given proper advice to plan for bankruptcy, resulting in them losing tax refunds or money in bank accounts. I have personally seen this sickening result at several creditor’s meeting. It is my opinion that such TV or billboard ads is the prostitution of all lawyers, especially those doing the advertising, and an insult to the honorable profession of the practice of law.

My Fees

My fees are low because we use technology to process information and all clients are asked to participate in that use of technology (via the web). My clients are expected to gather information in an orderly fashion by filling out as much of the requested information as pertains to their situation. If a client provides me with only part of the requested information, then my fees will have to increase for that client because I am forced to do more of the client’s work. So, the client who fails to provide the names, dates, addresses, and/or amounts on the questionnaire, my choices are two: (1) not take them as clients or (2) charge more for the additional attorney & paralegal time. That does not mean you should not ask questions.

Thoroughness and accuracy are of utmost importance in a properly filed bankruptcy.

Inaccurate paperwork can cause you to lose your bankruptcy protection, cost you more in attorney fees defending fraud claims and you may face jail time for bankruptcy fraud. My job it to help you avoid all those problems. So, complete candor is required; and thoughtful and organized questions are encouraged. Also, check out any State Bar complaints against a lawyer.

Check out any potential attorney

Go to the State Bar of Arizona. Click on “Find a Lawyer” in the upper right hand corner. Enter the attorney’s name. Click on “activity”. Look at other social media sites (AVVO, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, Yelp, to name a few).  WARNING – WE ARE NOW DISCOVERING THAN MANY UNSCRUPULOUS LAWYERS ARE PAYING FOR REVIEWS – MANY COMING FROM EMPLOYEES OR CONTRACTORS FOR THE LAW FIRM.

For example: the Supreme Court censured Jeffrey L. Phillips, Phillips & Associates. There were 20 charges. Here is a portion of the summary “Mr. Phillips failed to adequately supervise subordinate attorneys and non-lawyer specialists. Specifically, intake personnel failed to affirmatively identify themselves as non-attorneys and failed to affirmatively offer or provide adequate information concerning limitations on the applicability of Mr. Phillips’ firm’s advertised “little or no money down” payment plans.” Compare that to other advertising firms: Hastings & Hastings – no activity as to David Hastings; or Solomon & Relihan – no active as to Martin Solomon or John Relihan. This research was done March 22, 2006. Again, always investigate any lawyer before investing your time and money.

Yes, there is something worse than the Internet, it is called “pay for placement”. This is where lawyers pay others to find clients (usually done on the Internet without the client understanding the exposure and unnecessary costs).  Be aware that it is highly unethical for a lawyer to pay a referral fee, bonus, or kickback for “leads” on new cases. (Depending on state law, a referral fee sometimes may be paid to another lawyer, but there should be disclosure and client consent for any fee-sharing). Some of the profession’s “bad apples” may still engage in the practice of paying “runners” for tips on new clients. So if a stranger (say, an emergency room worker) seems unduly insistent and volunteers that you should see a lawyer, or just happens to have a supply of the lawyer’s cards to give you one, look out! This is not the kind of person who deserves your trust.

The Internet is now ripe with pay for “leads”.  If you go to a generic site that advertises a service, but does not have an attorney on the site, that is a leads based service. The attorney pays for placement on the site, pays for each lead and/or pays for leads based on zip codes or other criteria. Again, you have not receiving any type of reference as to the attorney’s ethics, quality of practice or professionalism.

Why are some attorneys true professionals and others act like used car salesmen (TV and some Internet advertising firms)?

The 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act required a great deal more work for everyone – including the attorney for the Debtor. As a result many attorneys left the bankruptcy practice completely. Those who stayed found that they had to increase their fees in order to pay for the additional work required.

Hundreds of new lawyers mistakenly believe that bankruptcy is just a “fill-in the blank” set of forms.

Unfortunately they find that this is not the truth by experimenting on their innocent clients. I mentor more than 100 attorneys who practice bankruptcy – some full time and some part time.  I am both an experienced bankruptcy lawyer and a retired law professor and saw the attitude of the new lawyers every day. By the time my students leave my class they are aware that bankruptcy is a very complex series of interconnected issues: divorce, corporate, taxes, preferential payment and fraudulent conveyances to name just a few of the hundreds of problems that arise everyday in the world of bankruptcy.

How does someone go about finding a good lawyer if they don’t already know a good lawyer, and perhaps have never needed a lawyer before?

This FAQ will talk about different ways to find an attorney, without getting bogged down in too much detail about specific types of cases. Whatever method you use, remember – the lawyer is your employee. That lawyer has special legal knowledge, otherwise you would not need to hire them, but they are not in total control of the case – it is your case, not theirs. On the other hand, the lawyer is responsible to you and the court system to make sure that the actions that he or she pursues are valid claims.

No lawyer should represent a client who just wants to sue for the sake of hurting someone.

A lawyer’s job is to analyze the situation and determine whether or not there are grounds for this action and fully inform you of the chances of a successful conclusion.

The best way is the old-fashioned way: personal referral and word of mouth.

If you know any lawyers, even if they don’t handle your type of case, ask them for recommendations. Ask friends, family, clergy, people at work, union officials, club members, at the corner tavern or beauty salon. You could also ask for the name and telephone number of the company lawyer for your employer. Business lawyers very often know who the best matrimonial, personal injury or bankruptcy lawyers are in their area. Make sure that you interview two or three lawyers before making a decision which one to retain.

The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, and both should be checks upon that. John Adams

Look for a lawyer experienced in the area of law where you need help.

If you’re looking for a trial lawyer, ask for recommendations from friends and relatives who have recently served on juries. If you are looking for a real estate lawyer, call a title company and ask them who they use. For a domestic relations lawyer, ask the deputy court clerk in charge of domestic cases. Lawyers are the best source of information about other lawyers.

Establish a relationship with a lawyer before a big emergency arises.

Ask the lawyer to do some little things for you, like prepare a will, handle a speeding ticket or a residential real estate deal, review a contract, form a closely held corporation, etc. Is he or she responsive, understanding, prompt and able to answer simple questions? Does he or she explain things clearly? Does he or she keep you informed without being asked? If the lawyer doesn’t know the answer, does he or she admit it and then find the answer for you? Then, when you have a big legal problem, you will not have to rush out and interview strangers.

As a lawyer you trust for referrals to other lawyers.

You already have someone you can trust. If he or she cannot handle the big matter, he or she can find you the right lawyer who can. Avoid the attorney who is condescending, rude, or allows staff to interrupt. Or someone who avoids answering your basic questions, but instead focuses on you paying a fee immediately?

TV ads are a convenient reference, but can be very misleading. It would be unfair to assume, just because a law firm has a fancy ad on the TV or a billboard, that it couldn’t handle your problem well. However, the only qualification needed to place a big ad is to be able to pay for it. That expensive ad is paid by the clients, which means that the fees will be higher or the work product sloppy.  Some good lawyers advertise heavily, but many other good lawyers advertise sparingly, or not at all.

Hiring a cheap lawyer can be very expensive.

Often you can – after all you found this site.

Today everyone looks to the Internet for referrals or reviews from complete strangers.

You never know if the review is fake (written by an employee or the person supposedly being reviewed – this is done on most large Internet advertising law firms).

Firms pay for placement.

Which means their placement on Google, etc, has nothing to do with their reputation, skill or experience. Instead, it relates directly to how much money they are willing to pay in order to bring in new clients. The more they pay, the more clients they get. The more clients they get, the less time their have to take care of those clients. It is a never ending circle of what eventually becomes greed and complete lack of professionalism.

Many lawyers are active on the Internet- some good and some bad.

See AVVO.com as an informal referral service. If you post a message, it’s quite likely that someone who reads it will be able to help, or to give you the name of someone who can. For your message to be most effective, please do the following:

1.) In the subject line for the message header, try to give the state and the nature of your need. Examples: “Need MD Personal Injury Lawyer,” “PA Probate Contest,” “MO Med Mal Specialist.” That way, lawyers in that state will be especially likely to read your message.
2.) In the body of your message, give a brief summary of the situation. But be CAREFUL! This public message will not be privileged, so it’s better not to name names, or make any detailed statements about what happened, particularly if you or your loved one is facing criminal charges. We’ve seen instances where persons posted a detailed message trying to explain why they felt they were being unjustly prosecuted—while admitting every element of the crime!
3.) Also, in the message, spell out the city or town involved. And if any time deadlines are approaching, mention them.
4.) Beware – just because a lawyer answers your question does not mean that they are competent or professional. Check their State Bar to make certain there are no Bar Complaints.  Look at their reviews on other Internet sites. Ask for references and determine how long they have been practicing in the area of law you need help with.

The State Bar of Arizona has a list of all the attorneys licensed to practice law in Arizona. You can search for attorneys by their name, their area of practice or their geographical area. Their phone number is: 602-252-4804.

If you are looking to retain one of the leading lawyers for the particular type of case, you can ask who are the officers or long-standing members of their criminal law committee, their family law committee, their civil practice committee, their real estate committee, etc. You can also ask for the names of local lawyers who have spoken on various topics at their CLE (Continuing Legal Education) seminars.

Yes, there is something worse than “normal” Internet placement, it is called “pay for placement”.

Be aware that it is highly unethical for a lawyer to pay a referral fee, bonus, or kickback for “leads” on new cases. (Depending on state law, a referral fee sometimes may be paid to another lawyer, but there should be disclosure and client consent for any fee-sharing). Some of the profession’s “bad apples” may still engage in the practice of paying “runners” for tips on new clients. So if a stranger (say, an emergency room worker) seems unduly insistent and volunteers that you should see a lawyer, or just happens to have a supply of the lawyer’s cards to give you one, look out! This is not the kind of person who deserves your trust.

The Internet is now ripe with pay for “leads”. If you go to a generic site that advertises a service, but does not have an attorney on the site, that is a leads based service.

The attorney pays for placement on the site (perhaps a company on the east coast), then pays for each lead and/or pays for leads based on zip codes or other criteria. Again, you will not receiving any type of reference as to the attorney’s ethics, quality of practice or professionalism.  Assume the attorney is lying and make sure to investigate any claims.

False and Misleading Advertisements:

If anyone says they “have a 100% success rate”, run away because no bankruptcy attorney (no matter how experienced and committed they are) has a 100% success rate, including me.  An example is a young Arizona attorney who advertises that “100 percent of our clients that have made the decision to retain us have had their debt eliminated and have obtained a Fresh Start” (from a Nolo advertisement).  According to research done by this office in September 2019 – between 2016 and 2019 Mr. Forrester filed approximately 153 chapter 13 cases, of those there were 202 dismissals: 118 interim dismissals and 84 final dismissals (which means that his clients did not receive any relief, but not have a bankruptcy on their credit reports).  How much trauma did it cause his clients?

I tell you this to warn you  – follow your gut and do your own research.  Do not rely on reviews because many are fake (just like ‘fake news’).  Do I hope that all young attorneys will ask for help from experienced bankruptcy attorneys so they can do a better job helping their clients?  Absolutely, but only time will tell.

I wish I could say that this young attorney is the only such Arizona attorney, but I cannot.  His just the case I am currently involved in, so have specifics about his practice after talking to several of his ex-clients and other attorneys trying to help his ex-clients.  Arizona has seen many attorneys disbarred or orders entered prohibiting them from practicing bankruptcy law, below are just a few:

Most lawyers are interested in new clients—I certainly am.

When you call for a consultation, you don’t need to give a detailed explanation to whoever answers the phone. Just say that you wanted to speak with the attorney about a new case, and briefly describe what it’s about: an accident, a real estate dispute, writing a will, starting a corporation . . . whatever the case may be.

Some charge a fee for an initial consultation.

Others, like this office, do not when it is dealing with questions about bankruptcy. At this initial meeting it is our intention to give you sufficient information to be able to make an informed decision what your next steps will be. Any fee that you paid for this initial consultation is usually deducted from your overall fee for our services. Make sure that you are fully informed as to the cost of any legal services that you request, whether with this firm or any other.

Hopefully the attorney is well organized and explains what they will need for the first meeting.  You should know that even if you don’t end up hiring this lawyer, your communications are privileged, unless you bring someone else (other than your spouse). To preserve this privilege, you shouldn’t bring other people to the meeting; if you need someone for moral support or transportation, don’t be upset if the attorney asks them to wait in the reception area.

DO bring all the paperwork you have, including suit papers (if you’ve been sued), insurance policies (if you’ll be making a claim), and any correspondence to or from the other party. Unless you decide to hire this lawyer, take all your papers with you, and let him or her make copies if he or she wants to review something further.

DON’T try to hide unfavorable or embarrassing information. The lawyer needs to know all the facts to protect your interests. What your lawyer does not know CAN hurt you, because such things have a way of coming out at the worst possible time, and your lawyer can’t respond very well if it’s a surprise.

DON’T feel pressured into signing up with the first lawyer you meet. Remember you are hiring someone to do work on your behalf. They are to act as though they are pleased that you want to hire them and you are to feel very comfortable with their honesty, sincerity and their skills as a lawyer.

• What experience do you have with this type of case (how many years; how many cases now, how many in the past)?
• What are the possible outcomes (best/worst case scenarios; how long might it take to resolve?
• How will you let me know what’s going on in the case?
• What can I do to help as the case goes forward? What other information will you need?
• Will anyone else be working on the case?
• Are there alternatives to litigation? Are you comfortable with trying to solve this with arbitration or mediation?
• How will you get paid?
• For hourly fee cases: What is your hourly rate? Can some of the work be delegated to paralegals or junior attorneys? If so, what will their rate be? How often do you send out bills? Do you need an advance retainer (not really necessary to ask this one; the attorney will certainly say so)? If we settle tomorrow, is the balance of the retainer refunded?
• For fixed or flat fee cases: What will be covered by this fee? What about appeals? What if something happens to make the case more complicated?
• For contingency fee cases: What will the percentage be? Will the percentage change depending on how far the case goes? Will you advance expenses? Is your fee figured before or after expenses are deducted? How far are you committed to go (if we lose at trial, will you take an appeal)?
• What about expenses? What kind of expenses do you charge for and how are they calculated? How much do you charge for copies, faxes, etc.?
• Can you give a ballpark estimate on the total fees? Can you put that in writing?
• What will happen if we have a disagreement about the fees?
• Can you give me names and numbers of some of your past clients as references? (For some types of legal matters, such as bankruptcy, divorces or criminal charges, clients’ need for confidentiality might make this impractical).

Your new attorney has certain obligations to you.

The most important is to keep you fully informed as to the status of your case. This means that you should be receiving copies of all documents received in your case. You should also be kept up-to-date on the various process of your particular matter.

If you are new to this type of case then ask your attorney to provide you with a written outline of the process, including the terms and the time periods involved.

Make sure that there is little or no charge for this information. If the attorney is not able or willing to provide you with this type of outline then you need to find another attorney that is more interested in serving client’s needs. Any attorney who has practiced in a particular area of law for several years already has an outline which details the process.

Ask the attorney what their policies are as to returning phone calls.

You are looking for an attorney that will commit to returning all calls the same day they are made, or at least that the attorney’s staff returns the calls. Make sure that your calls are necessary. Ask the staff if someone else can provide you with the information that you are seeking. It is no unusual that the attorney’s staff knows more about the day-to-day status of your case then does the attorney.

WHAT ABOUT DOCUMENT PREPARERS OR PARALEGALS?

Paralegals and document preparers are not allowed to give any legal advice, yet they do it all the time (much of which is wrong).