Watch Out for “$0 Down” Colorado Bankruptcy Firms
Having been licensed as an attorney in Colorado since 2002 and filing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer Bankruptcy cases full time since 2008, the very first question I’m often asked by a potential client on the phone is “how much are your fees” or “what does Bankruptcy cost?” I immediately reply that it really depends on their financial situation as I then ask them to describe their circumstances. I explain that I will fully answer their questions if they can take some time to describe why they need debt relief. This may include how many creditors they owe money to, the type and amount of debt owed, whether they own any real estate and if they own a small business. In other words, you get what you pay for with regard to Bankruptcy lawyers in Colorado just like with anything else in life. And “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.” Shortcuts almost never work in Bankruptcy and in life so I try to distinguish cost versus value in hiring a lawyer.
The Law Office of David M. Serafin markets itself as offering very competitive rates to file Bankruptcy combined with top notch personal service, attentiveness and competence. Once we discuss their case in depth, almost never does a Bankruptcy client acknowledge wanting the cheapest attorney regardless of quality. I don’t push your case off onto a paralegal or “mass produce” cases; rather, I offer a boutique product intended to address your specific needs. Bankruptcy is not a “one size fits all” commodity but rather a unique and personalized legal remedy for those seeking a fresh start.
With that said, the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly brought to Colorado several “fly by night” national firms (unfamiliar with the judges and trustees in Colorado, as with our Local Bankruptcy Rules) seeking to take advantage of an anticipated “tsunami” of impending Bankruptcy cases to be filed. Some firms “dabble” in Bankruptcy while they also work in other legal areas. Many of these firms spend heavily to advertise online (in the pop-up ads near the top of a Google search) that they can file a “$0 down” or “cheap” Bankruptcy.
A “$0 down” filing is fraught with numerous legal issues in that a Bankruptcy debtor attorney is essentially required to collect the entire legal fee BEFORE a Chapter 7 case is filed to avoid having to list themselves as an unsecured creditor in the Bankruptcy paperwork filed with the court. Put another way, it’s an impermissible conflict of interest (and sanctionable by the court) for me to be your attorney AND a creditor of yours simultaneously during the Bankruptcy case. So, many attorneys who charge $0 down for a Bankruptcy in Colorado are breaking the law by collecting from their clients the attorney fee in installments (in violation of the Automatic Stay - which prohibits collections by any creditor - imposed by the court) after the case has already been filed. Other Colorado Bankruptcy lawyers may advertise that they charge “only” $500 or $600 for a complete Bankruptcy filing but may omit to tell you later on about extra “hidden” fees and costs which raise the cost of the overall fee.
Put bluntly, many of these cheap Bankruptcy mills will do a half-hearted, incomplete and rushed job processing your case which, if the mistake is material enough, could cost you considerably more money (as owed to a Trustee representing the creditors) that had you found the right attorney to begin with. In the worst situations, it could even cost you your house.
Some things apparently never change in the Colorado Bankruptcy community especially when times get tough. See my article titled Beware of Discount Bankruptcy Attorneys that I wrote almost a decade ago.