Attorneys handle consultations differently. Below is how things are done at my office, and the offices of some of my colleagues.
The free 30 minute telephone consultation
I start every case with a free 30 minute telephone consultation during which I get an idea of the issues involved in the case and whether it is likely to be a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy that would be filed, or no bankruptcy at all. Some attorneys like to send the potential client a questionnaire to fill out before the initial consultation in order to better narrow down the discussion areas for the consultation. During my initial telephone consultation I find out the following pieces of information: 1. Whether there are any financial emergencies, such as a pending wage garnishment, foreclosure sale, lawsuit, or other matter. 2. What jurisdiction the potential client lives in and how long they have lived in this jurisdiction and the State of California. 3. The type of debt at issue, for example, credit card debt, tax debt, student loan debt, child support, medical bills, mortgages. 4. What types of an estate are we dealing with, for example, real property with significant equity, real property with no equity, no real property, minimal personal property or potentially non-exempt personal property. 5. The amount of household income involved and whether it will be a single filing or joint filing between spouses. 6. What the potential client's intentions are with respect to any secured assets, such as their home. 7. Whether there have been any transfers of assets in the past 4 years, and the circumstances involved. 8. Other issues that stem from the conversation, such as underwater junior mortgages. During the conversation I might check the zillow value of any real property at issue to get an idea of the potential equity or lack of equity involved. While sometimes further research is necessary, I can usually get a good idea of what type of bankruptcy would need to be filed and provide an estimate of the fee I would charge for representation should my client decide to move forward with my office. I also give the client a brief summary of the bankruptcy process for either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case filing.
The next step
Assuming the client wants to proceed with the filing of a bankruptcy case, the next step would be to schedule an in-person consultation with me during which we further discuss the bankruptcy process and go over the detailed questionnaire they will need to fill out in order to provide me with the necessary information. I also give my client a list of documents to get for me which will vary somewhat depending on the type of bankruptcy to be filed. For example, a bankruptcy involving an operating business would mean producing documents related to the business's organization, day to day operations, assets and liabilities. A bankruptcy involving real property would mean producing a copy of the grant deed, deeds of trust, most recent mortgage statement(s) and a recent broker's opinion of the current fair market value for the property. I normally have my clients pull their own credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. They also do their credit counseling on their own and give me a copy of the certificate of completion when ready. I have my clients provide me with a printout of the private party value of any vehicles they own from www.kbb.com, or for older vehicles and RV's, www.nada.com. In addition to the detailed questionnaire and list of document requests, I also give my client a list of pre-filing admonitions, pre-filing disclosures required by Sections 342(b)(1) 342(b)(2)(A) and (B), 527(a)(1), 527(a)(2) and 527(b) of the Bankruptcy Code, and a retainer agreement. When the client has all the information, documents and fees ready, we set up an appointment for an in person interview and begin the process of preparing the bankruptcy.