Having a written retainer agreement in a consumer bankruptcy case is not only important, it’s the law.
For the 20+ years that I have been representing clients in bankruptcy cases, I have always used written retainer agreements. Four years ago, when the bankruptcy laws were changed, written retainer agreements became mandatory. Even so, there are some sloppy bankruptcy attorneys who neglect to use them.
A written bankruptcy retainer agreement clearly sets forth the understanding between the bankruptcy attorney and the bankruptcy client. It also sets forth what services are included and what services may not be included. Several years ago I wrote an article for the Suffolk Lawyer about Best Practices for Representing Your Clients and discussed the importance of using a plain-English written retainer agreement.
Bankruptcy court rules require the bankruptcy attorney to file some forms with the petition indicating the amount of the legal fee. Sometimes counsel files a copy of the retainer agreement to support this disclosure.
A properly-prepared retainer agreement also indicates what the bankruptcy legal fee is, the amount of the filing fee, and whether there are any disbursements, such as those for obtaining a credit report or for advancing the costs of credit counseling.
My retainer agreements also indicate what obligations my clients have. These include simple things such as reading mail that I send them, agreeing to provide correct and accurate information, and letting me know if there are any significant changes in their circumstances.
If you are filing for personal bankruptcy, make sure your attorney prepares a written retainer agreement, and of course, make sure you read it before signing it; ask any questions if you do not understand it; and make sure you get a copy of it.