Do I Need a Bankruptcy Lawyer in Pennsylvania?
You’re a Pennsylvania resident, and you’ve decided you’d like to file for Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Do you need a Pennsylvania bankruptcy lawyer to help you file? Does it matter if your attorney is out of state?
Why You Need a Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Attorney
Most bankruptcy laws are federal, so geographically speaking, it shouldn’t really matter where my bankruptcy attorney practices — right?
Wrong. While it is true that many aspects of consumer filing are dictated by federal law, it is also true that some aspects of bankruptcy vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. In fact, the state you live in directly influences which chapter you can or should file under, because eligibility is determined by Means Testing, which is based on state median incomes.
There are also other reasons why it’s important to select an attorney in your state. For example, there are very different rules and limitations regarding the maximum exemptions you can claim depending on where you live. Furthermore, state laws play a major role in creditor-debtor relationships.
Finally, from a practical standpoint, it is simply easier and more convenient to have a lawyer who is located in-state at your disposal. Consumer cases can take months or even years, and if an emergency or problem should crop up at any time during this potentially lengthy process, you’ll want to address it right away before it damages or even ruins your case.
State Exemptions vs. Federal Exemptions
There are two classes of exemptions available to filers in the United States: federal, and state. Some states grant their residents the option of choosing between the two, while residents of others are forced to use the state exemptions exclusively.
Residents of Pennsylvania have freedom of choice. However, if your attorney is located out of state, it is unlikely that he or she will be sufficiently familiar with the state exemptions which are unique to Pennsylvania. As a result, he or she will probably not be able to thoroughly advise you about which system to choose. With a non-Pennsylvania attorney, you run the risk of making the less favorable decision, which could have devastating long-term financial results.
Pennsylvania Rules for Debtors and Creditors
Bankruptcy hinges on the relationship between the you (the debtor) and your creditors. While the parameters of this relationship are heavily influenced by federal law — for example, the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) — Pennsylvania also has its own unique set of state laws which direct what is and isn’t permissible conduct.
Wage garnishment is a good example of this. Wage garnishment, which is a form of debt collection, means that your creditor has your employer withhold a certain portion of your wages. Instead of going into your paycheck like they normally would, these wages go to the creditor to help pay off your outstanding debt.
While wage garnishment is limited by Title III of the Consumer Protection Act, there are still state regulations which vary from one jurisdiction to the next. For example, Pennsylvania imposes its own set of garnishment restrictions on top of the federal restrictions. If your attorney is not based in Pennsylvania, he or she may not be familiar with these unique and stringent restrictions, and therefore may not be able to aggressively defend your legal rights as a debtor.
Pennsylvania also makes its own additions to the FDCPA with something called the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act, or FCEUA. Like its better-known federal counterpart, the FCEUA establishes firm guidelines to protect debtors from abusive creditor practices.
Choosing the Right Bankruptcy Lawyer in Pennsylvania
We’ve covered some of the reasons why it’s important to pick a Pennsylvania lawyer — but how do you go about choosing a bankruptcy attorney to work with? What sorts of qualities should you look for?
First, you should make sure you feel comfortable with him or her. You’re going to be working together for a long time, and bankruptcy cases deal with sensitive financial information, so it’s crucial that you feel a sense of trust. You should also make sure that he or she is willing and able to provide positive references or client testimonials. Furthermore, your bankruptcy lawyer needs to be proactive and responsive. Deadlines mean everything in the world of bankruptcy law, and your attorney needs to keep up. If he or she is slow about responding to phone calls or emails, you may want to consider looking elsewhere.
Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
At Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates, we have more than 20 years of experience filing thousands of cases for the residents of Pennsylvania. If you’re thinking about Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, call us right away at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania to set up a completely free and confidential legal consultation. You can also contact our law offices online.