- Ask for recommendations: The best source for recommendations would be lawyers you already know and trust. Other types of lawyers probably know who practices bankruptcy and who is trustworthy and diligent. You can also ask friends and family, but make sure you ask about the quality of service that someone received from the lawyer.
- Schedule an initial consultation: Meet with a lawyer on your first visit. If you are scheduled to meet with a paralegal, this is a bad sign. If you are asked to bring enough money to file the case on your first visit, this is too much pressure and a sign that the lawyer is desperate to earn a fee and not evaluate your case thoroughly beforehand.
- Evaluate the information you received: Do you understand what would happen if you filed Chapter 7? Chapter 13? Do you understand what would happen if you do not file bankruptcy at all? Do you understand the steps to take before and after filing? You should hire a lawyer who is going to help you make an informed decision and make sure that filing bankruptcy would be in your best interest.
Notice by this point that you should have met with a lawyer but not yet hired one to actually file a case for you. It is important to meet with a lawyer and not a paralegal because paralegals cannot give legal advice and because you need legal advice to guide your decision on whether to even file in the first place. Some of my best bankruptcy cases are the ones I never filed! And you should take some time to make sure that filing bankruptcy is right for you and that it is the right time to do so.
Big firm or small firm? Big does not equal better. In fact, we bankruptcy attorneys talk about the "bankruptcy mills" that churn lots of cases, collect lots of fees, and fail to provide individualized attention or followup. It's a bad sign when someone who already has a bankruptcy lawyer calls me up for advice because his lawyer won't return his calls (yet I see his paralegal meeting brand new clients next door and taking in new business). I bite my tongue to avoid telling him that he should not have simply picked the lawyer with the biggest ad in the phonebook. Of course, there are solo lawyers who are just as bad, overwhelmed with too many cases and hiding from their clients' phone calls.
Make sure that you feel that your questions are answered and that you are not rushed into a decision. Make sure that your attorney seems accessible and available. I would venture to say that local is better, too. You want your attorney to be thorough and prepare your case so as to avoid problems after filing, but if problems arise you want your attorney to be by your side.
Please understand that the bankruptcy process is not designed to be easy. The lawyers who give you short questionnaires and talk to you for only a few minutes are only streamlining the process to make their business easier, but the lawyers who ask for more documents and more financial history are being diligent for your benefit. (Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)
As far as attorneys' fees are concerned, please do not let price be your only concern. Remeber the adage, "Fast, good, or cheap: Pick two."
Finally, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys has a directory of its members if you are unable to find referrals.
[Edited 2017-08-26. This lawyer is not accepting new clients.]