With the proliferation of the internet, when most of us have a question or need information on an unfamiliar subject, the first place we look is online. So it is as well when it comes to bankruptcy. However, unlike with some other topics, you should be particularly careful when searching for bankruptcy information online. There are two reasons for this. First, if the information is wrong, and you use it in financial planning or to decide if and when to file bankruptcy, you may inadvertently cause undesired financial consequences such as loss of property, or may reduce or eliminate your ability to successfully complete a bankruptcy. Second, if you use the information you find online to select an attorney, you may end up not getting what you expected.
I'll give you an example. The other day I was browsing one of the major "expert advice" websites for bankruptcy information-I was curious what other people were writing. I ran across an article discussing what happens to liens in bankruptcy. Along with information that was fairly accurate, the article stated: if there is a judicial lien on your property, you normally cannot get rid of it in bankruptcy. Well, that information is just wrong-while judicial liens are sometimes not avoidable (removable), they can be avoided if they impair the debtor's exemption in his or her property. When it comes to consumer debtors, judicial liens will be avoidable in most cases, because most consumers do not have non-exempt property.
Now, I knew this because I am a bankruptcy attorney. However, most people who look for bankruptcy information online do not have any bankruptcy experience, and would have no way of knowing that the information provided was wrong. If they were to rely on this information, they may have decided not to file bankruptcy, thinking that it will not help them eliminate a judicial lien. Or, if they filed bankruptcy without an attorney, they may have ended up paying off a judgment that under the applicable law they did not need to pay.
After reading the article, I wanted to find out more about the author, so I spent a few minutes researching that. It turns out that the author was not an attorney, let alone a bankruptcy attorney. In fact, much of the advice you find on the internet is not written by people with any specialized qualifications in the subject on which they are writing. Often, the advice-giver is simply providing information that he or she found by doing research online. Or perhaps the advice-giver has had a personal experience with the subject matter (e.g. because he or she has filed bankruptcy), and is providing information based on that experience, not knowing that the information they have is wrong.
This of course does not mean that the people providing advice online are not doing their best to provide accurate information, and with respect to many subject areas, online advice can be sufficiently accurate. But when it comes to something as complex as legal information, the source of the information is much more important. You should certainly be wary of any information that is not provided by an attorney. In addition, because the laws involved are often very nuanced and require careful analysis, you should generally be very careful with information that is not provided by an attorney who specializes in the particular area of law (e.g. bankruptcy).
So, does this mean that as long as you look up the information on a bankruptcy attorney's website, you are safe in relying on it? Unfortunately, no. The information provided on many attorneys' websites nowadays is not written by the attorney who owns the website, or any attorney at all. The content for the website is often provided by the marketing company that develops or hosts the website. This is true even of attorney blogs-the blog posts are often written not by the attorney, but provided by the marketing company, which itself may have obtained them from a third party.
Now, the practice of purchasing website content is a legitimate practice (although I personally do not like the practice of purchasing blog content, because of the greater likelihood of misleading the reader into believing the information came directly from the lawyer). However, it means that as the consumer, you should be careful and not rely on information simply because you find it on a lawyer's website. It also means that you should not base your choice of a lawyer on the information you find on the lawyer's website, since it may not reflect the lawyer's knowledge or ability.
You are probably asking, "if I can't trust any information I find on the internet, what am I supposed to do?" Well, do your online research to get a general idea of what bankruptcy is. The more sources you research, and the more the information in those sources is consistent, the more likely it is to be accurate. However, after you do your research, meet with an attorney. In fact, meet with several. And ask them all the questions you were researching online. This is the best way to get accurate bankruptcy information specific to your situation. And, if you end up retaining an attorney, this is the only way to determine which attorney will be best for you.
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