June 22, 2012
By: John Clark
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota recently warned consumers about a group called the Affordable Law Center, which offered legal services without actually having attorneys on staff, according to a report from the Minneapolis Workplace Examiner.
This recent incident mirrors a national trend in which people who aren’t attorneys offer bankruptcy advice. This, however, may not be a good idea, as most filings involve nuanced questions of federal and state bankruptcy law.
And most analysts say that bankruptcy laws are best interpreted by actual attorneys, not operations that purport to offer legal help when they are unqualified to do so.
In the recent case in Minnesota, the Affordable Law Center advertised itself as a firm that offered bankruptcy services at low rates. After an investigation by the Better Business Bureau, however, it was revealed that the owner of the company was not a licensed attorney.
Since every bankruptcy filing takes place within a U.S. Bankruptcy Court, people who represent clients in bankruptcy court must usually be licensed to practice law in that state.
Because of the company’s reportedly misleading claims, the Minnesota Better Business Bureau dropped the Affordable Law Center’s rating from an “A” to an “F.”
And Dana Badgerow, the president of the consumer watchdog, did not mince her words when she described the company, saying that it exhibited a "clear pattern of deception” and that its misleading advertisements were a very “serious matter.”
Interestingly, the man who headed the Affordable Law Center has also operated other quasi-legal ventures, including Christian Discount Attorney Services and Affordable Court Services. These operations, however, were recently closed.
The owner of the “law” center is also facing lawsuits in Missouri, Colorado, and Wisconsin, where state prosecutors have accused the operator of offering legal services without actually being qualified to do so.
The lesson for consumers who are considering filing for bankruptcy is that any operations offering “low-cost bankruptcy services” or quick fixes to financial troubles may be untrustworthy.
And consumers should also know that only licensed bankruptcy lawyers are allowed to practice law inside bankruptcy courtrooms.
If you are unsure about the reputation or services offered by a local bankruptcy relief center, contact your local Better Business Bureau to learn more about the company.
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