Most of the bankruptcies I file don't require any up-front legal fees. The client only has to pay the Court fees, the credit bureaus for a credit report and for the on-line class. ($355 total for an individual, $375 for a couple)
It isn't a scam. Don't get me wrong, I get paid and paid well, but it is through the bankruptcy process, not directly from my clients, and pursuant to a Bankruptcy Court Order. I'm a firm believer in you get what you pay for and you will pay our office well over time.
Here is my philosophy: If our office files you in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and saves you enormous amounts of money, wipes out all or most of your unsecured debt and gives you a repayment plan that really works, then we get paid. If we don't and you don't succeed, we don't get paid. The payment is tied directly to the client's success. You win, we win. Here are some other reasons for not taking any money up front:
Not paying attorney fees up front can save you money if you are an above-median income Debtor.
Stopping a garnishment, rather than waiting to file until you have attorney fees will save you money.
Filing quickly can get back repossessed vehicles that would otherwise be lost because you couldn't afford to file.
There are occasions where it makes more sense to pay all or most of the attorney fees up front. Bottom line -- and all money stuff is about the bottom line -- make sure you talk to the attorney and compare the cost to savings and don't worry as much about what the attorney fees are.
P.S. Don't use bankruptcy petition preparing companies. You will still need to pay the $31 filing fee and you will still need to pay the $25-50 for the pre-filing on-line credit counseling class in addition to any upfront fees they charge you. Not only do you pay more up front, you will not get any legal advice or help to navigate the treacherous bankruptcy rapids.