Many people are tempted to file bankruptcy without a lawyer because of the high cost of a bankruptcy attorney. The process of self filing, however, is sometimes scary, often confusing, and full of potential pitfalls. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney but think you are a candidate for bankruptcy, apply to Legal Aid or attend a free legal Brief Advice Clinic before filing on your own.
In 2005, bankruptcy law changed to make it more difficult for people to file a bankruptcy. Attorney fees increased dramatically. As a result, fewer people can afford to hire an attorney but the need for counsel in the bankruptcy process is even greater.
Changes to the law include a requirement to file specific documents, taking financial management classes, and testing your level of income to make sure you qualify for a bankruptcy. All these barriers are designed to make your bankruptcy harder and create greater risk for someone filing on their own.
The bankruptcy trustee (who administers the bankruptcy for the Court) will tell you that he or she cannot give you any legal advice if something goes wrong, and will not likely sympathize with you just because you don't have a lawyer. If you misunderstand the rules, you could accidentally lose your house or your car. If your bankruptcy fails entirely, you may lose your filing fee and have to start again. Worst of all, (where you do not follow a Court order), you may not be able to ever discharge your debts, even if you file a new bankruptcy.
You should also be cautious about using "petition preparers." They are not attorneys, cannot give legal advice, and likely charge too much for simply typing the forms.
Before you decide to file for bankruptcy on your own, contact Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to see if you qualify for our bankruptcy assistance. You can also find out the date and location of the next free brief advice clinic for assistance.
This article was written by Legal Aid attorney Michael Attali and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.