Need to file bankruptcy but don't think you can afford an attorney? Learn how to get free legal help to get your fresh start in Mesa, Arizona.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 10, 2020
Too often, people resist filing for consumer bankruptcy because they’re worried about affording paid legal advice. While it’s true that you can really only receive help from a “free bankruptcy lawyer” if you work with a legal aid society, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t have to be an expensive process. Most Chapter 7 cases are so straightforward that filers can prepare their own bankruptcy petitions without paid legal assistance.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
If you’re just beginning your research into the bankruptcy process, you might not be familiar with the ins and outs of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The basic tasks you’ll have to undertake when filing for debt relief under this chapter of the Bankruptcy Code include:
Filling out paperwork related to your debt, income, property, and expenses
Paying a filing fee (unless a waiver request is approved)
Participating in one pre-filing and one post-filing educational course
Attending a short “meeting of creditors”
As you can see, filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 is very straightforward. Unlike filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is a complex process, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy often doesn’t require a lawyer’s help. Unless you own a small business, luxury property, or real estate other than your home, your financial situation is likely “simple” enough that you won’t need a lawyer’s assistance to prepare your bankruptcy case. Of course, if you are affected by unusual circumstances or simply want to work with a bankruptcy attorney, you can do so at any time. For some filers, paying a little money for professional help upfront is a good investment.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Only members of low-income households qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the courts assume that you can’t afford to pay your debts – even in part – any time soon. By contrast, Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers are required to stick to a 3-5 year repayment plan before any remaining eligible debt can be discharged. Creating this plan is a complex process that requires an attorney’s help. Thankfully, legal fees can be integrated into a filer’s repayment plan. As a result, these fees get paid back over time using income that would have been repaid to other unsecured creditors no matter what.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Although the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is straightforward, self-filing isn’t the best option for everyone. If you can’t afford to work with a private bankruptcy law firm but you’d like help with your case, check out legal aid societies located in Arizona. These organizations provide low-cost or free legal services to individuals who meet certain eligibility criteria.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Working with a legal aid society is very similar to working with a private law firm. In each scenario, you’ll be asked some questions to ensure that the law office is in a position to help you with your legal issues. In each scenario, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer who has experience in helping clients file bankruptcy.
The major difference between private firms and legal aid societies is that private firms operate in a for-profit capacity and legal aid societies don’t. As a result, legal aid societies don’t usually have access to as much financing as private firms do. When their services are in high-demand, legal aid societies can’t always hire more lawyers. Therefore, after screening potential clients for eligibility, they often have to place them on waitlists before they can begin working on those clients’ cases.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The best way to assess whether you’re eligible for a specific legal aid society’s services is to call them directly. Most of these non-profits screen potential clients based on their household income levels. For example, any organization that receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation is required to serve members of the community whose annual household income is lower than 125% of the federal poverty line. However, income level isn’t the only criterion that many legal aid societies use to assess who they can help. By contacting an organization directly, you can find out if you’re eligible for their services at this time.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Arizona has a number of legal aid societies. Phone numbers, locations, and alternative contact information for those located near Mesa can be found below. If one doesn’t suit your needs, keep calling around, as another just might.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
It isn’t always easy to know whether it might be better for you to file on your own or hire an attorney to help you until you speak with a professional. Thankfully, most law firms that practice Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy offer free consultations. This setting is confidential and doesn’t obligate you to hire that firm to work on your case. Instead, this forum serves as an opportunity to receive a free case evaluation and to ask questions; that’s all. You never need to feel pressured to invest anything beyond your time when you schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer. Note: Avoid consultations with paralegals, as they can’t dispense legal advice.
To find an attorney in the Mesa area who practices consumer bankruptcy law, check out the search feature on the website hosted by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). Alternatively, you can connect with the Arizona State Bar Association, local bar associations, or anyone else you trust to give you a knowledgeable recommendation.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to file for bankruptcy without working with a legal aid lawyer or paying a private firm to help you, you’ll be considered a “pro se” filer. Pro se simply means that you’re choosing to represent yourself instead of having someone else present your case on your behalf. To better ensure that your pro se case is a success, consider taking advantage of some free self-filing resources available online and provided by United States bankruptcy courts.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you have questions about how to achieve a fresh start through filing for bankruptcy or a non-bankruptcy debt relief alternative, check out the Upsolve Learning Center. This platform is free, available without a login, and accessible to the public at all times. Here, you’ll find guides and articles about bankruptcy and debt management that have been written by attorneys. This resource can be particularly helpful to pro se filers, as both geographically-specific and general guides to every aspect of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process are featured here.
Additionally, Upsolve offers a free online filing tool for individuals who are preparing “simple cases” on their own. This resource takes much of the stress out of filing pro se because it allows individuals to access required bankruptcy forms and to prepare them securely. U.S. bankruptcy courts don’t allow filers to submit their petitions online, but it’s easy to print your completed forms once you’ve completed them using the tool. If you aren’t eligible to use the tool, the Learning Center provides guides that will help you track down your forms and prepare them accurately and completely.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Bankruptcy courts in Arizona provide free printed information about the various types of bankruptcy. You can pick up guides on any subject that interests you either before you begin preparing your paperwork or when you file your petition with the court.
Arizona Bankruptcy Court
230 N 1st Ave, Ste 101, Phoenix, AZ 85003
James A. Walsh United States Courthouse
38 South Scott Avenue Tucson, AZ 85701
John M. Roll United States Courthouse
98 West 1st Street Yuma, AZ 85364
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt solution available for some financial situations and isn’t a good fit for others. If you’ve determined that filing for bankruptcy is the best way to manage your debt and achieve a fresh financial start, know that there are many resources available to help you file successfully. Whether you choose to work with an attorney or file pro se, you can use information provided by the courts and by Upsolve to make navigating your case easier and less stressful.
Filing pro se and working with an attorney are both valid approaches that each have their “pros and cons.” Take some time to think about which option might best serve your needs at this time.