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 Tucson, Arizona.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 7, 2020
Many Americans hesitate to file bankruptcy because they’re worried about affording attorneys’ fees. It’s true that finding a “free lawyer” for a bankruptcy case is rare unless filers are eligible for legal aid services. Most private attorneys, who make their living from legal fees, don’t offer services for free very often. Thankfully, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is so straightforward that it doesn’t necessarily require a bankruptcy lawyer’s help.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
There are two primary kinds of consumer bankruptcy that are filed by individuals who don’t own small businesses: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is available to nearly everyone, requires filers to stick to a 3-5 year repayment plan before any of their remaining eligible debts can be discharged. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t require a repayment plan. Instead, eligible unsecured debts are eliminated in as few as 90 days.
Because the debt relief offered by the Chapter 7 process is so generous, the Bankruptcy Code only permits members of low-income households to apply for this financial fresh start. As bankruptcy courts understand how little income Chapter 7 filers earn, they also understand that these filers aren’t generally in a financial position to afford the services offered by a private bankruptcy law office. As a result, they purposefully keep the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process so straightforward that all but the most complex Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions can be prepared and filed without a bankruptcy attorney’s help.
Essentially, if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you aren’t a small business owner, you don’t own unusually expensive property, you don’t own real estate other than your home, and your financial situation isn’t unusually complex, you can file on your own. Filing without the assistance of a bankruptcy law firm isn’t the best option for everyone. However, if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you can save money by filing without hiring an attorney.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Creating a 3-5 year repayment plan during the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is a complex task. If this task isn’t approached in an informed way, it will fail and the filer will be left in a worse financial position than they were before they filed bankruptcy. It is because the Chapter 13 process is so complex that most Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases prepared without an attorney’s help ultimately fail. As a result, if you’re not eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because you earn too much money, you’ll want to schedule an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney to explore your options.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you don’t feel confident about the idea of filing on your own, you may be able to obtain free or low-cost legal services through a civil legal aid society in the Tucson area. These non-profit organizations help low-income clients navigate legal issues at little or no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you work with a legal aid society, you’ll either be assigned to work with a staff attorney or a private attorney serving as a volunteer. You’ll be able to develop an attorney-client relationship with your lawyer, just like you would if you hired a private law firm to represent you. However, you may need to wait for a while before you can begin working with your lawyer on your case. After you’re screened for assistance eligibility, you may be placed on a waiting list. This is common when underfunded legal aid societies get particularly busy.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal services provided by civil legal aid societies are almost always in high demand. As a result, legal aid societies can’t serve the whole community for free, or even at low-cost. Instead, many follow the eligibility model set by the Legal Services Corporation, which was funded by Congress nearly 50 years ago. Today, it funds more of the civil legal aid societies in the United States than any other entity does. LSC funding recipient organizations must, at a minimum, provide free or low-cost help to members of households that report an annual income that doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line.
Although the LSC standard is the model for many organizations in Arizona and nationwide, every legal aid society is independent. Therefore, each organization has its own eligibility guidelines. You can contact any aid organization in your area to see whether you qualify for free or low-cost assistance.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Handy contact information, including phone numbers, for local Arizona civil legal aid societies can be found below. Make sure to inquire about possible wait times if you call to see whether you’re eligible for services. That way, you’ll know when you can begin work on your case.
Community Legal Services, Inc.
305 South 2nd Avenue, P.O. Box 21538, Phoenix AZ 85036-1538
DNA-Peoples Legal Services, Inc.
Route 12, Highway 264, P.O. Box 306, Window Rock, AZ 86515-0306
Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
Continental Building, 2343 East Broadway, Suite 200, Tucson, AZ 85719
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’d like to talk to an attorney about your bankruptcy options in a no-cost, no-risk setting, you can request a case evaluation from any firm that offers them. Most consumer bankruptcy attorneys in Arizona offer free consultations to anyone who is interested in learning more about filing for bankruptcy. This process won’t obligate you to work with a law firm moving forward – all that you need to invest in a consultation is your time.
There are a few easy ways to begin searching for a bankruptcy lawyer in your area. You can ask loved ones and colleagues for a recommendation, or head over to websites hosted by local bar associations. The Arizona State Bar Association and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) also feature “find a lawyer” tools on their websites. When scheduling a consultation, just make sure you’re meeting with a lawyer, not a paralegal. Only attorneys are permitted to give you legal advice.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you come across the term “pro se” in your bankruptcy research, know that it is used simply to refer to self-filers. Pro se is Latin for “in/on one’s own behalf.” Therefore, someone who doesn’t pay an attorney or work with legal aid on their case is referred to as a pro se filer.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you’d like a free, secure place to access and fill out your bankruptcy forms, take a few minutes to see if you are eligible to use Upsolve’s free filing tool. This platform can only be used to file “simple cases,” so it isn’t available to everyone. However, if you do qualify to use it, it will take much of the guesswork out of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro se filing process. You won’t have to track down forms or spend lots of time trying to figure out how to fill them out. This easy-to-navigate resource has already done this work for you.
Regardless of whether you qualify to use the filing tool, you can always find free guides and articles related to the pro se filing process on the Upsolve Learning Center platform. These resources are available to the public at all times, without a login. Here, you’ll also find information on both types of bankruptcy widely available to consumers, scheduling a free credit counseling session, as well as non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’re near a Tucson bankruptcy court, pop in during business hours to grab some free printed material that can be helpful for pro se filers. Depending on which guides are available, you may be able to learn how to request a waiver of your bankruptcy case filing fee, how to prepare for your upcoming meeting of creditors, and how to fill out your bankruptcy forms properly.
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
Wiping your debt clean and achieving a fresh start is an idea that seems understandably too good to be true. However, under certain circumstances, this is the opportunity that Chapter 7 bankruptcy provides. If bankruptcy is the best option for you, you can complete your petition by working with a bankruptcy attorney or by filing pro se. If you file pro se, there are numerous free resources available to help you. There is no “right” way to approach Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Each option is best for some filers and not ideal for others. You do whatever makes sense for your needs, priorities, and financial situation.