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 Anaheim, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
While it would be great if all bankruptcy filers had access to a free bankruptcy lawyer, working with a legal aid society is generally the only way to access free legal advice about the bankruptcy process. Understandably, private bankruptcy law offices need to charge fees to keep their businesses running. Thankfully, the vast majority of Chapter 7 filers can successfully prepare their bankruptcy petitions without an attorney’s assistance.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Many people are surprised to learn that navigating the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process successfully rarely requires a lawyer’s help. If you don’t own real estate other than your home, a small business, or luxury property, you likely won’t need to speak with a law firm about protecting your property while you’re seeking a fresh financial start. Why? Chapter 7 bankruptcy is known as “liquidation bankruptcy” because the trustee assigned to your case will be empowered to sell your non-exempt assets to repay your creditors. However, if you don’t own much expensive property, you likely don’t own non-exempt assets.
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is so straightforward that unless your financial situation is unusually complex, you have a disability that makes filling out paperwork without assistance impractical, you own expensive property (as explained above), or you’re dealing with other extraordinary circumstances, you should be able to file on your own quickly and effectively.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
A successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy process results in very generous relief of eligible debts. As a result, United States bankruptcy courts reserve this option for members of low-income households who can’t be reasonably expected to pay any of their consumer debts down over the next few years. Bankruptcy filers who earn so much income that they’re ineligible to file under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code can take advantage of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process instead.
The Chapter 13 bankruptcy process will allow you to achieve a fresh start over time. A bankruptcy attorney can help you construct your 3-5 year debt repayment plan in ways that are manageable for your family’s budget. You’ll repay your legal fees through this plan too, so hiring a lawyer to help you with your bankruptcy case won’t “break the bank.” You shouldn’t attempt to file this type of bankruptcy on your own, as it is a complex process. Most of the time, people who file bankruptcy under Chapter 13 without a lawyer’s assistance end up in a worse financial position than they were in when they began filing bankruptcy.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
As explained above, navigating the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process alone isn’t the best option for everyone. If you’re eligible to file for debt relief under Chapter 7, you don’t want to file on your own, and you can’t afford to pay an attorney for help, contact a legal aid society. These nonprofit entities provide free and low-cost legal services to eligible clients; eligibility is usually based on a candidate’s household income level.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
When you dial the phone number of a local legal aid society, a staff member will likely pick up and then ask you some questions to determine whether you’re eligible to receive free or low-cost services through the organization you’ve connected with. If you pass this eligibility screening, you may be placed on a waitlist before you can begin developing an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer that is paid by the organization or volunteers their time there. Legal aid organizations are funded by grants and donations, so they don’t always have the ability to address every new client’s legal issues immediately.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
You’ll want to contact individual legal aid societies located in Anaheim and Orange County to inquire about their eligibility criteria. Most legal aid societies (including those funded by the Legal Services Corporation) screen potential clients based on their household income level. The lower your income, the greater the chances that you qualify for free or low-cost assistance. However, some organizations use different criteria to screen members of the community for eligibility. Contact each local legal aid society before making any assumptions about your eligibility for services, as each operation is unique.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Contact information for local legal aid societies is listed below. If you aren’t sure that you want to file for bankruptcy, you may want to schedule a free credit counseling session to explore all of your debt relief options before scheduling an initial consultation with a legal aid society.
Bay Area Legal Aid
1735 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612
California Indian Legal Services, Inc.
609 S. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido, CA 92025
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
1430 Franklin Street, Suite 103, Oakland, CA 94612
Central California Legal Services
2115 Kern Street, Suite 1, Fresno, CA 93721
Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
1040 Iowa Avenue, Suite 109, Riverside, CA 92507-2106
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Another no-cost resource you can use to explore your debt and bankruptcy-related options is a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in Orange County. Not every consumer bankruptcy firm offers free consultations, but most do. A consultation is a no-risk, no-obligation meeting that allows a law firm (via a lawyer, not a paralegal) to provide a potential client with a case evaluation. It also allows that potential client to ask questions without being pressured to work with that firm moving forward. When you attend a consultation, you’re only investing time, not money or a commitment to hire a lawyer to help you with your case.
Locating a bankruptcy law firm in Orange County isn’t difficult. To begin your research, check out these websites:
The California State Bar Association
Local bar association sites
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you decide that you’re up for the straightforward challenge of filing on your own, you can take advantage of free, reputable online resources designed to assist and/or educate “pro se” filers. You’ll be referred to as a pro se filer by the court if you prepare your own case instead of having an attorney prepare it for you. If you attend a consultation but ultimately choose to file on your own, you’ll still be classified as a pro se filer.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
The nonprofit organization Upsolve offers a few valuable no-cost resources on its site that are designed to assist and educate pro se filers. The first is a resource that is valuable to anyone struggling with debt: The Upsolve Learning Center. This platform features hundreds of guides and articles written by lawyers about consumer bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives. These educational guides are available to the public for free and without a login. Make sure to check out both general information, as well as information that specifically applies to Chapter 7 filers in Southern California.
If you’re filing a “simple Chapter 7 case,” you’ll also want to check out Upsolve’s free online filing tool. This resource will allow you to access all the bankruptcy forms required by the court and will allow you to fill these forms out in an easy-to-understand, secure format. This platform is free, so if you’re eligible to use the tool, know that Upsolve will never ask for your credit card information.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also access free, printed guides to the bankruptcy process at any California bankruptcy court. Some filers prefer to read printed material instead of accessing guides online and bankruptcy courts are a great place to pick up current reference material.
Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse
255 East Temple Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
21041 Burbank Boulevard Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse
411 West Fourth Street Santa Ana, CA 92701
3420 Twelfth Street
3420 Twelfth Street Riverside, CA 92501
Jacob Weinberger United States Courthouse
325 West F Street San Diego, CA 92101
Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and United States Courthouse
280 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113
Oakland City Center
1300 Clay Street Oakland, CA 94612
Phillip Burton United States Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102
Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
2500 Tulare Street Fresno, CA 93721
1200 I Street
1200 I Street Modesto, CA 95354
Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
501 I Street Sacramento, CA 95814
Filing for consumer bankruptcy can be, under specific circumstances, a great way to get your finances back on track. Although filing for bankruptcy isn’t the best debt relief option for everyone, each year filing for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy helps hundreds of thousands of Americans to halt debt collector harassment and manage their debt.
If you’ve decided that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best option for your family, you can use free, reputable resources to file on your own or you can have an attorney prepare your case. Neither of these options is better or worse, as each approach works best under certain circumstances. Before you begin work on your case, take some time to figure out which approach makes the most sense for you.