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 Bakersfield, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
If you aren’t eligible for assistance through a legal aid society, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer” to help you with your case. Private law firms need to charge fees to pay their employees. Thankfully though, filing for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a very manageable process for most people. Chapter 13 filers repay their legal fees as part of their 3-5 year bankruptcy repayment plan. And many Chapter 7 filers don’t need an attorney’s help at all – the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is just that straightforward.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
If you’re unsure of what chapter of the Bankruptcy Code you should file under (or whether you should file for bankruptcy at all), that’s okay. You don’t need to have “all the answers” to explore your debt relief options. Consider scheduling a free credit counseling session to receive personalized debt management guidance from a certified credit counselor. You can also use information discussed later in this guide to schedule a free initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney.
If and when you decide to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it’s important to know that you may not have to hire an attorney to prepare your bankruptcy petition. Most of the time, Chapter 7 filers only need to consult a bankruptcy law firm if they own expensive property (real estate other than a primary residence, a small business, luxury property, etc.), their financial situation is extraordinarily complex, or they have a disability that makes filing on their own impractical. Otherwise, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is so straightforward that self-filing is an approach you can have confidence in.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
By contrast, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a very complex process that filers shouldn’t attempt without professional assistance. If you earn enough income that you’re ineligible to seek debt relief under Chapter 7, you can work with a Bakersfield bankruptcy attorney to explore Chapter 13 as an alternative.
If you need to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to achieve a fresh start, try not to panic at the thought of having to pay for legal advice. The courts will allow you to treat your lawyer’s firm as a creditor for the purpose of repaying your legal fees. You’ll therefore be able to pay most or all of your legal fees in 3-5 year repayment installments using funds that would otherwise go to your other unsecured creditors. As a result, affording an attorney’s help with a Chapter 13 case is quite manageable.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
For those Chapter 7 filers who could benefit from working with a consumer bankruptcy attorney but who can’t afford to pay for professional assistance, working with a civil legal aid society can be a great option. Legal aid societies generally provide free and low-cost legal services for members of the community who don’t earn much money.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
You’ll probably need to do two things before you can begin receiving legal aid services: submit to an eligibility screening and spend some time on a waitlist. Unlike private law offices, legal aid societies are nonprofit companies. This means that they rely on grants and donations to fund community members’ access to free and low-cost assistance with their legal issues. As a result of their often “strapped” funding, these organizations can only help so many people at once. Although they limit their client base to those most in need and (when necessary) place clients on waitlists, these organizations help as many people as they can, as quickly as they can.
Once you pass your eligibility screening and (if applicable) reach the top of an organization’s waitlist, you’ll begin meeting with your bankruptcy attorney. Your lawyer may be a paid staff attorney or a private attorney volunteering their time. You will meet with your lawyer one-on-one and will develop the same kind of attorney-client relationship you would if you hired a private law firm to prepare your bankruptcy case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The majority of legal aid societies limit accessibility to their services to those community members who are most in need of free and low-cost legal advice. This leads legal aid societies to screen potential clients based on their household income level. For example, when a legal aid society accepts funding from the Legal Services Corporation, it commits to providing services to individuals whose annual household income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line. With that said, the only surefire way to know whether you’re eligible for a specific nonprofit organization’s services is to contact it directly.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
If you’d like to contact legal aid societies in Bakersfield, use the phone numbers listed below. When you connect with a staff member, make sure to ask about the organization’s eligibility screening process and expected wait times for new clients.
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
Private law firms don’t usually offer their services for free, but many consumer bankruptcy firms do offer free consultations. A consultation is a meeting where you can ask questions and receive a case evaluation from a professional. This meeting won’t result in obligations of any kind. You won’t have to pay money or work with an attorney going forward simply because you attend a consultation. This is a no-risk setting that only requires the investment of your time and energy.
To get the contact information for consumer bankruptcy attorneys in Bakersfield, check out these resources:
Local bar association websites
The California State Bar Association website
TheNACBA website – (National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys)
Recommendations from loved ones who have filed bankruptcy before
When you find a firm that looks trustworthy and offers free consultations, give them a call to schedule your no-cost, no-obligation case evaluation. While you’re on the phone, make sure to confirm that you’ll be meeting with an attorney, not a paralegal. Paralegals do great work but they aren’t empowered to give legal advice.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to prepare your case yourself, you’ll have access to many free, trustworthy, and knowledgeable resources designed to help you complete the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process successfully. If you run across the term “pro se” in your research, know that this is just the legal way of referring to filers who choose to represent themselves instead of having a lawyer prepare their cases on their behalf.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
You can find useful pro se filing resources for free on the Upsolve website. Upsolve, which is a nonprofit organization funded in part by Harvard University, offers both a filing tool and an educational hub designed to help pro se Chapter 7 filers. The free online filing tool is made available to pro se filers of “simple cases” who need an easy way to locate necessary bankruptcy forms and easy-to-follow guidance to properly fill these forms out. This secure platform is available for free. Because eligible filers have to report sensitive information on their bankruptcy forms, this tool requires a login.
Another Upsolve resource (that is free, is available to the public, and does NOT require a login) is the Upsolve Learning Center. When you visit this online educational hub, you can access hundreds of general and geographically specific guides to filing bankruptcy in the United States. You can also learn about non-bankruptcy debt relief and debt management alternatives here. If you have a question about filing pro se, chances are high that you can find answers (written by attorneys) by visiting the Learning Center.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If it’s easy for you to stop by a local bankruptcy court, take a trip during business hours to pick up free printed material about the different types of bankruptcy. Depending on which guides are available when you visit the court, you may be able to use them to help you prepare for your meeting of creditors, to respond to harassment by debt collectors, or to request a waiver of your case filing fee, etc.
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
Achieving a fresh financial start can be life-changing. Filing bankruptcy isn’t the best way for everyone to achieve this goal, although it might be the ideal debt relief option for you. If you have determined that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best way forward, know that there are resources available to help you navigate this process successfully. You can either take advantage of free information and file on your own or you can work with a lawyer. Whatever option is the best “fit” for your unique situation is the option you should use moving forward.