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 Fresno, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 10, 2020
If you don’t earn much income and hope to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer” to help you with your case, there’s some good news and bad news. The bad news is that the only bankruptcy attorneys who offer free services tend to be those who work for or volunteer at legal aid societies. The good news is that if your financial situation isn’t unusually complex, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a great debt relief option under certain circumstances. If you don’t earn much income, most of your debts are unsecured, and you don’t own a lot of unusually expensive property, your financial situation may be a good fit for this bankruptcy process. Chapter 7 bankruptcy offers quick, generous debt relief for those who are eligible to benefit from filing bankruptcy under this chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers can have their eligible debts discharged in as few as 90 days.
Because the fresh financial start that filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy offers is so generous, only members of low-income households are permitted to seek this form of debt relief. The bankruptcy courts understand that low wage earners can’t generally afford to seek paid legal advice. As a result, they purposefully keep the process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy so straightforward that most filers don’t need to work with a bankruptcy law office to navigate it successfully.
With that said, if you don’t want to file bankruptcy on your own or you’re dealing with circumstances that would make self-filing impractical, you can always consult with a bankruptcy law firm. There is no “preferable” way to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Some filers benefit from saving money by self-filing and others benefit from the legal services provided by attorneys.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you own unusually expensive property or real estate other than your home, or you earn too much money to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, you can speak with an attorney about filing under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is much more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is, so it’s inadvisable to prepare a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on your own. Unfortunately, Chapter 13 filings prepared without an attorney’s help almost always fail. Similarly, if you own a small business, you’ll want to speak with a lawyer instead of preparing a bankruptcy petition without professional assistance.
Don’t shy away from speaking with a lawyer about filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy because you’re worried about paying legal fees. This form of consumer bankruptcy requires filers to commit to a 3-5 year payment plan before any remaining eligible debts can be eliminated. You’ll be able to pay at least some of your attorney back as part of your repayment plan, using funds that might have gone to other creditors otherwise.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy but you’re wary of filing on your own, researching legal aid societies in the Fresno area may be a good use of your time. These non-profit organizations dedicated to helping members of low-income households access legal services may be able to help.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you work with a legal aid society, you’ll work with a staff or volunteer attorney who is licensed and capable of successfully handling bankruptcy law cases. However, you may be placed on a waiting list before an attorney is assigned to your case. Legal aid societies don’t benefit from endless resources. As a result, they often have to screen potential clients for eligibility, usually based on income, and then place those who qualify for assistance on waitlists during busy times of the year.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
You’ll want to double-check the eligibility criteria used by a legal aid organization before you schedule an initial consultation with that operation. Most of the time, you’ll qualify for either free or low-cost assistance if you earn very little income. For example, the standard set by the Legal Services Corporation requires that organizations provide assistance, at minimum, for members of households whose annual income is lower than 125% of the federal poverty line. However, this is only a baseline for recipients of LSC funding. Each independent legal aid society operates differently, so you’ll want to do some research before making any assumptions about whether you’re eligible for services or not.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Figuring out whether you’re eligible for legal aid assistance is as simple as using the phone numbers listed below. If you’re not eligible for free or low-cost services through the organization closest to you, you can use the contact information for those located a little farther away to determine whether you qualify for assistance elsewhere.
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
Most lawyers who practice Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy offer free consultations. This should be of interest to you, even if you plan on filing on your own for free. Why? An initial consultation setting will allow you to ask a professional (not a paralegal) about your legal issues without obligating you to work with their law firm moving forward. Attorneys offer free case evaluations because it allows potential clients to make informed decisions about their options. Much in the same way that free credit counseling allows individuals to make informed decisions about their debt relief options.
To find an attorney in the Fresno area, check out local bar association websites or the California State Bar Association website. Alternatively, you can use the “find an attorney” page on the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys’ (NACBA) website or ask a loved one who has been through the bankruptcy process before for a recommendation.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
The courts refer to self-filers as “pro se” filers. This Latin term means, “in/on one’s own behalf.” If you attend a consultation at a law firm but don’t develop an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer, you’re still considered a pro se filer. If you choose to file without an attorney’s help, you’ll want to take advantage of some of the many free, reputable resources available for pro se filers.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
There are many different bankruptcy court “jurisdictions” within California and across the United States. All jurisdictions use the same core federal bankruptcy forms. However, there are some forms that vary from filing location to filing location. Trying to figure out what forms to fill out and how to fill them out can be tricky. Thankfully, if you’re filing a “simple case,” you may be eligible to avoid this guesswork. Upsolve provides access to a free online filing tool for those that qualify. By using this platform, you can access and prepare all the forms you’ll need for a pro se Chapter 7 case in a single, secure location.
Regardless of whether you’re eligible to use the free filing tool, you’ll be able to learn about the ins and outs of the pro se filing process on the Upsolve Learning Center. This platform features articles about bankruptcy and debt management that are written by attorneys. Some guides are geographically-specific and others are generally applicable. If you have a question about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can find answers, for free and without a login, on this Learning Center hub.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
When you stop by the nearest bankruptcy court to drop off your petition and/or request a waiver of your filing fee, you can pick up free printed material about the ins and outs of different types of bankruptcy. Even if you’ve already completed your initial paperwork, these guides can be helpful as you’re preparing for your meeting of creditors, dealing with debt collectors, 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
It’s possible to achieve a fresh start by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, provided that you’re eligible for this form of debt relief and that most of your debts are unsecured. As you seek a fresh financial start, you can either take advantage of free resources for pro se filers or you can work with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Each of these approaches can benefit you and your family in different ways. Ultimately, you should choose whichever option suits your unique needs.