This article will explore the type of legal aid available to LA residents looking for bankruptcy services and conclude with some guidance on when hiring a lawyer may be the right move.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated August 28, 2020
If I could pay $2,000 to a bankruptcy lawyer, I wouldn’t need bankruptcy! That’s a common sentiment among people struggling with too much debt and looking for a fresh start. Medical bills, car loans, credit card debt… All of it makes each month a delicate balance of making minimum payments only to be left without money to pay for necessities for too many. So the credit cards come out again.
It’s a stressful cycle to be in, even if you’re not facing repossession or wage garnishment, and the idea of having to pay a lawyer to get debt relief stops many low-income individuals from taking the first step towards a fresh start.
Free Credit Counseling
Credit counseling is a wonderful - and free - resource for anyone struggling with debt. Look for an accredited counseling agency to schedule your session with a credit counselor. Their job is to review your information with you and discuss your options.
Especially if you’ve been stressed about finances for a while, having a fresh set of eyes to look at your situation may just reveal a way to deal with your debt you didn’t realize you had. Plus, if you’ve been worried that filing bankruptcy is like giving up or failing (it’s not!), getting a recommendation from a trained counselor may help put things in perspective. These sessions are free and confidential - just make sure you sign up with a reputable agency - ideally one accredited by the Council on Accreditation.
Getting Free Legal Help
When you’re talking to a bankruptcy lawyer, their goal is to help you get a fresh financial start while also making a living. That’s why they have to charge for what they do. During the initial consultation, you should discuss your ability to pay their fees honestly. Sometimes, the person you’re speaking to will be able to give you legal advice on actions you can take to move forward with an attorney-client relationship without having to go into more debt (in the form of a personal loan from a family member or friend). If it’s clear that there is no way you can afford to pay for bankruptcy services, ask if they have information about pro bono legal services that may be available.
How The Type Of Bankruptcy May Impact Your Options
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is for people who can’t pay back any portion of their debt. That’s why there are income limits in effect. Chapter 13 bankruptcy, on the other hand, is for folks who make more than the income limits and have a regular income and involves a repayment plan. If you make too much money to qualify for Chapter 7 relief, getting free legal help will likely be tricky. Either way, free bankruptcy evaluations are generally offered for both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filers as most bankruptcy lawyers handle both practice areas. If you’re not sure whether your monthly income allows you to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, talking to a bankruptcy lawyer or local legal aid society is a great first step.
If you don’t want to rely on the internet to find a bankruptcy lawyer near you, consider reaching out to the state bar association, or one of the local bar associations like the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
Finding Legal Aid Near You
To make things a little easier, we’ve compiled the contact information for the legal aid organizations closest to you:
1735 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612
609 S. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido, CA 92025
1430 Franklin Street, Suite 103, Oakland, CA 94612
2115 Kern Street, Suite 1, Fresno, CA 93721
1040 Iowa Avenue, Suite 109, Riverside, CA 92507-2106
Free Bankruptcy Consultation with a Local Bankruptcy Lawyer
While it may seem hard to believe at first, most consumer bankruptcy attorneys in the United States will meet with you - for free - for an initial consultation. During this consultation, you can learn much about the bankruptcy process, the types of bankruptcy available, what goes into a bankruptcy petition, and what legal issues may arise under the bankruptcy law depending on your financial situation. This can be especially helpful if you own real estate or have a small business.
And - it’s free. Yes, the bankruptcy attorney does provide you with this free evaluation in the hopes that you establish an attorney client relationship with them to file bankruptcy. But you’re under no obligation to do so. Whether it’s a matter of not being able to afford the attorney’s fees, or a matter of simply not liking their personality or approach to things, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to the decision of whether to hire their law firm for legal help.
Scheduling a Free Consultation
To get the most out of your free consultation, do a little research before contacting a law firm. Most - but not all - consumer bankruptcy attorneys are either solo practitioners or members of a small firm. Often this means their most valuable source of new business is client referrals. Not expensive ads on park benches or billboards…
Ask yourself if you know anyone you know has recently gone through the bankruptcy process. If you’re comfortable, ask them about it and find out if they had a bankruptcy lawyer. If they did, ask how happy they were with the attorney-client relationship. If they were happy with how their bankruptcy case was handled, asked them for the contact information of their attorney.
Another way to find legal service providers in your area is a simple internet search. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys has a free attorney finder tool on their website. Also, although most state bar associations have rules about how lawyers can advertise their services, most bankruptcy lawyers have websites that try to educate anyone visiting the site on the bankruptcy process.
Approach it like you would any other big purchase. Compare the various attorneys and law firms near your and schedule an appointment for a free consultation with whoever looks best. If you don’t like the lawyer, but have decided it’s probably best to hire someone for legal help, schedule a free consultation with someone else. There’s no limit and nothing wrong with shopping around.
If you’re being hounded by debt collectors and think a bankruptcy filing may be right for you, don’t let the fear of attorney fees stop you from taking the next step. Ultimately, if you can’t afford even the bankruptcy court filing fee, you have options for free legal help.
Upsolve has empowered hundreds of people by providing them with a free online tool to prepare their bankruptcy forms. If you know that a bankruptcy filing under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is the best path towards debt relief for your family, check out our bankruptcy filing guide and video on how filing on your own works.