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 Riverside, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
It isn’t easy to find a bankruptcy attorney who will take over a case at no charge. Understandably, private law firms have to charge most (if not all) of their clients to keep their businesses operational. Legal aid societies provide some community members with access to a free bankruptcy lawyer, but it can be hard to get legal advice from these nonprofits quickly. Thankfully, if you don’t earn much money, you may not even need a lawyer to successfully prepare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
How is it possible that most Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers don’t need to pay for legal services to file their bankruptcy petitions successfully? Unlike other forms of consumer bankruptcy, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is famously straightforward and easy to navigate. Whether you’re filing bankruptcy as an individual or you and your spouse are filing jointly, you should be able to prepare your case without the assistance of a bankruptcy law office unless you:
Are a small business owner
Own unusually valuable luxury property
Own multiple pieces of real estate
Have a disability that makes self-filing impractical
Are otherwise affected by extraordinary circumstances or unusually complex finances
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is not complex because it is a debt relief option only made available to members of low-income households. The courts reason that consumers who don’t have the means to pay their debts can’t afford legal help. So, they purposefully keep the Chapter 7 process so straightforward that eligible filers can usually file on their own without a problem. By contrast, the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is very complex. Chapter 13 filers are required to successfully repay their debts in manageable monthly installments over 3-5 years. Creating a repayment plan is complicated and requires an attorney’s assistance.
If you can’t file under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, don’t panic about affording an attorney’s help with a Chapter 13 case. You’ll be permitted to repay your attorneys’ fees as part of your manageable overall debt repayment plan. Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy help filers to achieve a fresh start – they just achieve this goal through different means.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
It may be possible to get free or low-cost help with a Chapter 7 case through a local legal aid society. These legal nonprofit organizations usually provide services to low-income members of the community – regardless of employment status, immigration status, etc.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
The first thing you’ll need to do if you’re interested in having a legal aid society help you with your legal issues is submit to an eligibility screening. Legal nonprofit organizations usually have limited resources, so they ask potential clients to provide some personal information before determining whether they’re eligible for free or low-cost assistance.
If you’re approved for services through a legal aid organization, you may be placed on a waitlist before you can meet with your attorney if the organization’s services are in high demand. Once your lawyer is free to begin work on your case, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with that professional in a one-on-one capacity, just like you would if you worked with a private firm.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Just like private businesses do, legal aid societies operate independently. Although many follow the eligibility standard set by the Legal Services Corporation, some employ other eligibility criteria with which to screen potential clients. The LSC eligibility standard holds that legal aid organizations that receive LSC funding must provide services to (at a minimum) members of the community whose annual household income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line. As a result, you’ll want to contact any legal aid society you’re interested in working with and ask their staff directly whether you qualify for assistance at their location.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
The phone numbers, addresses, and additional relevant contact information for civil legal aid societies located in and near Riverside can be found below. When you call any legal aid society of your choice, make sure to confirm their eligibility criteria, estimated wait times, and that they handle bankruptcy law cases.
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
If you’re unsure of which type of bankruptcy you should file or if you’re unsure of whether filing for bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for your situation, you can take advantage of two educational opportunities at no cost. First, you can schedule a free credit counseling session with a Riverside County accredited, nonprofit credit counseling agency. After assessing your financial situation, a credit counselor will provide you with a personalized action plan to manage your debt and reach your financial goals. Their recommendations may include filing for bankruptcy.
Second, you can schedule an initial consultation with a local bankruptcy attorney. When you’re researching local bankruptcy firms on the NACBA website, the State Bar of California website, or local bar association websites, make sure to choose one that offers free consultations.
A consultation is a no-risk setting in which you can receive a case evaluation from an attorney (not a paralegal, as they can’t give legal advice) without becoming obligated to work with that lawyer moving forward. You have nothing to lose by attending a consultation other than a little bit of your time and energy but you’ll gain the ability to ask a lawyer questions at no cost.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
“Pro se” is a term that you may come across when researching the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. It is Latin for “in/on one’s own behalf.” This term is used when referencing filers who choose to prepare their bankruptcy cases without an attorney’s assistance.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you like the idea of saving money by filing pro se but you feel uncomfortable filing without guidance, know that there are many free resources available for self-filers both online and in print. Upsolve, which is a nonprofit organization funded by generous donors like Harvard University, provides free access to a few valuable tools created by lawyers. These resources are both reputable and easy to understand.
First, Upsolve offers a free online filing tool for eligible pro se Chapter 7 filers. If you’re filing a simple case, consider taking a few minutes to see whether you’re eligible to use the tool. If you are, you can use it to find all the bankruptcy forms that the court requires. You can also use this secure, no-cost platform to fill your bankruptcy forms out. Preparing bankruptcy paperwork correctly is arguably the most stressful part of self-filing. The Upsolve free filing tool removes the guesswork from this process.
Second, Upsolve offers an educational hub that is free to the public and is available without a login. The Upsolve Learning Center features articles and guides about every aspect of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, as well as articles about Chapter 13 bankruptcy and other debt relief alternatives. When questions arise during your self-filing process, chances are that you’ll find answers in one of the many free articles written by lawyers that are always available on this platform.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Did you know that United States bankruptcy courts also provide free information about the different types of bankruptcy? If you head to any local bankruptcy court during business hours, you can pick up printed bankruptcy information at no charge. You can use this information to learn about your upcoming meeting of creditors, whether you qualify for a waiver of your case filing fee, how debt collectors must behave once you’re protected by the automatic stay, 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
Some people shy away from filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because they are embarrassed about having credit card debt, medical debt, etc. When you choose to file bankruptcy, you aren’t doing anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, you are taking control of your financial situation so that your family can benefit from a fresh financial start. Once that fresh start has been achieved, you can tend to your basic needs and build a strong financial foundation. That is a commendable, responsible course of action.
That isn’t to say that filing for bankruptcy is the best solution for all financial challenges. You’ll need to carefully assess your financial circumstances before committing to this – or any other – course of action. If filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best option for your family, know that you can successfully file either on your own or with an attorney’s help. Neither option is “right or wrong.” You can and should choose whichever approach makes the most sense for you uniquely.