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 Sacramento, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 10, 2020
Did you know that you don’t have to pay for legal help with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case if your financial situation isn’t unusually complicated? Too often, people seeking debt relief are hesitant to file bankruptcy because it’s not ordinarily possible to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer” unless you work with a legal aid society. Thankfully, the Chapter 7 process is so straightforward that many can “DIY” their bankruptcy case successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Why is the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process so straightforward that you can almost certainly prepare your own case without a lawyer’s help? Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a unique process that allows eligible debts to be eliminated in as little as 90 days. Because this debt relief option is so generous, it is only made available to members of low-income households. The courts understand that if you’re eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, you probably can’t afford an attorney’s help. Therefore, they keep this process purposefully straightforward so that you don’t have to incur legal fees to benefit from the fresh start that Chapter 7 can provide.
With that said, there may be circumstances under which consulting a bankruptcy attorney could benefit you. If you own a small business, you own unusually expensive property, or you own real estate other than your home, you might benefit from professional bankruptcy guidance. Similarly, if your schedule, a disability, or other unusual circumstances make filing on your own impractical, you can consult a bankruptcy law firm at any time. If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, take whichever approach works best for you.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you earn too much money to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can explore the other major consumer bankruptcy option offered throughout the United States: Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This process will allow you to reorganize your debt so that your monthly payments become manageable. If you stick to the terms of your repayment plan for 3-5 years, any eligible outstanding debt that remains will be discharged (as it would be at the end of a successful Chapter 7 case).
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Private bankruptcy law offices rarely offer their services pro bono (for free) because legal fees keep those offices operational. However, legal aid societies are non-profit organizations largely funded by donations and grants. Therefore, they have the ability to offer free and low-cost legal services to members of low-income households.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
In many ways, working with a legal aid society is like working with a private law firm. You’ll be asked questions about your legal issues and goals. You’ll develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a licensed lawyer. You’ll be kept “in the loop” regarding how your case preparation is progressing.
The major differences between being a client at a legal aid society and being a client of a private law firm involve resources. Because legal aid societies are non-profits and their funding is precious, they can’t always serve their clients immediately. After being screened for eligibility, you’ll likely be placed on a waiting list before an attorney will be able to meet with you and begin work on your case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Eligibility guidelines for free or low-cost legal services vary from aid organization to aid organization. As a result, you’ll want to call each of the legal aid societies in your area to confirm whether you qualify for assistance and ask about wait times.
Note however, that most legal aid societies screen primarily on the basis of income. If your annual household income is close to the federal poverty line, you’ll likely qualify for services. If an organization you’re interested in working with receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation, you’ll almost certainly qualify for assistance, provided that your annual household income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
You can use the contact information listed below (phone numbers, addresses, etc.) to connect with legal aid societies in your area. Remember that each has unique eligibility criteria and wait times, so you should “shop around” before scheduling an initial consultation with your top choice.
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 whether you’d like to work with a lawyer or try filing on your own, you can request a case evaluation from a law firm that practices bankruptcy. Most firms offer free consultations to anyone exploring their legal options. These consultations are both confidential and risk-free, as attending a consultation doesn’t obligate you to work with an attorney on your case. When you schedule a consultation, confirm that you’ll be meeting with a lawyer, not a paralegal, as paralegals are not empowered to give legal advice.
To find a licensed bankruptcy attorney who practices in Sacramento, consider browsing the websites of local bar associations or the California State Bar Association. Alternatively, you can check out the “find an attorney” page on the NACBA website. Membership in the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys is exclusive to bankruptcy lawyers who practice Chapter 7 and/or Chapter 13, so this site is a great place to start.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you’ve already done some research about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, you’ve likely come across the term “pro se.” This term (which comes from the Latin for “in/on one’s own behalf”) is used to refer to filers who prepare their bankruptcy petitions without a bankruptcy attorney’s help. There are many great resources available, online and in print, that pro se filers can access at no cost.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Many free resources for pro se filers can be found on Upsolve’s Learning Center platform. This hub – which is available to the public at no-cost and without a login – features articles and guides written by attorneys. Most of these pieces are about Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but there are also many related to non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives, including debt consolidation and debt settlement. Pro se filers can also learn all about bankruptcy law, how to fill out their bankruptcy forms, and how to navigate each step of the bankruptcy process.
Additionally, the Upsolve site features a free filing tool. This resource can help pro se filers of “simple cases” access and complete their bankruptcy forms in a secure, centralized platform. Tracking down bankruptcy forms and figuring out how to fill them out properly can be a pain. Eligible filers can avoid these headaches by using the Upsolve free filing tool.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’d like to supplement online research with printed material, head over to the nearest Sacramento-area bankruptcy court. During business hours, you can pick up free guides about different types of bankruptcy. You can learn about topics including:
Requesting a waiver of your filing fee
Preparing for your upcoming meeting of creditors
Responding to violations of theautomatic stay by debt collectors
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
There are many debt relief options available to Americans who are struggling to pay their creditors. Filing bankruptcy isn’t the best option for every situation. If you’d like to learn about all of your options, you can schedule a free credit counseling session. However, if you’ve already determined that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best way for your family to achieve a fresh financial start, know that filing pro se and filing with the assistance of an attorney are both valid options. Each approach will allow you to navigate your consumer bankruptcy case successfully.
If you choose to file pro se, make sure to take advantage of reputable, no-cost resources that will make this process quicker and less stressful for you. Several resources available through Upsolve take the guesswork out of the pro se filing process, which makes Upsolve’s site a great place to begin your research.