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 Diego, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated March 26, 2021
If you are interested in eliminating debts by filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, you can choose to file your bankruptcy case without an attorney’s help. Although you can choose to work with a bankruptcy lawyer if you want to, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is straightforward enough that you can also opt to file on your own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Unless your financial situation is unusually complex or you own a small business, you won’t need to hire a bankruptcy attorney to help you seek debt relief under Chapter 7 unless you’d like some professional assistance. Essentially, all you need to successfully file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 is time, effort, financial records, access to reputable self-filing resources, and (if you aren’t eligible for a fee waiver) a court filing fee.
TheChapter 7 bankruptcy process is purposefully straightforward. While many areas of bankruptcy law (including Chapter 13, which is the other common consumer bankruptcy option) are complex, Chapter 7 is usually so easy to navigate that most eligible consumers can prepare and submit their bankruptcy petition without seeking professional legal advice. Why? Chapter 7 is only available to members of low-income households and bankruptcy courts recognize that qualifying individuals and married couples filing jointly are likely not in a position to afford an attorney when seeking bankruptcy protections.
If you’d prefer to enter into an attorney-client relationship to make the process of filing bankruptcy less stressful, you can do so at any time. Some people prefer to file bankruptcy on their own, while others like to let law offices take the lead. There is no single approach that is “best” for all filers. You’ll want to choose whichever path best suits your financial situation and general preferences.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you’re ineligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy because youearn too much income, you can explore filing forChapter 13 bankruptcy as an alternative. This bankruptcy approach is far more complex. As a result, you’ll want to work with a law firm experienced in the practice area of bankruptcy when filing. Because the majority of Chapter 7 petitions filed without an attorney’s assistance fail, it’s simply not a good idea to pursue this complex type of bankruptcy without professional guidance.
If the thought of hiring an attorney feels impossible under your current financial circumstances, know that you’ll likely be able to pay your attorneys’ fees through your Chapter 13 repayment plan. As a result, you’ll essentially be paying your legal bills with funds that might otherwise be sent to unsecured creditors anyway. Paying an attorney in this way is therefore often quite manageable.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you don’t earn much income and you’re interested in working with an attorney, you may be able to access legal services through a legal aid society. These non-profit organizations, located in San Diego and throughout the United States, allow members of low-income households to work with qualified attorneys for free when they are facing specific legal issues.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Legal aid services in large cities like San Diego tend to be in high demand much of the time. As a result, you may be placed on a waitlist if you choose to seek free professional assistance at one of these organizations. Additionally, you’ll likely be screened before you’re placed on the waitlist to ensure that you meet the organization’s eligibility criteria. These non-profits have limited operating budgets, so they’re usually strict about enforcing their eligibility limitations. If you’re approved for assistance, you’ll be able to work with a licensed attorney, one-on-one.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
When you contact a legal aid organization to put your name on its waitlist, you’ll want to ask about their eligibility criteria. Each organization has its own criteria, so you may be eligible for help with some non-profits and ineligible for assistance at others.
Many legal aid societies are funded in part by theLegal Services Corporation. These organizations are required, at minimum, to aid members of households that have an annual income that is less than 125% of the federal poverty line. However, even these organizations may employ additional eligibility criteria. As a result, it’s always a good idea to ask for details of a specific legal aid society’s approach when you connect with them.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Below, you’ll find the names, phone numbers, and additional contact information for legal aid societies in and around San Diego. It’s okay to put yourself on the waitlist for more than one organization to get in as quickly as you can. Just make sure to take your name off all waitlists once you’ve received legal help from any particular operation.
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
You can schedule a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer in your area, even if you think you’ll probably prepare your bankruptcy petition on your own. You don’t commit to anything when scheduling a consultation. This confidential, no-risk process will simply allow you to ask any questions you may have about garnishments, debt collector harassment, your meeting of creditors, and bankruptcy generally. Whether you choose to work with a law firm after a successful consultation with an attorney (not a paralegal or administrative staffer) is up to you.
To findreputable bankruptcy attorneys in your area, consider browsing the “find an attorney” feature on the website for the National Association for Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). You can alternatively find a licensed bankruptcy in your area through the California State Bar Association website.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you schedule an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney but ultimately feel that filing on your own is the best option for you, that always remains an option. Although filing “pro se” (without hiring a lawyer) isn’t the best choice for everyone, it might be the best approach for you. If you choose to file on your own, you’ll simply need to use reputable self-filing resources to ensure that your case is a success.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
One of the best places to find self-filing resources is on the Upsolve website. Upsolve is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income individuals and families file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Upsolve Learning Center contains hundreds of articles and guides related to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. These resources are available to the public for free, without a login, at any time.
Additionally, Upsolve provides a free web tool that allows eligible filers to prepare their bankruptcy petitions for free. This comprehensive, guided web tool makes the process of filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy as an individual as straightforward as possible. Note that this platform does not allow for joint filings at this time. This tool works best for filers navigating a “simple Chapter 7 case” that doesn’t require an attorney’s direct assistance.
Finally, Upsolve provides guides related to non-profit credit counseling, debt consolidation, debt management plans, and debt settlement within the Learning Center platform. Filing for bankruptcy isn’t the best debt relief option for everyone, so Upsolve strives to provide informed content related to bankruptcy alternatives for those debtors who can benefit from non-bankruptcy debt management approaches.
Self-Help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Bankruptcy courts also provide self-filing resources that can prove useful. You can pick these resources up at the nearest courthouse to your residence before you begin drafting your bankruptcy petition. If you’re only interested in guides related to the meeting of creditors, you can pick these up when you drop off your completed bankruptcy paperwork with the clerk.
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
If filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy will allow you to achieve a fresh financial start, it’s time to decide which bankruptcy approach may work best for your circumstances. If you choose to file on your own, you can use the many reputable self-help resources available to you. If you choose to work with an attorney, you can find a lawyer in your area who meets your needs. Both approaches have their benefits and potential drawbacks. It’s therefore important to choose the option that will most effectively allow you to reach your debt management goals.