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 Santa Ana, California.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
Too often, individuals struggling with mounting credit card bills, medical debts, and other overdue accounts are led to believe that they “can’t afford” to file bankruptcy. In truth, filing for consumer bankruptcy is very manageable regardless of how much you earn and how much you owe.
Although it’s not easy to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer” outside of a legal aid setting, Chapter 13 filers can repay their legal fees over several years as part of their bankruptcy repayment plan. Bankruptcy is even more affordable for Chapter 7 filers, who can almost always file on their own without hiring a bankruptcy attorney in the first place.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Seeking debt relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is such a straightforward process because the bankruptcy courts purposefully keep it straightforward. Only consumers that are members of low-income households are allowed to benefit from Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The courts recognize that if these filers earn so little that they can’t be expected to repay their creditors, they likely don’t have the means to pay for legal advice. As a result, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing process is kept intentionally easy to navigate so that low-income filers can file successfully without hiring a lawyer to help them.
There are a few exceptions to this general rule. For example, if you own expensive assets – like a small business, real estate other than your home, and/or luxury property – you should seek an attorney’s advice before filing Chapter 7. Failure to do so could result in the loss of some of that expensive property. You may be better served by filing a different type of bankruptcy, but you won’t know for sure unless you speak with a lawyer. Additionally, it may be a good idea to seek legal advice if your situation is unusually complex or you don’t feel comfortable filling out paperwork without help.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
You’ll also want to speak with a lawyer if you earn too much money to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The primary bankruptcy alternative to filing under Chapter 7 is filing under Chapter 13. This option is available to virtually every consumer with a regular income, regardless of how much money they earn. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is very difficult to navigate successfully without an attorney’s help. Most filers who attempt to self-file under Chapter 13 not only fail, they end up in a worse financial position than when they filed.
Therefore, if you’re ineligible to file under Chapter 7, you’ll either want to speak with an attorney about filing under Chapter 13 or you’ll want to schedule a free credit counseling session to explore alternative debt relief options.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
The only places that Chapter 7 filers can reliably access a “free bankruptcy attorney” are legal aid societies. Depending on whether your situation meets the specific eligibility criteria used by an independent legal aid society, you may be able to access free or low-cost legal advice through that organization.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Some people shy away from legal aid societies because they have heard that they won’t receive quality representation through these organizations. If you hired a private law firm to prepare your bankruptcy case, you’d be given one-on-one attention from a licensed lawyer capable of assisting you with your bankruptcy petition. The same holds true for clients of legal aid societies.
The primary way that private law offices and legal aid societies differ is their funding. Lawyers in private practice charge for their legal services, as these fees fund the operation of their companies. By contrast, legal aid societies rely on donations and grants to fund their operations. As a result of their limited funding, legal aid societies usually screen potential clients for eligibility and may have to place new clients on waitlists before they can develop attorney-client relationships and receive assistance with their legal issues.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Most of the time, legal aid societies screen potential clients based on the amount of income that their households earn on an annual basis. This is the standard set by the Legal Services Corporation, which funds more civil legal aid societies in the United States than any other organization. However, each legal aid society operates independently. Therefore, you’ll want to connect with each organization directly, if you’re interested in becoming a client of a legal aid nonprofit. Each organization can confirm their eligibility criteria and expected wait times if you ask for this information.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
To connect with legal aid societies in Santa Ana and throughout Orange County, use the phone numbers and other contact information listed below.
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)
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’re not going to be working with a legal aid society, you may be unsure of whether you want to file on your own or hire an attorney. Conversely, you may want to save money by self-filing, but have questions about bankruptcy law that you’d like to ask a professional in-person. In either of these scenarios, you can schedule an initial consultation with a local bankruptcy lawyer without being obligated to work with that lawyer moving forward. Many firms offer free consultations to anyone interested in scheduling one.
If you’re interested in speaking with a lawyer in a free, no-risk, no obligation setting, search any of the following sites for local attorneys in your area who practice bankruptcy:
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
The California State Bar Association
Local, Orange County bar association sites
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you prepare your bankruptcy petition without hiring a lawyer or working with a legal aid society, the court will refer to you as a “pro se” filer. This is a Latin term that translates to acting in one’s own interest. Essentially, this term simply means that you’re choosing to represent yourself instead of having an attorney represent your interests for you.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Pro se filers often benefit from reading reputable articles online and in print that explain different aspects of the self-filing process. The nonprofit organization Upsolve provides free articles – written by lawyers – on its Learning Center educational site. Some of these articles discuss the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process generally, while other articles apply to filers who live in specific cities and states. Still other articles discuss Chapter 13 bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt management alternatives. You don’t need to create a login to access these guides – they are always free and available to anyone who wants to read them.
Additionally, the Upsolve site features a free online filing tool that assists eligible filers with accessing and filling out their required bankruptcy paperwork. If you’re self-filing a relatively simple Chapter 7 case, take a few minutes to see if you’re eligible to use the free filing tool. If the tool is a good fit for your case, it will take much of the guesswork out of the process of preparing your bankruptcy forms.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Printed bankruptcy guides can be picked up (at no charge) at any Southern California bankruptcy court. These guides cover a variety of subjects related to filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. For example, they can teach you how to request a waiver of your case filing fee and how to prepare for your meeting of creditors.
Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
2500 Tulare Street Fresno, CA 93721
Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
501 I Street Sacramento, CA 95814
1200 I Street
1200 I Street Modesto, CA 95354
Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse
255 East Temple Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
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
Phillip Burton United States Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102
Oakland City Center
1300 Clay Street Oakland, CA 94612
Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and United States Courthouse
280 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113
21041 Burbank Boulevard Woodland Hills, CA 91367
If the thought of a fresh financial start is appealing and most of your debts are unsecured, you may be in a good position to “reset” your finances using the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. If this debt relief option is the best way forward for you and your family, know that you have many resources to choose from that can help you to successfully navigate this process. Whether you choose to work with an attorney or use free, reputable materials to guide you through the approach of self-filing, you can potentially achieve the fresh start you’re looking for by filing bankruptcy.