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 Washington D.C.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
Many Americans are surprised to learn that they can successfully file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without hiring an attorney. The process of achieving a fresh start through Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is conveniently straightforward.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Whether you’re having a hard time making ends meet while submitting credit card payments on time or you have so many creditors calling that you’ve stopped answering the phone, filing for bankruptcy may be a good option for you. Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t the right debt relief solution for every debt-related problem. However, if you don’t earn much income and your debt is overwhelming your financial situation, it is an option worth considering. Thankfully, it is a relatively straightforward process. Therefore, if your finances aren’t unusually complex, you can choose to file on your own to save money, instead of hiring an attorney to prepare your case.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you’re ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because you earn too much money to pass the Chapter 7 Means Test, you’ll want to speak with a bankruptcy attorney about the possibility of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This process is complex and requires a lawyer’s guidance. However, paying for a lawyer to help with a Chapter 13 case is usually very manageable, despite the time it takes to put a Chapter 13 case together. Attorneys’ fees often become part of the filer’s 3-5 year repayment plan. As a result, lawyers are paid using funds that are earmarked for unsecured creditor repayments, no matter what.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If filing on your own isn’t the best option for you, you may be able to access legal services for free through a local legal aid society. These organizations provide legal assistance to members of low-income households.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Imagine a law office that is deeply devoted to its clients but struggles to maintain enough funding to meet demand. This is, essentially, what walking into a legal aid society feels like. If you qualify to work with a bankruptcy lawyer that is either employed by or volunteers at a legal aid society, you may be placed on a waiting list before you can develop an attorney-client relationship. This is simply because legal aid services are generally in great demand and not all individuals who meet an organization’s eligibility criteria can receive quality legal services all at once.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The best way to learn about the eligibility criteria enforced by any particular legal aid society is to contact them. Some organizations list criteria on their websites, but you may have to call others to clarify eligibility restrictions. Generally speaking, legal aid organizations serve low-income households. For example, societies funded in-part by the Legal Services Corporation must, at minimum, make their services available to members of households that earn less than 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
There are a number of legal aid societies located in the “lawyer capital of the United States,” Washington, D.C. You can use the phone numbers and other contact information below to connect with them. Make sure that you meet their eligibility criteria before making an appointment.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia
64 New York Avenue, NE Ste 180, Washington, DC 20002
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Whether you want to file on your own or you’re hoping to have a bankruptcy attorney prepare your case on your behalf, you can take advantage of an initial consultation. This process serves as a case evaluation that doesn’t obligate you to work with an attorney moving forward or to file for bankruptcy at any time. Most bankruptcy attorneys that practice Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations, so that you can schedule a one-time meeting to ask questions about bankruptcy law, debt collectors, and any other legal issues at no cost.
To begin researching local bankruptcy attorneys, consider connecting with local bar associations. If you live outside of the district, state bar associations can be helpful as well. Another great resource is the NACBA website. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys has a page on its site devoted to helping consumers find local licensed bankruptcy attorneys.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Unless you own a small business or have a particularly complex financial situation (or other extraordinary circumstances), you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own without an attorney’s help (“pro se”). This approach isn’t the best option for all filers, but it can be an excellent way to save money and file bankruptcy successfully at the same time.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you choose to file pro se, you’ll want to take advantage of some of the many reputable resources available that are designed to help self-filers navigate the bankruptcy process successfully. For example, Upsolve has developed a free web tool that allows filers of “simple cases” to prepare their bankruptcy forms in a secure, online platform. Although the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is straightforward, keeping track of all the paperwork involved in filing isn’t always the easiest process. This resource allows eligible filers to complete the case preparation process in a streamlined, easy to use way.
Regardless of whether you qualify to use Upsolve’s free web tool, you can always access self-filing guides and other debt management resources on the Upsolve Learning Center. The Learning Center portal is always free and is accessible by the public without a login. This platform features articles that can help both self-filers and anyone interested in learning more about their debt management options.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’d like to reference printed material as you’re preparing your bankruptcy petition, you can pick up free guides at Washington D.C. area bankruptcy courts. You can pick them up before you begin your bankruptcy case or other points in the bankruptcy process. For example, you can grab guides before your meeting of creditors or before you request a filing fee waiver.
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue Washington, DC 20001
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can serve as a brave step toward achieving a fresh financial start. Although filing bankruptcy is not the best debt relief option for all circumstances, it may be the best option available for your financial situation. If you’re unsure of whether you should file for bankruptcy or not, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session with a Washington D.C. area accredited non-profit credit counseling agency. A credit counselor can help you decide which debt relief options will best serve your financial goals.
If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can file either pro se or with the assistance of a consumer bankruptcy law firm. There is no “right” way to file bankruptcy. Filers can be just as successful obtaining legal advice from a bankruptcy attorney as they can filing pro se. Whichever approach you prefer is the “right” one for you.