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 Jacksonville, Florida.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
Did you know that you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without hiring a lawyer? You can work with an attorney to file your bankruptcy petition if you prefer to have professional guidance. However, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is famously straightforward. If you want to file on your own, you can do so successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
The Bankruptcy Code only allows individuals and families who don’t earn much money to file for bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7. In recognition of the fact that most low-income households can’t afford to hire an attorney, the courts keep the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing process purposefully straightforward. As a result, most low-income filers who don’t own small businesses, don’t own luxury property, and don’t have unusually complex financial circumstances can file for bankruptcy relief successfully on their own.
Not everyone prefers to file on their own, even if their situation isn’t complex or subject to unusual circumstances. Some filers prefer to minimize their personal stress by allowing an attorney to do the legal “heavy lifting” on their behalf. There is no right or wrong way to approach filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You can choose to file on your own or to hire an attorney. Both approaches are equally valid options.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
While Chapter 7 bankruptcy is pretty straightforward, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is not. When filers petition the court for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, they are required to submit a repayment plan for their debt. This plan, which may result in the partial or complete repayment of a filer’s debt, lasts between 3-5 years. Constructing a repayment plan without an attorney’s help too often proves to be disastrous. Therefore, if you’re ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll want to speak with an attorney who can help you with a Chapter 13 case.
Note that you’ll likely be able to integrate your attorneys’ fees into your repayment plan. That way, you’ll pay back your attorney over time, via funds that would otherwise be earmarked for payment to creditors regardless.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re anxious about navigating Chapter 7 bankruptcy legal issues on your own but you can’t afford to work with a bankruptcy lawyer, check out legal aid societies located in and around Jacksonville. These organizations provide free legal advice to members of households that don’t earn much income.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Most of the time, when you call to make an appointment with a doctor or a dentist, you’re screened to make sure that you have health insurance coverage accepted by the office. Then, if the office’s services are in high demand, you’re scheduled out days, weeks, or even months before you can receive care. Working with legal aid is a lot like this scenario. You’ll be screened to make sure you meet the organization’s eligibility criteria. You may then be placed on a waitlist before you can receive legal services.
Once it’s your turn to receive help, you’ll meet one-on-one with a bankruptcy attorney employed by legal aid. You’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with that individual, just as you would if you worked with a law firm that specializes (at least, in part) in the practice area of bankruptcy.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid organizations are private operations. Therefore, they are empowered to set virtually whatever eligibility criteria they like. You can clarify a specific organization’s eligibility criteria by calling them or connecting with them online.
You can generally expect that eligibility for legal aid services will be tied to your household income. For example, legal aid societies funded in-part by the Legal Services Corporation are required to provide, at minimum, assistance to members of households that earn less than 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
You can use the phone numbers and other contact information listed below to connect with legal aid societies in and around Jacksonville.
Bay Area Legal Services, Inc.
1302 N. 19th Street, Suite 400, Tampa, FL 33605
Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Inc.
491 North State Road 7, Plantation, FL 33317
Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc.
128 Orange Avenue, Suite 300, Daytona Beach, FL 32114-4310
Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc.
1321 E. Memorial Boulevard, Lakeland, FL 33801
Legal Services of North Florida, Inc.
2119 Delta Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32303-4209
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
One of the resources you can take advantage of, regardless of whether you’re filing on your own or hoping to hire an attorney, is an initial consultation with a lawyer employed at a private law office. Most consumer bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings don’t obligate debtors to work with the law offices offering their initial thoughts on a case, nor do they obligate debtors to file bankruptcy. Consultations are simply a forum to ask questions at no cost and to receive answers from a legal professional, not a paralegal.
To find an experienced attorney who practices bankruptcy law in Jacksonville or a surrounding community, you can search the Florida State Bar Association website or local bar association resources. Alternatively, you can go to the “find an attorney” page on theNACBA site. The NACBA is the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and this organization is widely respected in the legal community.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to prepare your bankruptcy case without an attorney’s help, you’ll be filing “pro se.” You may see this term appear in some of the many resources available that are designed to help self-filers of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Although you’ll need to turn in a printed bankruptcy petition to the court, you can prepare your forms online and print your completed work, instead of reporting the details of your financial situation by hand. Upsolve provides a secure, streamlined platform for filers to prepare their petitions. This online tool is completely free and available to eligible low-income filers. While there are some limitations on who can use the tool (it can’t be used for joint filings, users must meet income thresholds, etc.) those who access it can prepare their petitions in a secure, easy-to-use, guided format.
Regardless of whether you’re eligible to use Upsolve’s online bankruptcy petition preparation tool, you can always access hundreds of articles on Upsolve’s Learning Center at no cost and without a login. Upsolve is always adding content to its non-profit Learning Center platform. Here, you can find material on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, filing pro se, managing credit card debt, securing free credit counseling, and a host of other helpful topics.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you find printed self-help material to be handy, you can pick up self-help filing resources at a bankruptcy court in Jacksonville. The court usually provides materials related to filing bankruptcy pro se, preparing for a meeting of creditors, requesting a waiver of one’s filing fee, halting garnishments, types of bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy process generally.
Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse
300 North Hogan Street Jacksonville, FL 32202
George C. Young United States Courthouse
400 West Washington Street Orlando, FL 32801
Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse
801 North Florida Avenue Tampa, FL 33602
United States Courthouse and Federal Building
2110 First Street Fort Myers, FL 33901
C. Clyde Atkins United States Courthouse
301 North Miami Avenue Miami, FL 33128
The Flagler Waterview Building
1515 North Flagler Drive West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Winston E. Arnow Federal Building
100 North Palafox Street Pensacola, FL 32502
Americans have access to many different debt relief options. Filing bankruptcy isn’t the best option for everyone. However, it can be an excellent way to achieve a fresh financial start under certain circumstances. If you’ve decided that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best option for you and your family, there are many resources available to help you navigate this process. You can hire an attorney, work with a legal aid society, or use various printed and electronic resources to file on your own. Whatever you choose, opt for the path that is right for you.