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 Miami, Florida.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 15, 2020
Too often, people shy away from filing bankruptcy because they believe they can’t afford legal advice. It’s not easy to find a free bankruptcy lawyer beyond those that work and volunteer at legal aid societies. However, most members of low-income households can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on their own, without hiring a bankruptcy attorney. If filing bankruptcy is the best option for your financial situation, don’t let legal expenses stand in the way of exploring your options.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
If you’re just beginning to research the different types of bankruptcy, you may not yet be familiar with the two main consumer bankruptcy options: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. If you don’t own a small business, you’ll likely be filing for relief under one of these two chapters of the Bankruptcy Code. If you make a steady, reasonable income or you own lots of real estate and expensive property, you’ll probably want to file under Chapter 13. However, if you don’t earn much income, you’ll probably be better off filing under Chapter 7.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows low-income filers to have their eligible debts discharged in as little as 90 days. By contrast, Chapter 13 filers can only have their remaining eligible debts discharged after completing a 3-5 year repayment plan successfully. The Chapter 7 process is also far simpler than the Chapter 13 process is. In fact, most Chapter 7 filers can successfully prepare and file their bankruptcy cases without the assistance of a bankruptcy law firm. Unless your financial situation is unusually complex, you should be able to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without help, if you’d like to save money on legal fees.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a debt relief option exclusively available to individual and married consumers who earn very little income. If you want to file bankruptcy but your income exceeds the Chapter 7 eligibility limits, consider scheduling an initial consultation with a bankruptcy law office. Receiving a case evaluation (which most attorneys offer for free) will empower you to make an informed decision about whether filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a good alternative for you.
Don’t panic about affording fees associated with a Chapter 13 case. You can pay these fees back over 3-5 years through manageable bankruptcy repayment plan installments. Working with an attorney on a Chapter 13 case is a worthwhile investment. This process is very complex and, unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, is unlikely to be successful without professional assistance.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of preparing your bankruptcy petition on your own, you may want to look into legal aid societies based in Miami. Especially if you earn very little money, you may be eligible for free or low-cost legal services through one of these civil nonprofit legal organizations.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
A staff or licensed volunteer legal aid lawyer can help you with your legal issues if you’re eligible for assistance through a legal aid society. If you’re accepted as a client, you’ll be paired with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about bankruptcy law. As you develop an attorney-client relationship in a one-on-one capacity, you’ll work together to prepare your case for success.
Be prepared to spend a little time on a waitlist, if you’re interested in becoming a legal aid client. These organizations tend to be underfunded, so they can’t always accommodate each client’s needs immediately. Once you’re screened for eligibility, make sure to ask how long it will take before you can begin the bankruptcy process with your legal aid lawyer.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Every nonprofit organization, like every private business, approaches its daily operations in unique ways. Yes, most civil legal aid societies screen potential clients based on their income level, but this approach isn’t universal. For example, some legal aid societies offer services exclusively to immigrant and migrant communities. Others, like those who are partially funded by the Legal Services Corporation, screen potential clients based on annual household income relative to the federal poverty line. Each organization is different, so make sure to confirm eligibility criteria before scheduling a consultation.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Phone numbers and additional contact information for civil legal aid societies in and near Miami can be found below. Make sure to ask about both eligibility criteria and waitlist times when you contact any organization that you’re interested in working with.
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
If you’re not sure about whether you’d like to work with an attorney or file on your own, that’s okay. It’s also okay if you’re not sure about whether filing for bankruptcy is the best option for you. There are two resources you can take advantage of that will help you to make an informed decision about your options. First, you can schedule a free credit counseling session. This opportunity will allow a credit counselor to craft a personalized debt action plan for you, after reviewing the details of your financial situation.
Second, you can schedule a case evaluation with a bankruptcy attorney, even if you think you’ll probably file on your own. Find a consumer bankruptcy law firm that offers free consultations and set up a meeting with an attorney (not a paralegal). Attending this meeting is a no-risk situation, as you won’t be obligated to work with the firm moving forward if you don’t want to. If your friends and family don’t have an attorney recommendation for you, check out these websites to find a local bankruptcy law firm:
The Florida State Bar Association
Miami-area bar associations
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you decide that you don’t need to work with a lawyer to prepare your case successfully, know that you’ll still have access to knowledgeable information about the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. There are many resources available that help “pro se” filers prepare their cases. A pro se filer is someone who prepares their case without an attorney’s help.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A great place to begin learning about how to prepare your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on your own is the Upsolve website. Upsolve, which is a nonprofit organization funded by generous donors, like Harvard University, offers a few valuable resources for pro se filers. First, there’s the free Upsolve filing tool. This online resource allows filers to prepare their bankruptcy forms on a secure platform, as long as their cases are “simple.” This resource provides access to necessary bankruptcy forms, no matter where in the United States eligible filers live. Having easy access to necessary forms takes much of the work out of filing pro se.
Second, there’s the Upsolve Learning Center. This information hub features hundreds of articles and guides written by lawyers who are knowledgeable about the bankruptcy process. If you have a question about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can almost certainly find an answer here. This hub, which is available for free and without a login, also provides valuable information for anyone struggling with debt. From reporting debt collector harassment to consolidating credit card debt, you can learn how to respond to virtually any consumer debt situation you may be facing by exploring the Learning Center.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also pick up printed information about bankruptcy at no cost if you stop by any local bankruptcy court during business hours. Even if you don’t swing by a bankruptcy court until you drop off your bankruptcy petition, you can still benefit from reading some of this information. Keep an eye out for guides related to preparing for your meeting of creditors and completing your second financial education requirement.
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
There is no “preferable” way to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you’ve decided that this is the best debt relief option for you and your family, you can navigate the process successfully with or without a lawyer’s help. Both approaches can help you to achieve the fresh financial start that you require. If you file pro se, there are many reputable resources available to help you achieve your goals. Ultimately, you should choose whichever option makes the most sense for your financial situation.