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 Atlanta, Georgia.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 27, 2020
Too often, Americans resist filing for bankruptcy because they believe they can’t afford to. If you don’t earn much money, you may be able to file bankruptcy for free. True, there are few “free bankruptcy lawyers” in the United States beyond those who offer their services through legal aid societies. However, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is so straightforward that most filers can prepare their bankruptcy petitions without a lawyer’s assistance. If you file on your own and obtain a waiver of your filing fee, you can – truly – file for bankruptcy at no cost.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Individuals who don’t own small businesses generally file for bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Filing successfully under Chapter 13 requires a lawyer’s help. However, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief generally does not. Why? Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires filers to create a debt repayment plan and to stick to that plan for 3-5 years before their remaining eligible debts can be discharged. This process is complex. Attempting to prepare a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan without professional assistance usually leads to the failure of that plan.
By contrast, the Chapter 7 process is kept purposefully straightforward. Only members of low-income households are permitted to take advantage of Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The courts understand that if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, you probably can’t afford an attorney’s services. As a result, the courts keep this process so straightforward that – unless you own particularly expensive property or are affected by unique circumstances – you can prepare your bankruptcy paperwork without professional help.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
It is because the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is so much more complex than the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process that you’ll want to speak with an attorney if you earn too much money to file for relief under Chapter 7. If you try to file a Chapter 13 case on your own and your repayment plan fails, you’ll end up in a worse financial position than you’re in right now.
If you’re worried about paying for an attorney’s help with a Chapter 13 case, don’t panic. You’ll be able to treat your attorney as a creditor and integrate at least a portion of their fees into your repayment plan. As a result, you’ll be able to pay down your legal bills over time, in manageable amounts, using funds that would probably have been sent to your other creditors anyway.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
The only widely available way to access free or low-cost legal services for a bankruptcy case is through a legal aid society. These non-profits provide members of low-income households access to licensed attorneys at little or no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Each legal aid society is a unique operation. Some are large, some are small. Some are well-funded, while others are financially overstretched. In general, legal aid societies operate much in the ways law offices do. Just as they would if they worked with a private law firm, clients of legal aid societies develop one-on-one attorney-client relationships with licensed lawyers.
The major difference between working with a private firm and a non-profit is that legal aid societies often need to put clients on waiting lists (after they have been screened for eligibility) before they can access legal advice. This is simply because nonprofits don’t have endless sources of revenue available, which makes waiting lists a necessity when services are in high demand.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Every legal aid society screens potential clients in their own ways. Because nonprofits don’t have endless resources at their disposal, they are forced to limit the demographics they serve. Most of the time, potential clients are screened based on income level. For example, if you work with an organization that receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation, you’ll almost certainly qualify for free or low-cost assistance if your annual household income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line. The best way to determine whether you qualify for a specific organization’s services is to contact them and ask to be screened for eligibility.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
There are a number of legal aid societies in the Atlanta area. Use the phone numbers and/or alternative contact information listed below to learn about whether you’re eligible for assistance through any of these non-profit organizations.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If all of these options seem overwhelming and you’re not sure what steps you should take next, consider the following two courses of action:
1. Schedule a free credit counseling session. A credit counselor will, after learning about your financial situation, create a personalized debt management plan on your behalf. They may or may not suggest filing bankruptcy as a good debt relief option for you.
2. Schedule an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney. Most consumer bankruptcy attorneys will offer you a free consultation if you’re interested in learning more about filing bankruptcy. Taking this meeting won’t obligate you to work with that attorney moving forward.
If the idea of meeting with an attorney at no cost appeals to you, you can find an attorney in your area by searching the websites of any of the following organizations:
Local bar associations, like the Atlanta Bar Association
The Georgia State Bar Association
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to prepare your case on your own (without entering into an attorney-client relationship), you will be referred to by the court as a “pro se” filer. The term pro se is Latin and means, “in/on one’s own behalf.” If you choose to file pro se, you’ll want to take advantage of free resources available for self-filers. Some of these resources can be found online and others are made available in print at bankruptcy courts across Georgia.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A great place to begin your online research into the pro se bankruptcy process is the Upsolve website. Upsolve offers afree web tool to filers of “simple Chapter 7 cases.” This resource allows eligible filers to access all the forms they need to file bankruptcy and instructions for how to fill those forms out. This secure platform takes much of the stress and guesswork out of preparing bankruptcy paperwork pro se.
Additionally, the Upsolve Learning Center features hundreds of articles and guides that can be useful to anyone struggling to manage their debt. From information on credit card debt consolidation to halting wage garnishments, the Learning Center platform provides a wealth of information for free and without a login. Pro se Chapter 7 filers can also find both general and geographically specific guides to every aspect of the bankruptcy process. All information on the Learning Center is written by attorneys, which allows readers to trust that what they’re reading is accurate.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Printed self-filing resources can be picked up during business owners at any local bankruptcy court. Even if you use the Upsolve filing tool to prepare your forms online, you can still benefit from reading information about your upcoming meeting of creditors, holding debt collectors accountable for violations of the automatic stay, bankruptcy law in general, etc. Check these guides out either in advance of preparing your case or when you drop off your paperwork with the clerk.
Richard B. Russell Federal Building and United States Courthouse
75 Ted Turner Drive Atlanta, GA 30303
Lewis R. Morgan Federal Building and United States Courthouse
18 Greenville Street Newnan, GA 30263
One Arsenal Place
901 Front Avenue Columbus, GA 31901
433 Cherry Street
433 Cherry Street Macon, GA 31201
Federal Justice Center - The Plaza Building
600 James Brown Boulevard Augusta, GA 30901
Tomochichi United States Courthouse
125 Bull Street Savannah, GA 31401
Frank M. Scarlett Federal Building
801 Gloucester Street Brunswick, GA 31520
Under certain circumstances, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can provide a fresh financial start for people struggling with debt. If filing bankruptcy can help you to stabilize your finances and address other legal issues (including collections-related legal action), know that you can either file pro se or work with an attorney. Each approach has benefits and potential drawbacks, so it’s important to prepare your case in whatever way makes sense for you and your unique circumstances. If you choose to file pro se, remember that there are lots of resources available to help you navigate this option successfully.