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 Honolulu, Hawaii.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
If you want to file bankruptcy but you’re worried about how much the process will cost in filing fees and attorneys’ fees, you can set that worry aside. If you don’t earn much money, you can request a filing fee waiver from the bankruptcy court and you can file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition without a lawyer’s help.
You’ll need to speak with a bankruptcy attorney if you file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code and unfortunately, there are few free bankruptcy lawyers around. Thankfully though, you can repay Chapter 13 legal fees as part of your 3-5 year consumer bankruptcy repayment plan.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
How is it possible that you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy successfully without hiring a law firm to help you? The courts have purposely made this specific debt relief option very easy to file. Not everyone is eligible to file under Chapter 7. If you earn a steady living above the median income for your state, you are permitted to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 but not Chapter 7. Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief is reserved for members of low-income households who don’t have the resources to pay down any significant amount of their debt over time. The courts reason that if a Chapter 7 filer can’t afford to pay creditors, they can’t afford to pay an attorney to help them with their case.
In a nutshell, filers can successfully prepare their bankruptcy cases without paying for legal advice because the courts intentionally keep this process simple. That isn’t to say that filing without a lawyer’s help is the best option for everyone. If you need assistance due to a disability or your financial situation is unusually complicated, by all means, speak with a lawyer. Similarly, if you own real estate other than your home, luxury property, or a small business, you’ll want to speak with an attorney. But unless your situation is out of the ordinary, know that if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, you can successfully prepare your case yourself.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you compare your household income to the eligibility limits outlined in the Chapter 7 Means Test and it turns out that you earn too much money to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7, consider Chapter 13 bankruptcy as an alternative. You’ll want to speak with a bankruptcy law office about filing for Chapter 13 relief regardless of how straightforward your finances are. The Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is famously complex and most filers who try to “DIY” Chapter 13 cases are ultimately unsuccessful. Thankfully, hiring an attorney for help with a Chapter 13 case is manageable because you can repay your legal fees over several years.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you need an attorney to help you with your Chapter 7 case – for any reason – you should check in with legal aid societies in Hawaii to see if you’re eligible for their free or low-cost legal services. As these nonprofits primarily exist to provide members of low-income households with access to knowledgeable legal assistance, you may find this research to be a great investment of your time and energy.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
In many ways, working with a legal aid society is just like working with a private bankruptcy law firm. You’ll develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a licensed lawyer as you work through the bankruptcy process. While filing bankruptcy, your lawyer will complete your forms, prepare you for your meeting of creditors, and respond to any violations of the automatic stay on the part of your creditors and debt collectors. If any unanticipated legal issues arise with your case, your lawyer will deal with them.
The main differences between working with a legal aid society and working with a private firm are that you’ll likely be screened for eligibility based on your income and you may be placed on a waitlist before you can begin working with your lawyer. Legal aid societies don’t have access to unlimited resources, so they use these steps to help manage the limited resources they do have access to.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Every civil legal aid society in the United States is unique. While most serve members of the community whose annual household income isn’t much higher than the federal poverty line (see the Legal Services Corporation website for an example of this eligibility model), this isn’t a universal “rule.” The best way to confirm whether you’re eligible for free or low-cost legal services from a nonprofit organization in your area is to contact that organization directly.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
A handy list of phone numbers and contact information for Hawaii-based legal aid societies can be found below. Don’t forget to ask each about expected wait times and eligibility criteria so that you can make informed decisions about your options.
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’re not eligible for assistance through legal aid, you may be unsure of whether you want to seek a fresh financial start by filing on your own or by hiring a private attorney. Alternatively, you may want to file on your own but you have some questions you’d like to ask a lawyer. In these cases, it’s important to know that you can schedule an initial consultation with a law firm, likely at no cost. Most firms that practice Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy offer free consultations to anyone that wants to take advantage of the opportunity.
Just like a free credit counseling session, an initial consultation with a law firm doesn’t obligate you to take any action or to work with those professionals moving forward. All you invest in a consultation setting is your time. Just make sure that you schedule a case evaluation with a lawyer, not a paralegal because paralegals aren’t permitted to give you legal advice.
To find a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Hawaii, try researching your options on any of these websites:
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
The Hawaii State Bar Association
Local bar associations
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Whether you attend a consultation at a law firm or not, if you choose to prepare your case on your own, you’ll be classified as a “pro se filer.” This classification simply alerts the court to the fact that you didn’t use an attorney’s services to prepare your case. Instead, you can use free, reputable online and print resources to prepare your bankruptcy petition successfully.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A great place to begin your Chapter 7 self-filing research is the Upsolve website. Upsolve is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals who are struggling with consumer debt. This organization is partially funded by Harvard University. On the Upsolve site, you’ll find two resources that may be able to help you file your Chapter 7 case more efficiently and effectively than you would otherwise.
First, you’ll want to take a few minutes to fill out the eligibility questionnaire for Upsolve’s free online filing tool. This no-cost resource allows pro se filers to access all of their bankruptcy forms in one place. If you’re filing a simple Chapter 7 case, you’ll be able to fill out these forms in a secure, easy-to-navigate format. This tool allows filers to feel confident that they’re filling their bankruptcy forms out correctly, which can be a big stress reliever.
Second, you’ll want to check out the Upsolve Learning Center hub for general and geographically-specific guides to the bankruptcy process written by attorneys. This platform also features articles about non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives. It is always free and is available to the public without a login.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also pick up printed resources about different types of bankruptcy at any local bankruptcy court location. You can pick up guides related to filing your paperwork before you begin working through your forms, or you can pick up guides related to the remainder of the bankruptcy process when you drop off your petition with the clerk.
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 you’re looking for a fresh start, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be a good option for you. This isn’t the best debt relief option for all financial circumstances. But if you have a lot of unsecured debt and your household income falls within Chapter 7 eligibility limits, it is an option worth exploring. If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can file successfully on your own – there are many resources available for free online and in print to assist you. Or you can work with an attorney. Both options are great options under different circumstances. It is up to you to choose the approach that best fits your family’s unique situation.