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 New Orleans, Louisiana
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
If anxiety about affording legal advice is holding you back from filing for bankruptcy, know that you can take a deep, relaxing breath. Free bankruptcy lawyers are hard to find unless you qualify for legal services through a legal aid society. However, Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers can repay a law firm as part of a 3-5 year bankruptcy repayment plan. Even better? Many Chapter 7 filers can successfully prepare their bankruptcy cases without a lawyer’s help.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
How is it possible that you can prepare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case without paying a bankruptcy law office for assistance? Bankruptcy courts keep this process purposefully straightforward enough for non-lawyers to navigate successfully for one simple reason: This debt relief option is only available to low-income filers. Unlike Chapter 13 bankruptcy – which is a consumer bankruptcy option available regardless of a filer’s income level – Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to those consumers who earn so little that they can’t be expected to pay down their unsecured debts.
If the courts can’t expect Chapter 7 filers to repay their creditors, they can’t expect them to afford legal fees either. As a result, the Chapter 7 process has been constructed so that filers can successfully file bankruptcy without paying for legal help.
Some filers choose to work with an attorney because their financial situation is unusually complex or, for whatever reason, they just don’t feel comfortable filling out legal paperwork without guidance. In such cases, working with an attorney can be a good investment. Similarly, if you’re thinking about filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and you own real estate other than your home, a small business, or luxury property, you’ll want to speak with a lawyer. Otherwise, you may lose some of that valuable property during the “liquidation” part of Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which only affects (to any great extent, anyway) filers who own valuable assets.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The other instance in which you’ll want to consult a lawyer is if you earn too much money to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. The Chapter 7 Means Test outlines the income eligibility limits that determine whether a filer qualifies for protection and debt relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. If your income level renders you ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, an attorney can advise you about whether filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13 might be a good fit for your situation. You can also request a free credit counseling session to explore non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives.
If you choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, don’t try to navigate this process without legal help. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a very complex process. Thankfully, after an attorney helps you construct your 3-5 year bankruptcy repayment plan, you’ll be able to repay them via your repayment plan installments. This means that you’ll be able to repay your legal fees over several years, using money that would have gone to your other creditors anyway.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’d prefer to have professional guidance while working through your legal issues but you can’t afford the services provided by a private firm, check out local civil legal aid societies. If you’re eligible for their services, these nonprofit organizations will provide you with access to an attorney at little or no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Before you can develop an attorney-client relationship with a legal aid attorney or licensed lawyer who volunteers their time at a legal aid society, you’ll need to go through an eligibility screening. These organizations don’t have access to as much funding as most private firms do, so they need to be choosy about who they offer their services to. In addition, you may need to spend time on a waitlist before your lawyer can begin working on your case. However, access to quality, low-cost legal representation may be well worth your wait, depending on how urgently you need to file your bankruptcy petition.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
If a legal aid organization you’re interested in working with doesn’t post its eligibility criteria on its website, dial its phone number and ask a staff member for clarification. Most legal aid organizations only offer aid to members of low-income households, but this isn’t a universal standard. For example, if you work with an organization that’s partially funded by the Legal Services Corporation, you’ll almost certainly be eligible for free or low-cost services if your annual household income is lower than 125% of the poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Contact information for civil legal aid societies in and near New Orleans may be found below. Remember to call and ask about wait times and eligibility criteria if you can’t find the information you need via an organization’s website.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy but you don’t qualify for assistance through a civil legal aid society, you may want to schedule a one-time meeting with an attorney who offers free consultations. Meeting with a lawyer in an “initial consultation” setting is a risk-free process. If you don’t want to work with an attorney after that meeting, you don’t have to. This free, risk-free meeting will simply allow you to ask questions about the different types of bankruptcy and to receive a free case evaluation. It can be a great way to explore your options in a risk-free setting.
Several resources exist to help filers find an attorney who practices bankruptcy law in their area. These resources include the following websites:
The Louisiana State Bar Association
Local, New Orleans bar association sites
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
You can also ask loved ones for their personal recommendations if they have had to file bankruptcy before. Just make sure to meet with a lawyer, not a paralegal. Paralegals can’t give legal advice.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Regardless of whether you attend a consultation with a lawyer or not, if you prepare your bankruptcy case on your own, the court will refer to you as a “pro se filer.” This simply means that you’re choosing to represent yourself instead of having a lawyer present a case on your behalf. Note that if you choose to file pro se, there are many resources you can take advantage of to make this process easier and more efficient.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
While it’s true that the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is surprisingly straightforward, there are some aspects of the process that take more time and effort than others. For example, tracking down the unique bankruptcy forms you need access to (which can vary depending on where you live in the United States) and filling them out can be a grind. Thankfully, Upsolve’s free filing tool provides eligible users with access to both these forms and an easy-to-navigate, secure platform in which to prepare their simple cases.
Additionally, pro se filers can find articles about bankruptcy requirements, how to complete paperwork properly, and non-bankruptcy debt management alternatives on the Upsolve Learning Center platform. These articles and guides are free, accessible without a login, and written by experienced attorneys. Chances are that if you have a question about the Chapter 7 pro se filing process, you can find the answer on this educational hub. You may even be able to find a city-specific or state-specific guide on the subject you’re researching.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you prefer to reference printed material, you can pick up free informational guides at any local bankruptcy court. Even if you don’t make it to court before filing your petition, it is worth picking up guides related to preparing for your meeting of creditors and responding to harassment by debt collectors in violation of the automatic stay.
Hale Boggs Federal Building United States Courthouse
500 Poydras Street New Orleans, LA 70130
Tom Stagg United States Court House
300 Fannin Street Shreveport, LA 71101
300 Jackson Street Alexandria, LA 71301
The Lemoine Company Building
214 Jefferson Street Lafayette, LA 70501
Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy allow consumers to achieve a fresh financial start. But if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and doing so makes sense for your situation, you’ll achieve a fresh start faster with this option than you would by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You can also file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy more cheaply than Chapter 13, as Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t require you to repay your eligible debts and doesn’t generally require filers to incur legal fees along the way. Instead, if you choose to, you can use free, reputable resources to help you navigate the Chapter 7 process successfully on your own.