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 Boston, Massachusetts.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
Choosing to file for bankruptcy can be empowering and intimidating at the same time. Thankfully, you don’t necessarily need to incur expensive attorneys’ fees to obtain a fresh financial start. Most Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers are able to successfully prepare their bankruptcy cases without paid legal advice.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Americans who don’t own small businesses have two primary options when it comes to filing for consumer bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is available to nearly everyone, regardless of their income level. This option allows filers to restructure their debt and pay it down over a 3-5 year period before any remaining eligible debt is discharged. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to low-income filers. This bankruptcy process allows eligible debt to be discharged in as little as 90 days.
When a low-income filer opts for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, their financial situation is rarely so complex that they need to hire a bankruptcy law firm for help in preparing their bankruptcy petition. Unlike the complex Chapter 13 process, the Chapter 7 process is kept purposefully straightforward, as the courts recognize that most Chapter 7 filers can’t afford the services provided by a bankruptcy lawyer.
Some Chapter 7 filers do benefit from working with a bankruptcy law office. If you’re thinking about filing bankruptcy and you have unusually complex finances, own expensive property, are concerned about protecting your real estate, or simply don’t enjoy filling out lots of paperwork on your own in an effort to save money, you can consult a bankruptcy attorney at any time. However, it’s important to understand that the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is ordinarily so straightforward that you won’t need to hire a bankruptcy lawyer if you don’t want to.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Before Chapter 13 filers can begin their 3-5 year repayment period, they must create a comprehensive debt repayment plan. This is one of the many complexities unique to theChapter 13 bankruptcy process that doesn’t affect Chapter 7 filers. As a result, if you’re ineligible to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code because you earn too much money, you’ll want to consult a bankruptcy attorney for help with your Chapter 13 case. The complex Chapter 13 bankruptcy process can be completed successfully, but you’ll need a lawyer’s help.
If you don’t pass the Chapter 7 income limits threshold (Means Test) but you’re worried about affording an attorney’s help with a Chapter 13 case, rest easy. At least some of the legal fees are generally integrated into a filer’s repayment plan. In this way, you’ll essentially use funds that would have gone to other creditors (no matter what) to pay for your attorney’s assistance.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you don’t earn much money and the thought of filing bankruptcy on your own makes you anxious, invest a little time in contacting legal aid societies in the Boston area. Legal aid societies provide legal services to low-income populations at no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you pass eligibility screening for legal aid society services, you’ll be able to develop the same kind of attorney-client relationship with your legal aid attorney as you would if you hired a bankruptcy lawyer privately. However, you may not be able to file bankruptcy immediately, as legal aid societies are often compelled to place clients on waitlists until they have enough resources to meet demand. Legal aid societies are non-profit organizations and their funding doesn’t always allow for immediate connection with every client who is eligible for help.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Because legal aid societies are non-profit ventures and usually have limited funding, they enforce eligibility criteria when determining whether potential clients qualify to receive free or low-cost legal services. Generally, legal aid clients don’t earn much income. For example, societies funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation are obligated to assist individuals whose household income (on an annual basis) doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line. You’ll want to contact individual organizations to learn about both their eligibility criteria and the legal services they provide.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
If working with a legal aid attorney interests you, use the phone numbers and alternative contact information below to connect with legal aid organizations near you. Don’t forget to ask whether you meet their eligibility criteria before you schedule an initial consultation.
Community Legal Aid, Inc.
405 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608
Northeast Legal Aid, Inc.
50 Island Street, Suite #203A, Lawrence, MA 01840
South Coastal Counties Legal Services
22 Bedford Street, 2nd Floor, P.O. Box 2507, Fall River, MA 02722
Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
99 Chauncy Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02111
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Even if you’re hoping to save money by filing on your own, you may have questions about filing under Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code or about bankruptcy law generally. You can have these questions answered by scheduling a case evaluation with a bankruptcy law firm in your area. Most consumer bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations, which means that you’ll only invest your time (not your money) to speak with an attorney on a one-time basis. You can continue to work with an attorney moving forward but know that meeting with a lawyer doesn’t obligate you to hire them.
You’ll want to ensure that you’re scheduling a consultation with a lawyer, not a paralegal, as these individuals are not allowed to give you legal advice. To find a licensed attorney in or near Boston, you can use NACBA’s “find an attorney” website feature. Like the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, many local bar associations and the Massachusetts State Bar Association feature “find an attorney” platforms as well.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Whether you choose to schedule a free consultation with an attorney to receive a case evaluation and ask questions or not, you can file on your own without a lawyer’s help (“pro se”) unless you’re dealing with truly complicated circumstances. You can use a variety of reputable self-filing resources – most of which are available for free – to help you successfully achieve your fresh start.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Upsolve’s website features a number of free resources designed to help pro se filers evaluate different types of bankruptcy, fill out their bankruptcy forms, prepare for their meeting of creditors, and navigate their debt management options generally. First, Upsolve offers afree web tool to filers who plan to file “simple cases” under Chapter 7. This tool is not available for joint filings and filers must meet certain eligibility criteria to access the tool. Those who qualify can use it to prepare their bankruptcy forms in a centralized, secure, and streamlined way.
Additionally, the public can access hundreds of articles and guides related to self-filing and general debt management on Upsolve’sLearning Center platform. This resource doesn’t require a login and, like the web tool, is always free. From halting wage garnishments to consolidating credit card debt, consumers can explore their debt relief options and learn about every aspect of the bankruptcy process on this platform.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also access printed self-help materials (at no cost) at any bankruptcy court. These guides cover various topics. Depending on what subjects are available, you could use them to learn how to request a waiver of your bankruptcy filing fee, how to report violations of theautomatic stay by debt collectors, and how to prepare your case generally.
John W. McCormack Post Office and Court House
5 Post Office Square Boston, MA 02109
Harold D. Donohue Federal Building and United States Courthouse
595 Main Street Worcester, MA 01608
300 State Street
300 State Street Springfield, MA 01105
If you’re struggling with debt and you’re unsure of whether filing for bankruptcy is right for you, that’s okay. You can receive free advice about your debt management options if you schedule a no-cost credit counseling session at an accredited non-profit credit counseling agency in your area.
However, if you have determined that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best path forward, it’s important to know that you can file on your own and that many reputable resources are available to help you navigate the bankruptcy process successfully. Whether you choose to work with a bankruptcy attorney or to file pro se, you can obtain the guidance you need to achieve a fresh start and to build a strong financial foundation moving forward.