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 Detroit, Michigan.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 29, 2020
If you’re tired of dealing with debt collectors, you may be able to find relief in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Although you’ll need to hire an attorney if you file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, Chapter 7 filers can usually prepare their cases successfully without an attorney’s help.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Just as you can schedule a credit counseling session with a qualified credit counselor for free, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy at little or no cost, provided that you meet certain eligibility requirements. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is generally only available to members of low-income households. The courts keep the process purposefully straightforward so that low-income filers don’t have to hire an attorney unless they want to, they are subject to unusual circumstances, or their cases are particularly complex. The courts even allow low-income filers to submit filing fee waiver requests if they can’t afford to file their paperwork.
If you determine that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for you and your family, you can certainly hire an attorney if you want to. Hiring an attorney is usually less stressful than filing on your own. However, if you can’t afford legal help or you simply want to save money and are up for a relatively straightforward challenge, you can file on your own successfully. There are many reputable no-cost resources available that can guide you through the self-filing process.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
It is because the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is so much more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy that Chapter 13 filers need to hire an attorney to help them file their cases. Chapter 7 filers traditionally have great success filing on their own. However, Chapter 13 filers who try to create their repayment plans on their own traditionally fail.
If you’re not eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because your income exceeds the Chapter 7 eligibility limits codified in the Chapter 7 Means Test, you can explore Chapter 13 bankruptcy as an option. If you’re nervous about affording legal fees for a Chapter 13 case, know that the courts generally allow attorneys’ fees to be integrated into repayment plans. This means that you’ll pay for your lawyer’s assistance via repayment plan funds that would have been distributed to other creditors even if you hadn’t hired an attorney to help you. It’s a win-win.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Did you know that if you earn very little income, you can likely get legal advice and assistance with your bankruptcy case for free? Legal aid societies provide free and low-cost legal services to individuals whose household income doesn’t exceed specific eligibility limits.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Many people are under the impression that if you work with a legal aid society, you’ll meet with a social worker, not an attorney. In fact, legal aid societies keep attorneys on staff and allow licensed lawyers from the community to volunteer their time with clients. If you pass a society’s eligibility screening, you’ll meet with an attorney one-on-one. You’ll then develop an attorney-client relationship as you work together on your bankruptcy petition.
Note that you may be placed on a waitlist before you can begin meeting with your attorney. Legal aid societies are busy non-profit organizations and don’t always have the resources to help all clients immediately after they walk through the door.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Just as law firms set their own fees and choose which clients to help, legal aid societies set their own fee structures and eligibility criteria. Depending on your income level, you may be eligible for free services, eligible for low-cost services, or ineligible for assistance through a particular organization.
Many legal aid societies follow the model set by the Legal Services Corporation, which was funded by Congress in the 1970s. The LSC funds many of the legal aid organizations based in the United States. But even if organizations aren’t funded in part by the LSC, their eligibility criteria are usually influenced by its mandate that funding recipient organizations serve (at a minimum) members of households with an annual reported income that doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
There are several legal aid societies located in and near Detroit. Because each has its own eligibility standards and wait times, you’ll want to use the phone numbers (or alternative contact information) listed below to connect with each society before you make an appointment. That way, you’ll be able to pinpoint which organization best meets your needs before you commit to working with a specific legal aid society.
Lakeshore Legal Aid
Robert A. Verkuilen Building, 21885 Dunham Road, Suite 4, Clinton Township, MI 48036
Legal Aid of Western Michigan
25 Division South Ste 300, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Legal Services of Eastern Michigan
436 South Saginaw Street, Flint, MI 48502
Legal Services of Northern Michigan, Inc.
806 Ludington Street, Escanaba, MI 49829
Michigan Indian Legal Services, Inc.
814 South Garfield Avenue, Suite A, Traverse City, MI 49686-2401
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
You may be thinking that it would be nice to save money by filing without an attorney, but you’re unsure of whether that’s the best approach for you. Thankfully, most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations to anyone who requests one. If you schedule a free initial meeting with an attorney to ask questions and receive a case evaluation, you won’t be obligated to work with that lawyer moving forward. Professionals understand that filing bankruptcy is a big commitment, as is entering into an attorney-client relationship. Asking questions in a consultation setting is a great way to figure out your best way forward, at no cost to you.
The Michigan State Bar Association, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA), and many local bar associations offer ways to find a licensed bankruptcy attorney in your area. Loved ones may also be able to recommend a reputable attorney you can consult with. When scheduling a consultation, make sure you’re not meeting with a paralegal. These individuals are not empowered to provide the public with legal advice.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Chapter 7 filers who don’t own real estate beyond their home, a small business, or luxury property can almost always file bankruptcy “pro se” (without an attorney’s help) if they choose to. If after your initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, you are assured that your case isn’t unusually complex, you can either continue working with that bankruptcy lawyer or file pro se. Choose whichever option works best for you.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you do opt to file pro se, you won’t have to navigate the bankruptcy process without access to knowledgeable guidance. There are many reputable resources available (often at no cost) that can help you self-file with confidence. For example, if you don’t earn much income and you’re filing a “simple case” (no joint filings, no truly unusual circumstances, etc.), you may be eligible to use Upsolve’s free filing tool. This platform allows filers to prepare their bankruptcy forms online before printing them out and submitting them to the Court. It is free, easy-to-use, secure, and takes much of the guesswork out of filing pro se.
Additionally, anyone interested in exploring bankruptcy law, pro se Chapter 7 filing, and/or debt relief generally can learn more about their options through Upsolve’s Learning Center. This no-cost resource serves as a hub for hundreds of articles, state-specific and city-specific guides, and definitions of concepts related to bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt management solutions. Whether you’re interested in filing pro se or not, the Learning Center can help to clarify your debt relief options and lead you to make informed choices about your financial situation. You don’t need a login to access this information. It’s always available to everyone.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Bankruptcy courts also provide the public with free information about filing bankruptcy. At your nearest bankruptcy court, you can pick up information about requesting a filing fee waiver, the different types of bankruptcy, and achieving a fresh start through the bankruptcy process generally.
1 Division Avenue, N.
1 Division Avenue, N. Grand Rapids, MI 49503
211 West Fort Street
211 West Fort Street Detroit, MI 48226
226 West Second Street Flint, MI 48502
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy serves as a path to a fresh financial start for hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. The consumer bankruptcy process is not the best debt relief solution for everyone. However, it can be life-changing for those whose financial situations can benefit from it.
Thankfully, a hard time affording access to legal services isn’t usually a barrier to filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as those who don’t have unusually complex cases can file pro se successfully. Many resources can aid in pro se filing efforts. Although, if you’ve decided to file bankruptcy and you prefer to work with a bankruptcy law office instead of filing on your own, you should do what works best for you. Saving money isn’t always a filer’s first priority, nor should it be. Filers need to take whatever approach best meets their needs.