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In a Nutshell

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 Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated October 15, 2020

Minnesotans are hardworking and don’t expect that anything “comes for free.” However, if you’re struggling to pay your creditors and make ends meet at the same time, the thought of a “free bankruptcy lawyer” is understandably welcome. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find free legal help with a bankruptcy case unless you’re eligible for services provided by a legal aid society. Thankfully, filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 is such a straightforward process that most Minnesotans can navigate it successfully without hiring a bankruptcy attorney.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?

If you don’t own a small business and you don’t earn much money, you likely have two primary consumer bankruptcy options to choose from: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The reason why it’s “likely” that you can choose from these options if you don’t earn much money is that Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to members of households whose income doesn’t exceed certain limits. This form of bankruptcy is particularly generous, so the courts don’t make it available to everyone – only those who are truly unable to pay their debts down over time.

Because Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only made available to low-income consumers and married couples, the courts recognize that Chapter 7 filers don’t often have the financial resources to afford paid legal advice. As a result, they keep the process of preparing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition so straightforward that most Chapter 7 filers can complete the bankruptcy process without hiring a law firm to help them.

Some filers choose to work with a bankruptcy attorney because their finances are complex or they feel uncomfortable filling out legal paperwork on their own. Others seek help with their legal issues because they own luxury property or real estate other than their home and they’re worried about protecting their assets during bankruptcy. There’s nothing wrong with hiring an attorney and doing so can sometimes be beneficial. It’s simply important for Chapter 7 filers who are strapped for cash to know that – barring extraordinary circumstances – Chapter 7 cases can almost always be prepared successfully without an attorney’s help.

Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is. In a successful Chapter 7 process, eligible debts are discharged in as little as 90 days. By contrast, Chapter 13 filers are required to successfully submit manageable debt payments – on a monthly basis – over 3-5 years before their remaining eligible debts can be discharged. Crafting this repayment plan in ways that will allow the filer to succeed is undeniably complex. As a result, most Chapter 13 cases fail when they’re prepared without the assistance of a bankruptcy law office.  

If you don’t meet the eligibility requirements for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, speak with a lawyer about whether Chapter 13 bankruptcy could be a good fit for your financial situation. If you file for Chapter 13, you’ll be able to repay your legal fees through your 3-5 year repayment plan. This process, like Chapter 7, can be life-changing, as it halts collection actions and affords filers the opportunity to achieve a fresh financial start. It is just a more complex and time-intensive process, so you shouldn’t attempt to prepare a Chapter 13 case on your own.    

Though most accommodate payment plans, oftentimes private law firms don’t tend to allow Chapter 7 filers to repay legal fees over years at a time. They typically require the payment plan be completed before the bankruptcy case is filed. If you want to work with an attorney and you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may want to connect with a legal aid society. These nonprofits offer free and low-cost legal services to those that are eligible; most of the time, eligibility is determined based on income.

Once you start meeting with a lawyer who is either employed by a legal aid society or a private attorney who volunteers their time with the organization, working with legal aid is like working with a private firm. You’ll develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with your lawyer and you’ll file bankruptcy with their help.

However, “getting in the door” is a little different with a legal aid society when compared with a private firm. Legal aid societies rely on grant funding and donations to remain operational. Therefore, they have to be “choosy” about who they work with and they can’t always control how quickly they’re able to begin working with new clients. Before you can start meeting with a lawyer, you’ll likely be screened for eligibility and placed on a waitlist before you can access the legal services you need.

Most legal aid societies screen potential clients based on their household income. For example, when organizations receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation, they are held to a standard that compels them to provide certain services for members of the community whose annual household income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line. However, every legal aid society is different. As a result, you’ll want to contact an organization directly if you’re interested in the services it offers. That way, you can ask a knowledgeable staff member about the organization’s unique eligibility criteria and current expected wait times.

Phone numbers for legal aid services based in Minneapolis and surrounding communities can be found below. The Upsolve guide to filing bankruptcy in St. Paul features additional contact information for legal aid services based in that area of the Twin Cities metro.

Anishinabe Legal Services, Inc.
(218) 335-2223
411 1st Street, NW, P.O. Box 157, Cass Lake, MN 56633-0157

Central Minnesota Legal Services, Inc.
(612) 332-8151
430 First Avenue North, Suite 359, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1780

Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota
(218) 623-8100
302 Ordean Building, 424 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802-1540

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Corporation
(218) 233-8585
1015 7th Avenue North, P.O. Box 838, Moorhead, MN 56561-0838

Nationwide Service (NYC Office)

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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer

If you’re not eligible for legal aid services or the wait times in the Twin Cities are too long to accommodate the urgency of your case, consider scheduling an initial consultation with a private firm. Scheduling a consultation won’t obligate you to work with a lawyer on your case. This setting just allows you to ask questions about bankruptcy law, receive a case evaluation, and determine whether it makes sense to file on your own or not. As a bonus, most consumer bankruptcy firms in Minnesota offer free consultations.

To start researching a bankruptcy firms in your area, head over to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) website. You can also search on the Minnesota State Bar Association website or websites for Twin Cities bar associations.

Note also that if you’re not sure of whether bankruptcy is the best “fit” for your situation, you can schedule a free credit counseling session with an accredited nonprofit credit counseling agency located near your home. At the end of this free session, you’ll be given a personalized action plan to manage your debt. The credit counselor you meet with may or may not suggest that you file for one of the types of bankruptcy available to you.  

Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney

If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, remember that – unless your situation is unusually complex, you own a lot of expensive property, or you’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances – you should be able to file successfully on your own. If you choose to prepare your case without hiring an attorney or working with legal aid, you’ll be a “pro se filer.” Pro se means that you’re choosing to represent yourself instead of having a lawyer represent you.

Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own

If you choose to prepare your case pro se, you’ll want to do some research and make a plan to stay organized. You can prepare your petition successfully, but only if you fill out all required forms accurately. If you’re filing a “simple case,” you can access all of the forms you’ll need to submit to the court via the free filing tool on the Upsolve website. Eligible filers can also prepare their bankruptcy forms on this secure site, at no cost. The tool’s easy-to-navigate format takes a lot of the guesswork and stress out of the pro se filing process.

Additionally, you can use the Upsolve Learning Center to research all aspects of the pro se filing process. This educational hub, which is free and doesn’t require a login for access, features geographically specific and general guides to Chapter 7 bankruptcy and other debt management alternatives. These articles and guides are written by attorneys, which helps to ensure that readers can trust the information posted on this hub.

Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court

Before you start preparing your bankruptcy forms, you may want to head to the nearest bankruptcy court to pick up some free, printed self-filing guides. These guides address various topics, such as requesting a waiver of your filing fee, responding to harassment by debt collectors, and preparing for your upcoming meeting of creditors.

Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building and United States Courthouse

Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building and United States Courthouse
515 West First Street Duluth, MN 55802

Warren E. Burger Federal Building

Warren E. Burger Federal Building
316 North Robert Street St. Paul, MN 55101

Let’s Summarize

Every year, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy provides hundreds of thousands of Americans with a fresh start. This debt relief option isn’t ideal under all circumstances, which is why it’s important to evaluate your finances carefully before committing to filing bankruptcy. However, if it is the best option for you, you don’t have to navigate this process without support. If you choose to work with legal aid or hire an attorney, you’ll have professional assistance. If you choose to file pro se, you can take advantage of reputable resources and tools to file successfully on your own. Whichever option makes the most sense for you is the option you should explore.

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Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

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