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 Kansas City, Missouri.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 10, 2020
Finding free legal help for a bankruptcy case is rarely easy. Most of the time, Americans can only speak with a “free bankruptcy lawyer” if they qualify for assistance through a legal aid society. Private law firms understandably need to charge fees to remain operational. However, low-income bankruptcy filers don’t necessarily need to pay for legal assistance to prepare bankruptcy paperwork successfully. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is thankfully so straightforward that, in many cases, filers can prepare their bankruptcy petitions successfully on their own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Unlike the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process, which requires the creation of a complex repayment plan, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a surprisingly straightforward task. For the most part, filers are asked questions about their income, property, expenses, and debt. They are required to participate in two educational courses (one before filing a bankruptcy petition with the court and once after that petition has been filed) and to attend a “meeting of creditors” headed by the trustee assigned to their case. They are also required to pay a filing fee unless they successfully request a waiver of that fee.
For the most part, that’s all it takes to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. As a result, members of low-income households can almost always navigate this process successfully without paying for the services provided by a bankruptcy law office. Generally, the only time Chapter 7 filers need to consult an attorney is when they:
Prefer personalized assistance with their case
Own a small business
Earn more than the median income in their state
Own multiple pieces of real estate
Own luxury property or other unusually valuable assets
Don’t have the ability to fill out paperwork without help
Are affected by unusual circumstances that make self-filing impractical
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Additionally, consumer bankruptcy filers need to seek paid legal advice if they earn too much income to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7. In this scenario, a bankruptcy filer will benefit significantly from working with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Most bankruptcy cases filed under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code fail if they aren’t prepared with an attorney’s assistance. Dealing with a failed bankruptcy is a tougher financial situation than the one you’re in now – if you choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, speak with an attorney.
Note that paying for Chapter 13 legal services can be very manageable, so don’t panic if you need to schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer. Your lawyer will be treated like your other creditors during the bankruptcy process. As a result, you’ll be able to pay at least some of the fees you owe over 3-5 years, per the terms of your repayment plan.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7 on your own isn’t a good idea but you can’t afford an attorney’s help with your legal issues, consider working with a Kansas City legal aid society. Legal aid societies are non-profit organizations dedicated to providing free and low-cost legal assistance to members of low-income households.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you become a client of a legal aid society, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship with either a staff or volunteer lawyer who is both licensed and capable of helping you file bankruptcy successfully. You may not be able to work with a lawyer immediately after being screened for eligibility, though. Legal aid societies are non-profit organizations and are oftentimes so busy that they have to put clients on a waiting list for a time. Feel free to ask about wait times when you’re scheduling an initial consultation, so that you know what to expect.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Eligibility for legal aid services is often, but not always, based on household income level. For example, organizations that receive grant funding from the Legal Services Corporation serve (at minimum) members of the community whose annual household income isn’t higher than 125% of the federal poverty line. However, each legal aid society operates independently, so these organizations can choose to add non-income-based criteria to their eligibility process. You’ll want to contact each organization you’re interested in working with for more information.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Below, you’ll find phone numbers and additional contact information for legal aid societies in and around Kansas City. If the one you call first has a long waitlist, consider contacting the others in turn. One might be able to help you get started right away.
Legal Aid of Western Missouri
4001 Blue Parkway, Suite 300, Kansas City, MO 64130
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc.
4232 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108
Legal Services of Southern Missouri
809 N. Campbell Avenue, Springfield, MO 65802
Mid-Missouri Legal Services Corporation
1201 West Broadway, Columbia, MO 65203
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’re unsure of whether you want to file on your own or with an attorney’s help, schedule an initial meeting with an attorney (not a paralegal) who offers free consultations. Consultations are risk-free, as they don’t obligate you to work with an attorney moving forward. However, scheduling one might be worth your time, as this process will give you the opportunity to ask questions and explore your options. You can search for an attorney in your area on these websites:
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
The Missouri State Bar Association
A local bar association like the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association
If you’re not yet sure whether filing bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for you, schedule a free credit counseling session with a local, accredited, non-profit credit counseling organization. A credit counselor will, after learning about your income, debts, expenses, etc., provide you with a personalized action plan to manage your debt. They may or may not recommend filing for bankruptcy.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you’re up to the challenge of filing bankruptcy without an attorney’s assistance (outside of a free consultation), you’ll be referred to as a “pro se” filer by the bankruptcy court. This bankruptcy law term is Latin for “in/on one’s own behalf.” Many free online and printed resources have been crafted to help pro se filers navigate the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process successfully.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
The exact bankruptcy forms that filers are required to fill out vary depending upon where they live within the United States. Thankfully, there are two particularly easy ways to figure out what paperwork you need to file and how to fill that paperwork out efficiently and accurately. First, if you’re filing a “simple case,” you may be eligible to use Upsolve’s free filing tool. This platform will give you access to all necessary forms and will allow you to fill them out in a secure, easy-to-navigate format.
Second, if you’re not eligible to use the free tool, you can find geographically-specific filing guides at the Upsolve Learning Center hub. This resource is also free. The Learning Center features many articles and guides that are helpful to pro se Chapter 7 filers specifically and others that apply to individuals struggling with debt generally. No matter what part of the bankruptcy process you have questions about, chances are that you can find answers on the Learning Center platform.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also find printed guides, during business hours, at the nearest bankruptcy court. You can pick up these materials before you start filing your paperwork. Or, if you have enough online guidance that you feel comfortable waiting, you can pick up guides related to the upcoming parts of your bankruptcy process when you file your petition.
Charles Evans Whittaker United States Courthouse
400 East Ninth Street Kansas City, MO 64106
Christopher S. Bond United States Courthouse
80 Lafayette Street Jefferson City, MO 65101
Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse
111 South Tenth Street St. Louis, MO 63102
Depending on the kinds of debt you have, the property you own, and the income you earn, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can provide you with a fresh financial start. You can navigate this process with the help of a legal aid attorney, a private attorney, or reputable self-filing guides. There is no “right or wrong” approach when it comes to filing pro se or with an attorney’s help. Each option is beneficial in its own way. When it comes to seeking a fresh start through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you should opt for whichever approach makes sense for you.