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 Omaha, Nebraska.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 10, 2020
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, you may be concerned about affording a bankruptcy attorney’s help. The “bad news” is that it’s hard to find a free bankruptcy lawyer unless you work with a legal aid society. The “great news” is that if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can almost certainly prepare your bankruptcy petition successfully without the assistance of a law firm. If you choose to file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, you can often include your legal fees in your 3-5 year repayment plan.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
There are two primary types of bankruptcy filed by Americans: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Both of these consumer bankruptcy options may be filed by individuals and by married couples who wish to file jointly, even if they own a small business. However, only members of low-income households are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Those who don’t meet the Chapter 7 eligibility requirements can explore Chapter 13 as an option.
The courts recognize that low-income filers eligible for the debt relief that Chapter 7 provides often aren’t in a financial position to afford a lawyer’s assistance. As a result, they keep the process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy straightforward. This bankruptcy process is so straightforward in fact, that many filers don’t need to work with a bankruptcy law office to navigate the process successfully.
Some Chapter 7 filers do benefit from seeking paid legal advice. For example, filers who own unusually expensive property and/or real estate other than their primary residence, those with disabilities that make self-filing impractical, etc. are generally advised to invest in an attorney’s legal services. Chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyers don’t usually charge outrageous fees, so working with a lawyer can be financially manageable for some filers. If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll want to take time to evaluate whether filing on your own or working with an attorney makes the most sense for your financial situation.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you earn a steady, reasonable wage, you’ll likely be ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Chapter 7 Means Test outlines the income limits that apply to this debt relief option. This form of debt relief isn’t widely available to steady wage earners because the courts assume that steady wage earners can pay at least a portion of their debts back over time. As a result, Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers are required to create and submit to the terms of a 3-5 year repayment plan. At the end of a successful repayment period, any outstanding eligible debts are discharged.
Unlike the Chapter 7 process (which is famously straightforward), the Chapter 13 process is famously complex. Therefore, if you can’t file bankruptcy under Chapter 7, you’ll want to work with an attorney on your Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. Paying for your legal fees will be a manageable process, as you’ll be allowed to include these fees in your repayment plan. In many cases, Chapter 13 legal fees are paid using funds that would have been sent to other creditors no matter what.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
The most straightforward way to work with a bankruptcy attorney either for free or at a low cost is to become a client of a legal aid society. Legal aid societies primarily provide legal services to members of low-income households, although some employ different or additional eligibility criteria for those seeking assistance.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
It may take longer to file your bankruptcy case if you choose to work with a legal aid society, only because these non-profits often have to put clients on waitlists before they can begin developing a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a staff or volunteer lawyer.
Unlike private law firms, legal aid societies rely on grant funding and donations. As a result, they can’t always work through clients’ legal issues immediately when their services are in high demand and their attorneys are overstretched. When demand surges, private law firms can often afford to hire temporary contract attorneys to “pick up the slack.” Legal aid societies can’t always meet demand immediately. As a result, you may want to ask about expected wait times before you’re screened for eligibility to benefit from a specific organization’s services.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Eligibility criteria used by legal aid societies vary. Organizations often follow the income-based model set by the Legal Services Corporation, but this isn’t the only approach that independent legal aid societies choose to employ. Chances are that if you earn very little income, you’ll qualify for either free or low-cost services provided by at least one legal aid society in your area. Remember though, if you need to file bankruptcy urgently, you’ll want to ask about wait times when you call a society to learn more about their eligibility criteria.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Contact information for legal aid societies located in and near Omaha can be found below. Don’t be afraid to try more than one phone number. If one legal aid society can’t assist you or has a waitlist that’s too long, you can keep dialing to see if another can take you on as a client.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
A no-cost resource that too few filers take advantage of is the opportunity to schedule a free consultation with a law firm. Most law offices that practice consumer bankruptcy law don’t charge for initial consultations. This means that even if you think you’ll probably file on your own to save money, you can receive a free case evaluation and ask any questions you may have about your options in a confidential, no-obligation setting. You are not, in any way, obligated to work with a law firm on your case simply because you received a free consultation.
To find a Nebraska bankruptcy attorney who practices near your home, contact the Nebraska State Bar Association or a local Omaha bar association. Alternatively, you can search the NACBA’s “find an attorney” website feature. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys is a respected organization and is therefore unlikely to “steer you wrong.”
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
The court will refer to you as a “pro se filer” if you choose to prepare your bankruptcy case yourself. This will be true regardless of whether you schedule a free initial consultation with a bankruptcy law firm. “Pro se” simply means that you’re choosing to represent yourself instead of having an attorney present a case on your behalf.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
There are many reputable resources available online that can help you file a pro se Chapter 7 case efficiently and effectively. Two of these resources can be found on the Upsolve website. Upsolve is a non-profit organization primarily funded by Harvard University. The Upsolve website features both a free filing tool and an educational hub.
The online filing tool allows eligible filers to access and prepare the paperwork required for “simple Chapter 7 cases” at no cost. This resource minimizes the stresses of filing pro se, as some of the most complex tasks associated with pro se filing are tracking down necessary forms and filling them out properly. This self-filing tool takes the guesswork out of both processes.
Upsolve also offers educational information about bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt management alternatives on its Learning Center platform. This hub is free to the public and is always accessible without a login. Whether you have questions about the pro se filing process, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the role of trustees in bankruptcy cases, protecting your property from creditors, or non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives, you can find answers written by attorneys on this platform.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
At any bankruptcy court in the United States, filers can access printed material about the bankruptcy process at no cost. Educational guides related to filing fee waiver requests, preparing for a filer’s meeting of creditors, halting wage garnishments, reporting unlawful harassment by debt collectors, and other common topics of concern can be picked up during business hours.
Roman L. Hruska United States Courthouse
111 South 18th Plaza Omaha, NE 68102
Robert V. Denney United States Courthouse
100 Centennial Mall North Lincoln, NE 68508
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be an excellent way to achieve a fresh financial start under the right circumstances. If you’re not sure of whether this debt relief option is something that makes sense for your financial situation, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session. This process will empower you to make informed decisions about your debt.
If however, you’ve determined that Chapter 7 bankruptcy is right for you and your family, know that you can navigate this process successfully either pro se or with the help of an experienced attorney. If you choose to file pro se, there are many free resources available to help you on your way to a fresh start. If you choose to work with a lawyer, that may be a great investment for you. At the end of the day, you need to choose whichever option will help you achieve your goals with your unique needs, priorities, and circumstances in mind.