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 Henderson, Nevada.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 4, 2020
If you don’t earn much money, you may be putting off filing for bankruptcy until you can locate a free bankruptcy lawyer. You may be under the impression that you can’t afford to file bankruptcy unless you find a law office that will help you with your legal issues “pro bono” (at no cost). Thankfully though, unless your financial situation is unusually complex or you own very expensive property other than your home, you can successfully file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code without paying a law firm for help.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Some people are understandably skeptical of the idea that they can successfully file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without paying a bankruptcy attorney to prepare their case. After all, most legal matters require a lawyer’s professional assistance. However, the United States bankruptcy courts constructed the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process – intentionally – to be straightforward enough that filers with simple cases can prepare their bankruptcy petitions on their own.
Why did the courts purposefully create such a simple debt relief process? Unlike the other primary form of consumer bankruptcy – Chapter 13 bankruptcy – Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only made available to low-income earners. If you earn a decent, steady income, you aren’t eligible for the generous debt relief provided by the Chapter 7 process. The courts understand that if a filer is eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, they almost certainly can’t afford paid legal advice.
The courts keep this filing process simple (for individuals and spouses filing jointly alike) to better ensure that those filers most in need of debt relief don’t have to go into legal debt to file their bankruptcy cases effectively. With that said, there are certain filers who probably shouldn’t attempt to prepare their cases without help. If you own real estate other than your home, a small business, or luxury property, a lawyer may advise you to file a different type of bankruptcy. Additionally, filing bankruptcy without help may not be practical if your situation is very complex or you have a disability that makes self-filing an impractical idea.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
As explained above, only certain filers are eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. If you earn too much income to qualify for Chapter 7 (or if ownership of expensive property makes filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy impractical) you can explore filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy as a possible debt relief alternative. Note however, that you shouldn’t attempt to prepare a Chapter 13 case by yourself. This process is so complex that cases prepared by self-filers almost always fail.
Thankfully, bankruptcy law firms that practice Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy usually offer affordable legal services for Chapter 13 clients. Additionally, any legal fees you incur can be treated as debt for the purposes of your bankruptcy case. Meaning, you can reimburse your lawyer for their efforts as part of your manageable monthly bankruptcy repayment plan installments spaced over 3-5 years.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
There may be a way to receive legal help with your case for free or at a very low cost. If you don’t earn much income, you may be eligible for services through a nonprofit legal aid society. These legal assistance organizations almost always focus on serving low-income households in the community.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Clients of legal aid societies are treated very similarly to the ways in which clients of private law firms are treated. If you become a legal aid client, you’ll develop an attorney-client relationship one-on-one with a licensed attorney. That attorney will fill out your required forms, prepare you for your meeting of creditors, and otherwise guide you through the process of filing bankruptcy.
The only real differences you may experience in a legal aid setting (when compared to a private law firm setting) are that you may be screened – likely on the basis of your household income – before you’re accepted as a client and you may be placed on a waitlist before you can begin working with your lawyer.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies aren’t usually so well-funded that they can provide legal services for everyone who walks through the door. Instead, they screen potential clients according to various eligibility criteria. For example, organizations that receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation provide (at minimum) services for members of households that report an annual income below 125% of the federal poverty line. Each legal aid society constructs unique eligibility criteria, so the best way to determine whether you’re eligible for services is to contact organizations directly.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
If you’re hoping to achieve a fresh start through bankruptcy but you’re uncomfortable filing on your own, use the phone numbers or alternative contact information for Henderson-area legal aid societies listed below. If you’re eligible for free or low-cost assistance through one of these organizations, that’s one less stressor you need to navigate on your way to a fresh financial start.
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
“Wait,” you may be thinking. “I’m not sure if I want to file on my own or work with a lawyer. What do I do now?” The answer to this excellent question involves finding a Nevada consumer bankruptcy attorney who offers free consultations. By attending an initial consultation, you’ll be able to ask a lawyer (not a paralegal, as they can’t give legal advice) any questions you may have about filing for bankruptcy. Attending this consultation won’t obligate you to work with an attorney – it’s a risk-free, no-obligation setting.
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA), the Nevada State Bar Association, and many local bar associations provide “find a lawyer” search functions on their websites. You can use these sites to locate a consumer bankruptcy attorney in your area. You can also schedule a free credit counseling session to explore all of your debt relief options, if you’re not sure yet whether you want to file for bankruptcy at this time.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you ultimately decide to file for bankruptcy and you opt to save money by preparing your bankruptcy paperwork yourself, the court will refer to you as a “pro se” filer. This Latin term means that you are representing your own interests instead of having someone else (ie: a lawyer) represent your interests for you.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
When preparing your bankruptcy case yourself, you’ll want to take advantage of free self-filing resources that are trustworthy. Use these resources to answer your questions and prepare your bankruptcy forms efficiently and effectively. For example, Upsolve – which is a nonprofit organization funded in part by Harvard University – provides free resources online. These resources were created by attorneys and are regularly reviewed and updated to better ensure their accuracy.
First, there’s the Upsolve Learning Center. This educational hub features both geographically-specific and general guides to the bankruptcy process. The articles on this site are free and are always available to the public without a login. Every aspect of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is explored on this platform. You can even use this resource to learn more about Chapter 13 bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt management alternatives.
Second, Upsolve has created a free online filing tool that eligible filers can use to access and prepare their required bankruptcy forms. If you’re filing a simple Chapter 7 case (no joint filings, etc.), take a few minutes to find out if you’re eligible to use this tool. If you are, you’ll be able to access this secure, easy-to-navigate platform at no charge.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you prefer to read printed material instead of researching online, head to a local bankruptcy court during business hours. Once you’ve located the clerk, ask them where to find the court’s free informational guides to the bankruptcy process. Make sure to pick up any information available about requesting a waiver of your filing fee and responding to debt collectors acting in violation of the automatic stay – you may need this information later.
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Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often an excellent debt relief option for consumers who have a lot of unsecured debt. If you’ve analyzed your debt and determined that filing bankruptcy is the best way forward, know that you can complete this process successfully with or without an attorney’s help. There are many free and fee-based resources available that allow aspiring bankruptcy filers to achieve a fresh financial start. Take some time and figure out which approach will work best for you. Each approach has its merits, so unless you are one of the few filers that shouldn’t approach this process solo, you really can’t go wrong.