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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 Las Vegas, Nevada.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated October 1, 2020

Did you know that if you don’t earn much income and don’t own much property, you can file bankruptcy successfully without hiring a bankruptcy attorney? This isn’t a “too good to be true” scenario. Bankruptcy courts keep the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process straightforward so that low-income filers can prepare their bankruptcy cases without paying for legal advice.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a debt relief option that is uniquely available to members of low-income households. Some Americans aren’t eligible to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Those who earn more than the income limits outlined in the Chapter 7 Means Test must file a consumer bankruptcy under Chapter 13 instead. Because filing under Chapter 7 is a debt relief option uniquely available to individuals who often aren’t in a position to afford paid legal services, the courts keep this process straightforward enough that most filers can prepare their bankruptcy petitions on their own.

This isn’t to say that filing bankruptcy without a bankruptcy lawyer’s help is the best option for all Chapter 7 filers. If you own a lot of expensive personal property or multiple pieces of real estate, if you’re a small business owner, or you’re grappling with unique legal issues, it might be helpful to work with an attorney. Similarly, if you have a disability, limited ability to invest the time necessary to prepare your case, or simply prefer that someone else do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to navigating bankruptcy law, working with a lawyer may be the best choice for you.

In the end, it’s simply important that Chapter 7 filers understand that they have a choice. If they want to save money, they can file on their own. If they want (or, in rare circumstances, need) to consult an attorney, they can do that too. Each filer’s situation is unique. However, in most cases, members of low-income households can successfully seek a fresh start through Chapter 7 bankruptcy without paying for the services provided by a bankruptcy law office.

Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?

If your income exceeds the Chapter 7 eligibility limits, please don’t panic. Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy can also help you achieve a fresh financial start. You’ll just need to approach achieving your fresh start in a different way. One of the major differences between filing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 is that when filing under Chapter 13, you’ll need to hire a bankruptcy attorney to help you prepare your case. This process is quite complex, regardless of the details of a filer’s unique financial situation. As a result, the vast majority of Chapter 13 petitions prepared without a bankruptcy lawyer’s help, fail.

Thankfully, paying for legal services during a Chapter 13 process is usually very manageable. When you and your attorney work to restructure your debt via a 3-5 year repayment plan, you’ll list your attorney as one of your creditors for at least part of the fees you’ll pay. It’s a win-win situation. You get legal assistance with your case while repaying your attorney (manageably) over time.

Some Chapter 7 filers could benefit from professional guidance but can’t afford to work with a private bankruptcy law firm. In these cases, a local legal aid society may be able to help. Legal aid societies provide free and low-cost legal services to clients who meet specific income thresholds.

If you choose to work with a legal aid society, you’ll be able to develop an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer, just as you would if you worked with a private law firm. Your lawyer may be a staff member or a private attorney serving as a volunteer. Legal aid societies serve many clients with limited resources. As a result, after you’re screened to ensure that you meet the organization’s eligibility requirements, you may be placed on a waiting list before you can begin working on your case with your attorney.

Before a legal aid organization schedules an initial consultation, they will ask you some questions and may request some documentation to confirm that your financial situation meets their eligibility requirements. Although every legal aid organization is independent – and therefore chooses its own eligibility criteria – many organizations follow LSC guidelines. The Legal Services Corporation funds many legal aid enterprises in the United States. Funding recipients are required, at the very least, to serve members of households whose annual income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line.

Contact information for legal aid societies in the Las Vegas area is listed below. If you’re interested in learning more about an organization’s wait times and eligibility criteria, using phone numbers (instead of electronic or postal contact) will likely get you answers the quickest.

Nevada Legal Services, Inc.
(702) 386-0404
701 East Bridger Avenue, Suite 700, Las Vegas, NV 89101

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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Just as you can schedule a free credit counseling session to learn more about your debt relief options generally, you can schedule a free consultation with a consumer bankruptcy attorney to receive a case evaluation and ask questions about the bankruptcy process at no cost. If youcontact a bankruptcy firm in your area, just make sure that they offer this initial, no-risk meeting both with an attorney and for free. Some firms send paralegals to consultations and/or charge for an initial consultation. You’ll want to meet with a firm that will allow you to speak with an attorney, at no cost.

You can schedule a consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, even if you plan to file on your own. This initial meeting is educational – it doesn’t obligate you to work with an attorney moving forward. To begin your research into law firms in your area, consider connecting with a local bar association, the Nevada State Bar Association, or the NACBA. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys even has a “find an attorney” feature on its website.

Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney

When you begin researching how to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy successfully on your own, you may come across the Latin phrase “pro se.” Filing pro se simply means that you are filing without a bankruptcy attorney’s help.

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

There are many free, reputable resources available online that are designed to help pro se Chapter 7 filers. For example, Upsolve’s Learning Center gives the public access to hundreds of articles and guides at no cost and without a login. Here, you’ll find both general and Nevada-specific materials on filing bankruptcy pro se and managing your debt generally.

Additionally, you may benefit from preparing your bankruptcy forms online, for free, using Upsolve’s electronic filing tool. You can’t prepare joint filings on this platform, as it’s only available for filers who have “easy cases.” However, if you are eligible to use this tool, it will provide you with all the forms you need and secure, easy-to-follow guidance on how to fill them out. This tool takes the guesswork out of the process of preparing Chapter 7 bankruptcy forms and has been well-received by former users. Once you’re done using this tool, you’ll be able to print your forms out and submit them to the court with confidence.

Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court

Bankruptcy courts also provide filers with informational guides for free. If you head to the nearest bankruptcy court, you can find printed material on the different types of bankruptcy, preparing for your meeting of creditors, requesting a filing fee waiver, and other subjects of interest.

C. Clifton Young Federal Building and United States Courthouse

C. Clifton Young Federal Building and United States Courthouse
300 Booth Street Reno, NV 89509

Foley Federal Building

Foley Federal Building
300 Las Vegas Boulevard South Las Vegas, NV 89101

Let’s Summarize

Overwhelming debt can affect every aspect of your life. If you decide that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best way to manage your mounting debt, know that there are many resources available to help you file. You can file pro se with the assistance of online and printed guides. Or you can choose to work with a legal aid society or private bankruptcy attorney. There is no approach that is better than another, as they all have benefits and drawbacks. You choose whichever approach is best for you and your family.

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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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