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 Cincinnati, Ohio.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 4, 2020
Many Cincinnati-area residents find themselves struggling with debt through no fault of their own. Fortunately, debt relief options are available to those in need of a fresh financial start. If you’re unsure of which option might work best for your financial situation, you can schedule afree credit counseling session to receive a personalized action plan from a credit counselor. If you know that you want to file bankruptcy and you don’t earn much income, you don’t need to search for a free bankruptcy lawyer – of which there are almost none. The courts have made it so that you can successfully prepare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on your own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
It’s generally good advice to avoid opportunities that seem “too good to be true,” as such opportunities usually ARE too good to be true. However, the idea that you can successfully file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case without hiring a bankruptcy attorney isn’t “too good to be true.” On the contrary, the courts purposefully keep this process straightforward so that low-income filers don’t have to go into even more debt to pay an attorney to help them with their cases.
Unless you’re a small business owner, you own real estate other than your home, or you own unusually valuable luxury property, you should be able to file a Chapter 7 case on your own without hiring a lawyer for legal advice. Of course, if you prefer to work with an attorney or you’re dealing with circumstances that make self-filing impractical, you can seek out a lawyer at any time. Self-filing is a great, no-cost option, but it isn’t the best path forward for everyone.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Although the courts purposefully keep the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process straightforward for the benefit of low-income filers, other bankruptcy processes are not so straightforward. For example, if you’re ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because you earn too much income, you may decide to explore filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy as an alternative. This bankruptcy option will also help you to achieve a fresh start but you’ll first need to create a repayment plan with the assistance of an attorney and successfully repay a portion of your debt over 3-5 years.
The Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is complicated enough that you shouldn’t attempt to file on your own. Statistically, if you try to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief without a lawyer’s help, your case will almost certainly fail. You’ll be able to repay your legal fees as a part of your repayment plan, so working with an attorney on a Chapter 13 case is actually very manageable.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of preparing your bankruptcy paperwork on your own and you can’t afford to work with a private bankruptcy law office, don’t panic. You may be eligible to access free or low-cost legal services from a civil legal aid society. Staff and volunteer legal aid lawyers help eligible low-income filers with their bankruptcy petitions at little or no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Working with a legal aid attorney is just like working with an attorney in a private law firm setting. The protections and benefits of your attorney-client relationship will be the same, one-on-one contact is the same, and their ability to represent your interests effectively is the same.
The only real differences between legal aid representation and private representation are that you will likely need to be screened for eligibility based on your income level before you meet with a lawyer and you may be temporarily placed on a waitlist before your lawyer can begin work on your case. Staff and volunteer legal aid attorneys don’t always have access to a lot of resources, so they are limited in the number of people they can help and how quickly they can begin working on new cases.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
If you don’t earn much income, chances are good that a civil legal aid society in your area can help you with your case at little or no cost. For example, most civil legal aid societies receive funding from a nonprofit created by Congress called the Legal Services Corporation. Funding recipients are required to provide services to members of the community whose annual household income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line. However, when you call to confirm an organization’s eligibility criteria, you’ll want to ask about expected wait times. Not every filer can afford to “hold off” filing bankruptcy for long.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Ohio residents benefit from a number of civil legal aid societies. Phone numbers and additional contact information for those in the Cincinnati area are conveniently listed below. If one doesn’t meet your needs, another just might!
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Now that you’ve learned about the possibility of filing successfully on your own, needing an attorney under certain circumstances, and the services provided by legal aid societies, you may be wondering which option is right for you. If you’d like to ask a lawyer questions directly before committing to an approach, you’re in luck. Most consumer bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations to anyone who requests a case evaluation. An initial consultation is a meeting that allows you to ask questions but doesn’t commit you to work with the firm. This process can be a great way to get some feedback as you’re weighing your options.
Not sure how to find a local bankruptcy firm? Check out the Ohio State Bar Association website or local bar association sites; they often have a “find an attorney” feature that is searchable to the public. This feature is also available on the website hosted by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to prepare your bankruptcy petition without a lawyer’s help, you’ll be empowered with a new title. You’ll be known to the court as a pro se filer. “Pro se” is a Latin term that translates to “in/on one’s own behalf.”
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
When you’re preparing your case “on your own behalf,” you’ll want to be thoughtful about how you approach it. Chapter 7 bankruptcy paperwork is straightforward but you’ll need to report a great deal of detailed information as you work your way through your forms. If you’re filing a simple Chapter 7 case (you’re not submitting joint filings, etc.) you may be eligible to prepare your forms using Upsolve’s secure (and free!) online filing tool. This resource will give you access to all the forms you need to fill out for the court and will give you easy-to-follow guidance on how to fill those forms out efficiently and effectively.
When you have questions about any aspect of the bankruptcy process, head over to the Upsolve Learning Center platform. Here, you can find hundreds of articles written by lawyers about the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy processes and non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives. Whether you’re interested in learning about requesting a waiver of your Chapter 7 filing fee or you’re wondering if you should consolidate your credit card debt, you can find valuable information on (free and login-free) Upsolve Learning Center.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Did you know that you can pick up printed information about the different types of bankruptcy if you visit any bankruptcy court in the United States? Upon arriving, simply ask the clerk where you can find free information about the bankruptcy process and bankruptcy law. This information will cover many of the same bankruptcy-related topics (halting wage garnishment, preparing for a meeting of creditors, addressing harassment by debt collectors, etc.) as articles available through the Upsolve Learning Center do.
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Although filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t the best way for everyone struggling with debt to achieve a fresh start, it may be the best debt relief option for you and your family. You can successfully navigate this process either by working with an attorney (at a private firm or legal aid society) or by filing “pro se.” If you hope to save money by filing on your own, there are many free, reputable resources available to guide you through all the legal issues relevant to your bankruptcy case. As both approaches can help you achieve your financial goals, all you need to do is thoughtfully choose the one that makes the most sense for you.