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 Cleveland, Ohio.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 30, 2020
If you’re frustrated that you can’t seem to find a “free bankruptcy lawyer” to help you with your case, you can rejoice in some good news. If you don’t earn much income and you don’t own a lot of expensive property, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy successfully without an attorney’s help. If you make a decent living, you can repay a bankruptcy law firm for its legal services over 3-5 years per the manageable terms of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
When you’re struggling to pay your credit card debt, medical bills, other creditors, and make ends meet all at the same time, the idea of achieving a fresh start financially can understandably seem impossible. However, there are many debt relief options available to consumers. From filing bankruptcy to consolidating credit card debt via a balance transfer, you can explore your options and receive a personalized plan of action for your unique financial situation during a free credit counseling session. Depending on your circumstances, a credit counselor may recommend that you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy option, which is only available to members of low-income households, is such a straightforward process that most filers successfully prepare their bankruptcy cases without a lawyer’s assistance. There’s nothing wrong with working alongside a bankruptcy law office to prepare your bankruptcy petition. However, unless one of the following circumstances applies to you, you should be able to save money by filing this famously straightforward type of bankruptcy on your own:
You own luxury property, multiple pieces of real estate, and/or a small business
You have a disability that makes it impractical to file on your own
You’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances and don’t know how to navigate them without legal advice
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The other major type of consumer bankruptcy is Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This process is generally available to anyone who doesn’t own a small business, unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy which is only available to low-income filers who meet specific income eligibility limits. Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires filers to repay a manageable portion of their debt over 3-5 years before the remainder is discharged. (Chapter 7 filers can have their debts discharged in as little as 90 days, without repaying any debt first.)
Creating a repayment plan in ways that promote success is a complex process. As a result, you’ll need an attorney’s help with your legal issues if you choose to file bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thankfully though, you’ll be permitted to repay your legal debt per your monthly repayment plan installments over 3-5 years. This means that you’ll use funds to repay your attorney that would have been sent to your other creditors no matter what.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you don’t earn much income, you may qualify to have a “legal aid” attorney help you with your bankruptcy case either for free or at very little cost. Civil legal aid societies employ and recruit volunteer attorneys to help low-income members of the community with certain legal needs.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Becoming the client of a legal aid society will allow you to develop an attorney-client relationship with a staff or volunteer attorney who is knowledgeable about bankruptcy law. This lawyer will walk you through every step of your case, just like a private attorney would. You may need to spend some time on a waitlist before your attorney can begin work on your case though. Legal aid societies only help a fraction of the community because their resources are limited. They use eligibility screenings and waitlists as ways to manage these finite resources.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The Legal Services Corporation funds more civil legal aid societies in the United States than any other organization does. As a result, it tends to “set the standard” for how legal aid societies determine eligibility for their services. If an organization receives LSC funding, it commits to providing services for members of the community whose annual household income falls below a specific dollar amount. Essentially, the less money you earn, the more likely it is that you’ll be eligible for help from a legal aid society.
Note however, that not all legal aid societies receive LSC funding or follow this model. As a result, you’ll want to check with organizations independently before making any assumptions about whether you’re eligible for their free or low-cost services.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Contact information (phone numbers, addresses, etc.) for the civil legal aid societies located in Cleveland and surrounding communities can be found below. Remember that each operates independently; if one doesn’t meet your needs, another one might.
Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.
50 South Main Street, Akron, OH 44308
Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc.
525 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 400, Toledo OH 43604-1371
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland, OH 44113-1354
Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati
215 East Ninth Street, Suite 200, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Did you know that anyone interested in learning more about the bankruptcy process can schedule an initial consultation with a consumer bankruptcy law firm? Most of these firms offer free case evaluations to anyone who wants one. If you meet with an attorney in this setting (not a paralegal, as they can’t give legal advice) you won’t be obligated to work with the firm moving forward. Think of this meeting as a “try it before you figure out if you want to buy it” situation. During this meeting, you can ask the bankruptcy lawyer you’re meeting with any questions that you have about filing for bankruptcy and whether it’s the best option for your family.
You canlocate Cleveland bankruptcy attorneys using any of the following resources:
The “find an attorney” feature on the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys website (NACBA)
Local bar association search services
Attorney information listed on the Ohio State Bar Association website
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you have already begun researching the bankruptcy process, you may have come across the term “pro se.” A pro se filer is one who prepares their bankruptcy case without an attorney’s assistance. Even if you attend a consultation but ultimately don’t enter into an attorney-client relationship when preparing your petition, you’ll be considered a “pro se filer” by the court.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Filing without an attorney’s assistance doesn’t have to mean filing without access to valuable guidance. There are many resources – online and in print – created to help Chapter 7 self-filers succeed. For example, there are hundreds of articles, definitions, and guides for self-filers posted on the Upsolve Learning Center. These materials are written by attorneys, are available for free, and can be accessed without a login. You can find many articles written about non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives posted here too. Essentially, if you’re struggling with debt, this resource will help you learn about your various options.
Additionally, you can find a free Chapter 7 filing tool on the Upsolve website. If you pass the tool’s eligibility screening, you can use this platform to access all of your required bankruptcy forms. You can even fill them out on the platform, using easy-to-navigate guidance. This tool takes the guesswork out of bankruptcy forms for filers of “simple cases.”
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Ohio bankruptcy courts also provide free information about the bankruptcy process. Stop by any local bankruptcy court during business hours to pick up free printed guides on achieving a fresh financial start through Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Depending on what information is available, you can use these guides to learn more about your upcoming meeting of creditors, eligibility for a filing fee waiver, reporting unlawful harassment by debt collectors, etc.
Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse
255 East Temple Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
21041 Burbank Boulevard Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse
411 West Fourth Street Santa Ana, CA 92701
3420 Twelfth Street
3420 Twelfth Street Riverside, CA 92501
Jacob Weinberger United States Courthouse
325 West F Street San Diego, CA 92101
Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and United States Courthouse
280 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113
Oakland City Center
1300 Clay Street Oakland, CA 94612
Phillip Burton United States Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102
Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse
2500 Tulare Street Fresno, CA 93721
1200 I Street
1200 I Street Modesto, CA 95354
Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse
501 I Street Sacramento, CA 95814
If you’ve done your research and determined that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt relief option available for your unique circumstances, know that you can move forward with this process successfully – whether you choose to work with an attorney or file bankruptcy on your own. If you opt to work with an attorney, they will walk you through the process. If you choose to file pro se, free, reputable guides will walk you through the process. Ultimately, you should just take a little time to figure out which option makes the most sense for your needs and priorities. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks, so you really can’t go wrong either way.