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 Columbus, Ohio.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
Many Americans are surprised to learn that it is possible to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case successfully without an attorney’s help. Unlike the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually so straightforward filers don’t always require paid assistance to achieve their desired debt relief.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Why is the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process so straightforward that it doesn’t usually require a lawyer’s guidance to complete it successfully? Only members of households that don’t earn much income are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. People who earn dependable and higher than average wages seek consumer bankruptcy relief through the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process. The courts recognize that unlike Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers, most Chapter 7 filers can’t afford to hire an attorney. They keep the process straightforward purposefully, so that most filers can complete it on their own, if they choose to.
It’s important to note that hiring an attorney is an equally valid approach to filing on your own. It’s just a more expensive approach, at least initially. If you own a small business, you’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances, or your situation is complex, you may benefit from speaking with an attorney, even though you can technically file for Chapter 7 relief on your own. Sometimes, hiring a bankruptcy attorney will help save money in the long run. Whichever approach is right for you uniquely is the approach you should take to this process.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a much more complex process than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is. As a result, you’ll want to connect with an experienced bankruptcy attorney if you’re ineligible to file for debt relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Too often, when filers attempt to prepare their Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions without the assistance of an attorney, their efforts fail. If you opt to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you’ll want to work with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to give your case the best possible shot at success.
Don’t hesitate to speak with an attorney about a Chapter 13 case if you’re worried about affording lawyers’ fees. Chances are, you’ll be able to integrate these fees into your Chapter 13 repayment plan. That way, you’ll pay back your attorney for their services with funds that would have gone to other unsecured creditors regardless.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’d prefer to work with a bankruptcy attorney on your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case but you’re concerned about affording attorneys’ fees, you may be able to get help with your legal issues for free. Legal aid societies in and around Columbus provide no-cost legal services to members of low-income households.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you’re eligible to receive legal aid, you’ll be empowered to develop an attorney-client relationship with a bankruptcy lawyer employed by the organization with which you’re working. However, it may take a little time before you get access to this one-on-one opportunity for legal advice. Unlike private law firms, legal aid societies are funded by donors and grants. They have limited resources and their services are often highly in demand. As a result, you may be placed on a waiting list for services once you pass an organization’s eligibility screening process.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Every legal aid organization creates a unique eligibility screening process. Therefore, it’s important to ask what qualifications you need to have before you can receive assistance from any particular legal aid society. With that said, most organizations screen candidates based on their household income. For example, organizations that are funded in part by theLegal Services Corporation are required to assist (at minimum) those who live in households that earn less than 125% of the federal poverty line on an annual basis.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Use the phone numbers and other contact information noted below if you’re interested in connecting with a legal aid society in or near Columbus. Make sure to ask about their eligibility criteria and estimated wait times for assistance.
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)
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
No matter which approach you take to filing bankruptcy, you can schedule an initial consultation with a law office that practices bankruptcy. Scheduling a consultation with a consumer bankruptcy attorney (not a paralegal) doesn’t obligate you to work with that professional or to file bankruptcy. This meeting simply allows you to ask questions about the bankruptcy process and your debt relief options. Many bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations to anyone interested in filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
To find an attorney who practices bankruptcy law in or near Columbus, consider connecting with local bar associations or searching the Ohio State Bar Association’s website. You might also want to search NACBA’s website. NACBA is the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and serves as a great resource for filers of different types of bankruptcy.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
Some filers find the process of filing “pro se” (without a bankruptcy lawyer’s help) to be empowering. It’s a way to save money and to retain control over how long it takes to complete a bankruptcy petition. It isn’t the best option for everyone, but it is certainly possible to file for bankruptcy successfully on your own if your financial situation isn’t particularly complex.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
You can find hundreds of articles, at no cost, on Upsolve’s Learning Center. This resource is available to the public at all times, without a login. In addition to articles about filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro se, you’ll find guides on subjects ranging from managing credit card debt to scheduling a free credit counseling session with an accredited, non-profit credit counseling organization. These articles and guides can be helpful to anyone struggling to manage their debts.
Additionally, eligible filers can prepare their Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions (no joint filings) on Upsolve’s free web tool. This secure platform is completely free, so Upsolve never asks for credit card information. It is a resource that, due to a few reasons, Upsolve can’t offer to everyone. However, those who are eligible to use it benefit from its streamlined, secure, and easy-to-use interface. If you use the web tool, you will have to print out your completed forms, as the courts don’t allow for online filing of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions at this time.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
It can be helpful to work from a variety of resources, as each may bring a few new pieces of information to the table. For example, helpful printed resources can be found at the bankruptcy court nearest you. Courts often provide information about filing fee waiver requests, preparing for a meeting of creditors, and other tips to help filers achieve a fresh start.
Ralph Regula Federal Building and United States Courthouse
401 McKinley Ave SW Canton, OH 44702
John F. Seiberling Federal Building and United States Courthouse
Two South Main Street Akron, OH 44308
Old Post Office Building
120 West Third Street Dayton, OH 45402
Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Courthouse
201 Superior Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114
James M. Ashley and Thomas W.L. Ashley United States Courthouse
1716 Spielbusch Avenue Toledo, OH 43604
221 East Fourth Street Cincinnati, OH 45202
170 North High Street Columbus, OH 43215
Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and United States Courthouse
10 East Commerce Street Youngstown, OH 44503
If you’ve decided that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best option for your unique situation, you can take charge of your bankruptcy process in any way you see fit. Whether that involves hiring a bankruptcy lawyer you trust, working with a legal aid society, or filing on your own – you can use whatever approach works best for you. At the end of the day, it’s about taking brave, bold, and commendable steps to achieve a fresh financial start.