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 Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 15, 2020
If anxiety about affording legal fees is holding you back from filing for bankruptcy, it’s important to understand that, unless you own a small business, the costs associated with most bankruptcy cases are very manageable. Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers usually repay their legal fees over 3-5 years as part of their repayment plan. Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers often successfully file on their own. Those who don’t prefer to file on their own may be eligible to work with a free bankruptcy lawyer courtesy of a legal aid society.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Filing for bankruptcy isn’t the best debt relief option for all consumers. Generally, filing bankruptcy is a good idea if you have a lot of unsecured debt (credit card bills, medical bills, etc.) and you’re not worried about your credit score taking a temporary hit. If you’re unsure of whether you should file bankruptcy or explore other options, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session. This will allow a credit counselor to provide you with a personalized debt management plan after reviewing the details of your financial situation.
If you decide that moving forward with the bankruptcy process is the best option for you and your family, you’ll have two consumer bankruptcy options to explore: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. If you don’t earn much money, you’ll likely benefit more from filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is an option exclusively available to consumers who are members of low-income households. Unlike Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is complex and requires a 3-5 year repayment plan, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is straightforward and doesn’t require repayment before eligible debts are discharged.
Unless you own luxury property and/or real estate other than your home, you should be able to successfully prepare and file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition without hiring a lawyer to help you. You can choose to work with a bankruptcy law firm at any time. This may be a good option for you if your schedule is packed or you don’t feel comfortable filling out paperwork without assistance. However, most Chapter 7 filers can successfully complete the bankruptcy process without incurring legal fees, which is helpful to know if you’re strapped for cash.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
If you earn too much money to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, your other consumer bankruptcy option is Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Also known as “reorganization bankruptcy,” Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires filers to successfully repay their debt (in manageable monthly amounts) over 3-5 years before any remaining eligible debts can be discharged. This is a complex process that shouldn’t be attempted without the help of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. When filers try to create repayment plans on their own, they almost always fail. A failed bankruptcy will leave you in a worse financial position than you’re in now, so don’t try to navigate this process alone.
Thankfully, you’ll be able to treat the law office you hire as a creditor throughout your Chapter 13 process. Meaning, you’ll be able to repay some of the fees for your lawyer’s legal services as part of your repayment plan. Many Chapter 13 filers end up repaying their lawyer using funds that would have been sent to their other creditors no matter what.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’d like some help with your bankruptcy case and you don’t earn much money, you may qualify for free or low-cost services from a legal aid society. These nonprofit legal organizations usually serve members of low-income households in their community.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you’re eligible for legal aid assistance, you won’t just receive legal advice about how to file your case. You’ll develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a licensed attorney, just as you would if you worked with a private law firm.
However, your lawyer might not be able to begin working through your legal issues immediately. When legal aid society services are in high demand, clients are often placed on waiting lists until an attorney’s schedule allows them to begin work on a new case. If you pass a legal aid society’s eligibility screening process, make sure to ask how long it will take before you can begin meeting with your lawyer.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Think of each legal aid society as an independent enterprise. No two organizations approach eligibility in exactly the same way. As a result, it’s a good idea to contact any organization you’re interested in working with to confirm their unique eligibility criteria. Most, though not all, screen potential clients based on their household income. For example, organizations that receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation generally assist members of the community whose annual household income is less than 125% of the federal poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
If you’re interested in exploring the possibility of working with a legal aid society in Tulsa, use the phone numbers and other contact information listed below to connect with each organization directly.
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Let’s say that you’ve decided that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best option for you, but you’re unsure of whether you should hire an attorney or prepare your case yourself. You may want to take the “first step” of scheduling a confidential, risk-free consultation with a bankruptcy law firm. Most consumer bankruptcy law firms offer free consultations to anyone interested in learning about their options. Taking this meeting won’t obligate you to hire that firm or even to file for bankruptcy. This is just a setting that allows you to ask a lawyer (not a paralegal) questions and to receive a free case evaluation.
If you’d like to find a bankruptcy attorney in your area, check out the websites hosted by the Oklahoma State Bar Association, or local bar associations. These sites can direct you to attorneys in your area. You can also use the “find an attorney” tool on the NACBA site. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy attorneys is a great resource if you’re thinking about scheduling a consultation and/or working with an attorney on your case. If after a consultation, you decide to file on your own, know that there are many no-cost resources available to help you achieve that goal successfully.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you run across the term “pro se” in your research about the bankruptcy process, pay special attention to the information surrounding that term. “Pro se” is the label that the courts use to identify filers who have prepared their cases without a bankruptcy attorney’s help. If an article uses the term “pro se,” it probably communicates information relevant to self-filers.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you choose to file your case pro se, you should take advantage of some of the many free, reputable self-filing resources available online. For example, you can head over to the Upsolve Learning Center to access hundreds of articles and guides written by lawyers, aimed at helping pro se filers navigate the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process successfully. This resource, which is always free and available without a login, also features articles about the Bankruptcy Code, the other types of bankruptcy, and non-bankruptcy debt management alternatives.
Additionally, Upsolve offers a free online filing tool for eligible Chapter 7 pro se filers who need a place to access required bankruptcy forms and prepare their “simple cases.” If you’re preparing a joint filing or have a complex case, you may not qualify to use this tool. However, if you are eligible to use this resource, you’ll be able to access all of your forms (no matter where you live in the United States) and prepare them in a secure, easy-to-follow online portal. This tool removes a lot of the paperwork-related stresses traditionally associated with self-filing.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also pick up printed guides to various bankruptcy law issues at any Oklahoma bankruptcy court. These guides, which are made available to the public at no cost, cover topics such as preparing for the Chapter 7 meeting of creditors, reporting unlawful communications by debt collectors, and requesting a waiver of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing fee.
Old Post Office Building
215 Dean A. McGee Avenue Oklahoma City, OK 73102
United States Post Office and Courthouse
101 N. 5th Street Okmulgee, OK 74447
224 South Boulder Avenue Tulsa, OK 74103
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and it’s a good option for you given the types of debt you’re struggling with, this process can provide you with a fresh financial start. You can begin by scheduling an initial consultation with a private law firm, contacting a legal aid society, or using online resources to begin filing pro se. There isn’t a “right or wrong” way to approach the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, as each filing option has unique benefits and drawbacks. You’ll want to take a little time to figure out which approach makes the most sense for you, your needs, and your financial situation.