2020 Best Invention

The Upsolve Policy Platform


At Upsolve, we believe that many of the most effective nonprofits combine direct services and advocacy in their work.

In the near term, their direct services work allows them to have a concrete impact on the marginalized communities they serve. Direct services work also enables nonprofits to learn about what public policy issues matter to their beneficiaries, develop a grassroots base of supporters affected by a problem, and build unique storytelling skills that are required for effective advocacy. Too often, public policy ideas come from people who are disconnected from the communities they’re trying to serve. 

In the long term, advocacy allows nonprofits to enact narrative shifts and policy change that can have long term impact at scale. While technology-driven direct services work shares many traits with public policy – namely, scalability and low marginal costs – we must uproot a broken system to ensure long term change. 

In 2016, we started Upsolve as a pure direct services nonprofit. Over the last few years, as we listened to our users, we’ve started to develop a policy platform, driven by their needs. As we grow and learn, our platform will expand and deepen. 

Related Link: Upsolve advisor, Hon. Robert Gordon (Bankruptcy Judge from 2006-2020), writes: "Change the Bankruptcy System to Help End Cycle of Poverty" (Law360)

Complicated legal forms are modern-day literacy tests. There are many ways to simplify the federal bankruptcy forms through plain language and better design without compromising their substantive complexity. 

The main problem is that the bankruptcy forms and process was designed around the assumption that most people would be able to afford a lawyer. This doesn't make sense when bankruptcy is specifically a legal problem you only have when you’re facing severe financial distress. The average Upsolve user has over $50,000 in debt and only a few hundred dollars in total savings. The average bankruptcy lawyer costs over $1,000.

Given that the system is designed around lawyers, it’s not easy for a consumer to figure out what bankruptcy forms they need to complete for a simple Chapter 7 case. The U.S. Courts website requires them to separately print out over a dozen PDFs. When they do print out those PDFs, they must navigate many of the same forms that are used for much more complicated cases filed by business owners, investors, and other so-called "non-consumers" and understand terms like “unsecured nonpriority debt” and “set off.”

Over the last four years, we’ve heard judges and lawyers talk about the high dismissal rate for unrepresented debtors. The government has the power to design simpler, more accessible forms and online experiences that would dramatically decrease these dismissal rates. Upsolve should not need to exist. The federal courts should offer a tool like Upsolve to everyone.

Making rights simpler and easier to access for people who can't afford lawyers should appeal to both conservatives who fight for individual responsibility and liberals who fight for social justice. A simpler legal system is also much cheaper for us to achieve equal protection under the law than providing everyone a free lawyer when they can't afford one.

While we know bankruptcy best, the need for legal simplification applies to most other areas of poverty law. We won't have equal rights as long as it’s impossible for normal people to access their rights without paying fees they can’t afford. Today’s complexity is a civil rights injustice. 

Solutions: Redesign the bankruptcy forms and process around the assumption that individuals filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy will not be able to afford lawyers; get rid of all Latin in the legal system; mandate a 10th-grade reading level or below on all legal websites, forms, and form instructions; introduce design standards and audits.  

Upsolve User Experiences

2,108+ Members Online
bryant graham
Bryant Graham
★★★★ 3 days ago
Upsolve was very helpful i highly recommend there service.
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Keith Vincent
Keith Vincent
★★★★★ 3 days ago
Upsolve provides a invaluable service at no cost. The clerk of court told me all of my paperwork was in order. It was done by myself with the assistance of Upsolve staff. Great Service for the people of this country. Thank you Upsolve.
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Andrew Morales
Andrew Morales
★★★★★ 4 days ago
Exceptional Service and Support - A Lifeline During Bankruptcy I am delighted to share my heartfelt gratitude for Upsolve and the exceptional assistance they provided my wife and me during our bankruptcy filing. Their expertise, kindness, and user-friendly platform made an otherwise daunting process remarkably simple and accessible. From the moment we engaged with Upsolve, their team exhibited an unwavering commitment to helping us navigate the complexities of bankruptcy with ease. Their knowledge and professionalism were evident at every step, and they went above and beyond to ensure we felt supported and understood throughout the entire journey. Upsolve's user-friendly platform was a game-changer, simplifying the otherwise overwhelming paperwork involved in bankruptcy filings. Their intuitive interface guided us through each necessary form, reducing confusion and streamlining the process. Thanks to their comprehensive resources and guidance, we were able to complete the filing accurately and efficiently. What truly set Upsolve apart was their empathetic and caring approach. The Upsolve team was always available to address our questions and concerns promptly, providing clear and compassionate explanations that put our minds at ease. Their commitment to accessibility is commendable, particularly for individuals like us who couldn't afford the services of a lawyer. Upsolve made bankruptcy filing a viable option for those facing financial hardships, providing much-needed support to those who need it most. While we have just completed the filing process and await the final outcome, we are confident that Upsolve's expertise and meticulous assistance will yield positive results. However, regardless of the outcome, we are eternally grateful for their invaluable help. They have given us hope and a fresh start, empowering us to take control of our financial future. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I wholeheartedly recommend Upsolve. Their commitment to making the bankruptcy process more accessible, their exceptional support, and their user-friendly platform make them an unparalleled resource for anyone in need. Thank you, Upsolve, for being our guiding light during this challenging time.
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There are countless legal problems that don’t require someone to go to three years of law school and pay $100,000+ to be competently trained to provide assistance. But that’s the status quo today. This restricts the supply of help available, drives up the cost of legal assistance, and guarantees that we don’t have equal protection under the law. 

These regulations have a particularly pernicious effect on Black and Brown communities. Consider which group of people disproportionately has access to three years and $100,000-plus of graduate school education and which group of people disproportionately cannot afford the legal help they need. Reforming these regulations is a matter of racial justice

The legal fees we make people pay to access their civil legal rights in bankruptcy, housing, family, and social security disability law resemble poll taxes. If you can’t afford the fees, you can’t afford your civil legal rights. 

Fortunately, there’s a movement in America to reform these unjust rules on a state-by-state basis. The Supreme Courts in Arizona and Utah have already taken steps in 2020, and several other states are in the process of enacting change. 

Solution: Allow vetted professionals to provide legal assistance in routine areas of poverty law.   

Further Reading

Over the last few years, we’ve shared our thoughts on a more equitable legal system in articles and podcasts. Our team members have also partnered with institutions like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Access to Justice Center, the Legal Services Corporation, and TED to educate the general public. 

What’s Next?

Advocacy requires teamwork. If you or your organization care about any of these issues, please send us an email. We’d love to keep a running list of allies, as we think through how we can push our ideas forward. 

If you’re part of the media and you’d like to hear more from us or real Upsolve users about these issues, please reach out. 

If you’re a judge, court administrator, or legislator who has an interest in learning more or taking action, we’d love to support you. Please reach out.

You can email Upsolve CEO Jonathan Petts at jonathan@upsolve.org


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. 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.

To learn more, read why we started Upsolve in 2016, our reviews from past users, and our press coverage from places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.