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 Memphis, Tennessee.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 29, 2020
Too often, responsible adults find themselves struggling with overwhelming debt. If this sounds like your financial situation, there are ways to achieve the fresh start you deserve. If you don’t earn much income, you’re probably eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most filers don’t need to hire a bankruptcy lawyer to complete this process successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Unlike Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is complex and requires a lengthy debt repayment period, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process allows filers to have their eligible debts (including credit card debts) discharged in as little as three months’ time. As this form of debt relief has the potential to be extremely generous, it isn’t available to everyone in the United States. Only members of low-income households who meet specific income-based eligibility criteria qualify to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Because the filers who seek relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code have very little means, the courts purposefully keep the process straightforward so that it doesn’t generally require filers to hire an attorney to prepare their bankruptcy petitions successfully. If you’re eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief and you don’t own luxury property, multiple pieces of real estate, a small business, or have an unusually complex financial situation, you should be able to file on your own successfully.
To file on your own, all you really need is time, a willingness to share personal financial information, a filing fee (unless you can secure a waiver), and some reputable self-filing resources. More information about finding reputable self-filing resources can be found later in this guide.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Many Chapter 13 bankruptcy filers also benefit from a discharge of debt at the end of their bankruptcy process. However, they must first restructure their debts with the assistance of a bankruptcy attorney and pay down their debts via a manageable repayment plan over 3-5 years. At the end of that repayment period, any remaining eligible debt will be discharged by the court, provided that the filer has adhered to their repayment schedule.
The Chapter 13 bankruptcy process is much more complex than the Chapter 7 process is. As a result, bankruptcy cases prepared without the assistance of a bankruptcy law firm almost always fail. However, unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, access to this debt relief option is not contingent on income limits. Therefore, many middle-class individuals struggling with debt use this process to achieve a fresh financial start over time. As a bonus, legal fees can be integrated into a filer’s repayment plan, so repayment of legal service fees is generally manageable.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Some Chapter 7 filers don’t feel comfortable preparing their cases on their own but they lack the funds to afford an attorney. If you find yourself in this situation, consider connecting with a legal aid society in your area. You may be eligible for free or low-cost assistance with your legal issues.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you have ever visited a law office before, you already have a good sense of what it is like to work with legal aid. Both private and non-profit operations allow clients to develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a licensed attorney. Both operations tend to be busy and a little overwhelming. The major difference between working with legal aid and private law offices is that legal aid societies rely on grants and donations for funding. As a result, they must screen potential clients for eligibility based on their income levels. Also, clients may be placed on a waitlist before they can begin receiving legal advice if they are particularly busy.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
When Congress created the Legal Services Corporation in the 1970s, it established the largest organization in the United States devoted to funding civil legal aid societies. Any LSC funding recipient organization is required to provide certain free or low-cost legal services to applicants, provided that their annual household income isn’t greater than 125% of the federal poverty line. With that said, every organization (even LSC funding recipients) can choose to serve communities beyond those limited by these income restrictions. You can check the eligibility criteria of legal aid organizations in your area by contacting them directly.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Below, you’ll find phone numbers, addresses, and other relevant contact information for Memphis-area legal aid societies. If you choose to connect with them, make sure to confirm your eligibility before scheduling an initial consultation.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee
607 W Summit Hill Dr, Knoxville, TN 37902-2011
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
1321 Murfreesboro Pike Ste 400, Nashville, TN 37217-2665
Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc.
Falls Building, 22 N. Front Street, 11th Floor, Memphis, TN 38103-5013
West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
210 W. Main Street, P.O. Box 2066, Jackson, TN 38302-2066
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
You’ve probably never popped over to the website of a local bar association or the Tennessee State Bar Association. You’ve also probably never heard of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). However, exploring these sites is a great way to find an attorney in your area who offers free consultations to anyone interested in receiving a no-risk, no-obligation bankruptcy case evaluation. You can schedule an initial consultation with an attorney even if you think you’ll end up filing on your own. This forum allows you to ask an attorney (not a paralegal) questions about your situation in a no-risk, cost-free setting.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to file bankruptcy on your own, you’ll need to learn a little about bankruptcy law to file your petition successfully. As you research, you may come across the term “pro se.” This legal term is Latin for “in one’s own behalf.” It is used nowadays to describe someone who files legal action without the assistance of an attorney.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you’re hesitant to file pro se because you’re worried you won’t have adequate guidance, it’s important to note that there are many reputable guides and articles online designed to help pro se filers navigate the bankruptcy process successfully. For example, Upsolve – which is a non-profit funded by generous donors including Harvard University – maintains a free public database referred to as the Upsolve Learning Center. This hub, which is accessible without a login, contains hundreds of articles that assist pro se filers and consumers struggling with debt more generally.
Additionally, Upsolve hosts a free filing tool for users who meet specific eligibility criteria. These criteria exist because the tool only provides comprehensive filing guidance for “simple cases,” not joint filings, etc. This platform allows users to access all the bankruptcy forms they need to file for Chapter 7 relief pro se in the format of a user-friendly questionnaire. It also provides a secure, easy-to-navigate place to finalize these forms before they can be printed and submitted to the court.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’d like to look over information about consumer bankruptcy in a printed form for free, head to the bankruptcy court nearest where you live and work. Bankruptcy courts provide printed materials on subjects as varied as preparing for your meeting of creditors and dealing with harassment from debt collectors after the automatic stay has been initiated.
One Memphis Place
200 Jefferson Avenue Memphis, TN 38103
United States Customs House
701 Broadway Nashville, TN 37203
Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse
800 Market Street Knoxville, TN 37902
James H. Quillen United States Courthouse
220 West Depot Street Greeneville, TN 37743
Historic United States Courthouse
31 East 11th Street Chattanooga, TN 37402
Filing bankruptcy is only one debt relief option available to individuals struggling with debt. If you’re unsure of whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session with a licensed credit counselor to explore your options. However, if you have already determined that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best way forward, know that you can take whichever filing approach works best for you.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter much whether you choose to use free resources to guide you through the pro se filing process or you choose to hire an attorney. Each approach will help you to achieve a fresh start. One will save you money, the other will minimize stress. Whichever approach is best for you is the one that you should opt for.