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 Nashville, Tennessee. .
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 29, 2020
Many Americans are understandably surprised to learn that it’s possible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a bankruptcy attorney’s assistance. Unlike Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is undeniably complex, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually so straightforward that most filers can prepare their bankruptcy cases without consulting a law firm.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Most Tennessee residents who don’t own a small business, multiple pieces of real estate, or own luxury property can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on their own if they choose to. Of course, anyone who prefers to have a bankruptcy law office prepare their bankruptcy petition on their behalf may do so. It is often less stressful to have a bankruptcy lawyer handle the legal “heavy lifting” when it comes to filing bankruptcy. However, most low-income filers can’t afford attorneys’ fees. If hiring an attorney isn’t financially feasible right now, know that you can successfully prepare your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on your own.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
For better and for worse, those who are ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because they earn too much money (and therefore don’t pass the Chapter 7 Means Test) need to seek paid legal advice and assistance. Unlike the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, which is famously straightforward in most cases, Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases are always complex. The process of creating a 3-5 year repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code shouldn’t be attempted without the help of a lawyer who practices bankruptcy law. Otherwise, that plan will likely be doomed to failure.
Thankfully, you’ll likely be able to “fold in” some of your legal fees into your repayment plan. Therefore, paying for an attorney’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy legal services will be manageable, as you’ll use funds to pay them back that would have been sent to your other creditors anyway.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re eligible to file under Chapter 7 and you’d prefer to have help with your legal issues, you can contact a local legal aid society. Legal aid societies help low-income filers across the United States with their consumer bankruptcy needs. Their services are available either for free or for minimal fees.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you pass a legal aid society’s eligibility screening process, you’ll be given the opportunity to cultivate an attorney-client relationship with a licensed staff or volunteer lawyer. Keep in mind however, that legal aid societies are busy ventures. Their services are often in high demand. Therefore, after the organization confirms that you qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance, you may be placed on a waitlist before you and your attorney can begin working on your bankruptcy case.
If you’re worried about waiting too long before you can benefit from professional advice, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session while you wait for your legal aid appointment. Accredited, non-profit credit counseling agencies can help you form a personalized plan of action to deal with your debt while you’re waiting for help with your case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The Legal Services Corporation provides funding to many of the legal aid societies nationwide. Although each legal aid society creates its own eligibility criteria, many follow the model set by LSC. Organizations that are funded, in part, by LSC are required to provide free or low-cost legal assistance to members of low-income households that meet certain income limits. At a minimum, members of households that report an annual income that doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line qualify for assistance at these societies.
To confirm the eligibility criteria used by legal aid organizations in your area, use the phone numbers listed below to contact them and ask about their specific requirements.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
You can use the contact information listed below to connect with local legal aid societies. Just make sure to check that you meet a specific aid society’s eligibility criteria before you schedule an initial consultation. You can also ask about their estimated waitlist times when you call.
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)
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Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Even if you think that you’d like to try preparing your bankruptcy case yourself, you can still benefit from scheduling a free consultation with a bankruptcy firm in your area that offers these no-cost initial meetings. Attending a free consultation doesn’t obligate you to anything. You simply invest a little time and in return, you’ll receive a free case evaluation and the opportunity to ask questions before you file bankruptcy.
You can ask questions about preparing for your meeting of creditors, the different types of bankruptcy, halting creditor harassment, resolving wage garnishment actions, whether your case is so complex that you should work with an attorney… whatever you’re curious about.
To find a licensed bankruptcy attorney near your home, consider checking out these resources:
Local bar association websites
The Tennessee State Bar Association website
The website for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
To file “pro se” means to file without an attorney’s help. Filing pro se isn’t the best approach for everyone, as each filer’s needs, priorities, and financial situation is different. However, those who wish to save money by filing their simple cases pro se can do so successfully with the help of some free self-filing resources.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A good place to begin your online research into the pro se filing process is the Upsolve Learning Center. This searchable databased, also organized conveniently by topic area, features hundreds of guides to the self-filing process and articles about debt management and relief options. This resource is free and is accessible to everyone without a login. Whether you’re looking to manage a single credit card debt or you need to restructure dozens of debts through Chapter 13 bankruptcy, this resource can help you learn about your options.
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and are filing a “simple case” (not a joint or overly complex filing) you may also be eligible to utilize Upsolve’s free web tool. This platform allows filers to prepare their bankruptcy forms in a secure and easy-to-use format. Note that you will need to print off your completed forms, as bankruptcy courts don’t allow electronic filing. This tool allows self-filers to take virtually all guesswork out of the pro se case preparation process.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you would like to supplement online research with printed self-filing guides, you can pick some up at the nearest bankruptcy court. These can be particularly helpful if you hope to request a filing fee waiver or have to undertake other specific actions that may be unique to your bankruptcy district. Most bankruptcy rules are standard, but some are specific to each district.
One Memphis Place
200 Jefferson Avenue Memphis, TN 38103
Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse
800 Market Street Knoxville, TN 37902
United States Customs House
701 Broadway Nashville, TN 37203
Historic United States Courthouse
31 East 11th Street Chattanooga, TN 37402
James H. Quillen United States Courthouse
220 West Depot Street Greeneville, TN 37743
If filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the best debt relief option for your financial circumstances, you can hold your head high as you navigate this process – with or without an attorney. Filing for bankruptcy can be a brave and empowering way to resolve debts beyond your control and to seek a fresh financial start. If you choose to file pro se to save money, great. If you choose to hire an attorney or work with a legal aid society, that’s also great. Use whichever approach is right for you and your circumstances.