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 Austin, Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
If you’re hoping that filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can provide you with a fresh start, know that you don’t necessarily need a lawyer’s help to achieve this goal. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is so straightforward that most low-income filers can prepare their cases without an attorney’s (potentially expensive) help.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process allows filers to have their eligible debts discharged in as little as 90 days. Only residents of low-income households are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is the primary reason why the Chapter 7 filing process remains straightforward consistently, no matter where you’re filing from in the United States. The courts recognize that low-income Chapter 7 filers likely can’t afford attorneys’ fees.
If you can afford an attorney’s help and you’d prefer to have professional guidance as you prepare your case, you can hire a lawyer at any time. However, if you pay attention to detail, you don’t mind filling out paperwork, and you’d like to save some money, you can likely file on your own (“pro se”). Generally, Chapter 7 filers only need an attorney’s assistance if their financial situation is particularly complex or some unusual circumstance makes filing on their own difficult.
If you earn too much money to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you have additional options available to you. One of these options involves filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Unlike Chapter 7 filers, Chapter 13 filers almost always need to hire legal counsel if they want their bankruptcy process to succeed. Filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13 is considerably more complex than filing under Chapter 7. As a result, the failure rate of cases filed without an attorney’s assistance is high. Thankfully, Chapter 13 repayment plans can be structured to include attorneys’ fees. This means that filers pay their attorneys out of repayment funds that would have been paid to unsecured creditors anyway.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually a straightforward process, but it can be helpful to have an experienced bankruptcy attorney in your corner. If you can’t afford to pay for legal advice, you may benefit from contacting a legal aid society. If you meet specific income-based eligibility criteria, you can receive legal services through these organizations at no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you have ever spent time in a busy law office, you already have a sense of what it is like to work with legal aid. If you meet the organization’s eligibility criteria, you’ll be able to develop an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer employed by that non-profit. However, these organizations have less access to funding than traditional, private law firms do, so you may need to spend time on a waiting list before you can receive help with your legal issues.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies are independent organizations. Therefore, each sets its own eligibility criteria. When you contact a specific legal aid society, you can inquire about whether you meet their eligibility guidelines.
It’s worth noting that many legal aid organizations honor the minimum eligibility standards set by the Legal Services Corporation. This organization provides funding to many legal aid societies nationwide. Non-profits that receive LSC funding are required to provide legal services to individuals whose household income doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line annually.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
There are many legal aid societies located in and near Austin. You may need to use the phone numbers and contact information listed below to connect with more than one non-profit before you find one that meets your needs.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you’re ineligible for legal aid or the legal aid society waiting lists in your area are too long for your comfort, you may want to schedule an initial consultation with a private firm that practices bankruptcy law. Many lawyers offer free consultations to anyone interested in exploring their legal options. This means that you could schedule a no-cost case evaluation even if you’re thinking about preparing your bankruptcy petition on your own. A consultation (with an attorney, not a paralegal) will allow you to ask questions about the bankruptcy process without any obligation to work with that lawyer (or even to file bankruptcy) moving forward.
To find a reputable Austin-area consumer bankruptcy lawyer, you can search the Texas State Bar Association website or local bar association sites. Alternatively, you can “find a lawyer” on the website run by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). You can even ask loved ones for their recommendations
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you like a challenge and want to save a significant amount of money, you can choose to file “pro se” (without an attorney’s help). This approach isn’t the right one for every filer, but the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is generally straightforward enough that you can file on your own. If you choose to file pro se, you can take advantage of many great resources designed to help self-filers.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
A great place to start researching any and all aspects of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro se is the Upsolve Learning Center. This platform is free and is always accessible to the public without a login. The Learning Center contains hundreds of articles and guides related to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Although the articles are generally most helpful to Chapter 7 filers, they can also assist individuals struggling to manage credit card debt, those curious about various types of bankruptcy, and even filers hoping to have their bankruptcy filing fee waived.
Upsolve’s non-profit services also include a free web tool that is accessible to those who are eligible to use it. This tool allows individual Chapter 7 filers (who aren’t pursuing joint filings) to prepare their bankruptcy cases on a streamlined, secure, easy-to-follow platform. If you qualify to use this free tool, it can make the process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy even easier than it would be otherwise.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’d like to supplement online resources with printed material, you can pick up self-help filing resources at whichever bankruptcy court is nearest to you. In addition to filing issues, these resources cover topics including the mandatory meeting of creditors, halting wage garnishments, and reporting debt collector harassment.
Bob Casey United States Courthouse
515 Rusk Street Houston, TX 77002
1701 West Business Highway 83 McAllen, TX 78501
Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse
615 East Houston Street San Antonio, TX 78205
Homer Thornberry Judicial Building
903 San Jacinto Boulevard Austin, TX 78701
Earle Cabell Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1100 Commerce Street Dallas, TX 75242
Eldon B. Mahon United States Courthouse
501 West Tenth Street Fort Worth, TX 76102
George H. Mahon Federal Building and United States Courthouse
1205 Texas Avenue Lubbock, TX 79401
J. Marvin Jones Federal Building
205 East Fifth Avenue Amarillo, TX 79101
Wells Fargo Bank Building
660 North Central Expressway Plano, TX 75074
110 North College Avenue Tyler, TX 75702
Jack Brooks Federal Building and United States Courthouse
300 Willow Street Beaumont, TX 77701
When it comes to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you need to choose whichever resources and approaches work best for your financial situation and your preferences generally. You may choose to hire a bankruptcy lawyer and you may choose to file pro se. This process can help you to achieve a fresh financial start but it is a bold step to take. If you’ve determined that filing bankruptcy is the best way to approach debt relief under your current circumstances, you should do so in whatever way makes you most comfortable.
If you remain unsure of whether bankruptcy is the best option for you, don’t fret. You can take advantage of a free credit counseling session through an accredited non-profit Texas credit counseling agency. A credit counselor can help you to explore your options so that you can make an informed decision about how to move forward.