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 Corpus Christi, Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 4, 2020
It has been observed that there is “no such thing as a free lunch.” Yes, it’s true that getting anything for free is a rare occurrence. For example, it’s very tough to find a free bankruptcy lawyer unless they’re offering their legal services through a legal aid society. However, it is possible to file bankruptcy affordably, even if you aren’t eligible to work with a free bankruptcy attorney through a legal aid nonprofit.
Although a private consumer bankruptcy attorney will charge you fees, if you’re filing under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, you can repay those fees over several years. If you’re filing bankruptcy under Chapter 7, you can successfully navigate the bankruptcy process without working with a law firm at all. Many Chapter 7 filers are able to prepare their bankruptcy petitions successfully on their own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
The United States bankruptcy courts keep the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process intentionally straightforward. If they didn’t keep this process straightforward enough that filers could prepare their bankruptcy forms on their own, many (if not most) low-income filers would be effectively barred from seeking debt relief because of their inability to pay a bankruptcy law office for help. As a result, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing process is relatively straightforward so that most filers (both individuals and spouses filing jointly) can prepare their bankruptcy petitions successfully without legal assistance.
With that said, if your financial situation is unusually complex or you’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances (such as a disability that makes it difficult to fill out paperwork without help), you should consider either working with a legal aid society or seeking out a low-cost lawyer in your area. Similarly, if you own luxury property or real estate other than your home, you’ll probably want to invest in professional legal help. Otherwise, that non-exempt property could be liquidated during your bankruptcy process. Under these unusual circumstances, self-filing doesn’t make good sense.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
Unlike the other major type of bankruptcy available to consumers – Chapter 13 bankruptcy – Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only made available to members of low-income households. If your annual income exceeds specific Chapter 7 eligibility limits, you’re not permitted to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. By contrast, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is available to the public, with very few exceptions. If you’re a small business owner, you may want to file under Chapter 11 instead. But if you don’t own a small business and you’re ineligible to file for relief under Chapter 7, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy may be a good alternative for you.
Note however that this bankruptcy process is far more complex than the Chapter 7 process is. As a result, you’ll need an attorney’s help if you choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you forego an attorney’s help, your case will be statistically doomed to fail. Thankfully though, paying an attorney for assistance with a Chapter 13 case is very manageable. You’ll simply “treat them like a creditor” for the purposes of your 3-5 year repayment plan. Essentially, you’ll pay them in installments over several years using funds that would have gone to other creditors anyway.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
The one time it’s “easy” for bankruptcy filers to access free or low-cost legal advice involves consulting a legal aid society. Texas legal aid societies generally provide low-income members of the community with access to a licensed attorney at little or no cost.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
When you contact a legal aid society to ask for assistance with your legal issues, you will likely be asked some screening questions. Answers to these questions help the organization determine whether you qualify for their free or low-cost help. These nonprofits operate on limited resources, so they’re generally only able to help the lowest-income members of the community.
If you pass the eligibility screening, you may be placed on a waitlist before you can develop an attorney-client relationship with your new lawyer and begin work on your bankruptcy case. Waitlists help legal aid societies to assist clients in the order they asked for help. When your new lawyer is ready to help you, they’ll ask you questions about your financial situation and will begin working through your Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
If you don’t earn much income, you’re probably eligible for assistance through a legal aid society. However, you won’t know if your situation meets a specific organization’s eligibility requirements until you contact that organization directly to learn more about their screening process. For example, if an organization that you’re interested in working with receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation, you may be asked whether your annual household income falls below 125% of the federal poverty line.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
A handy list of phone numbers and other contact information for legal aid societies located in Corpus Christi and surrounding communities can be found below. If you’re unsure of whether you want to commit to filing bankruptcy, you may want to schedule a free credit counseling session to explore all of your debt relief options before connecting with legal aid societies.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
You may want to consider scheduling an initial consultation at a bankruptcy law firm if you:
Aren’t sure whether you want to file for bankruptcy
Have questions about filing for bankruptcy
Aren’t sure if you want to file on your own or hire an attorney to help you
Most firms that advertise a bankruptcy law “practice area” offer free consultations for anyone interested in learning more about their legal options. If you attend a consultation, you won’t be obligated to work with a lawyer moving forward – this is an opportunity to ask questions and receive a free case evaluation, nothing more.
You may want to check out the NACBA’s “find an attorney” website feature as you’re looking for a bankruptcy attorney in Corpus Christi. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys is a respected professional organization and their listings are generally accurate. You can also ask loved ones for attorney recommendations or search the websites hosted by local bar associations and/or the Texas State Bar Association for the contact information of local lawyers as well.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you attend a consultation but don’t hire an attorney to prepare your bankruptcy petition, you’ll still be considered a “pro se filer” by the judge assigned to your case. “Pro se” is the classification given to bankruptcy filers who choose to represent themselves. This term is Latin and means, “in/on one’s own behalf.”
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
Although most Chapter 7 filers can successfully prepare their cases without hiring a lawyer to help them, all filers can benefit from free, reputable resources related to the Chapter 7 filing process. No matter how you approach filing (pro se, hiring an attorney, working with legal aid), you’ll want to do some research about how the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process can help you to achieve a fresh start. When it comes to filing for bankruptcy (especially if you’re filing on your own), knowledge really is power.
A great place to begin learning about Chapter 7, Chapter 13, and non-bankruptcy alternatives is the Upsolve Learning Center. This educational hub is available to the public at no charge and without a login. Here, you can learn about any aspect of the bankruptcy process that you want to know more about. From how to prepare for your meeting of creditors to how bankruptcy halts wage garnishments, you’ll find the answers to your questions in the Learning Center’s hundreds of articles written by attorneys. You can also learn more about debt management generally, including how to consolidate your credit card debt if you ultimately don’t file for bankruptcy.
If you are self-filing a simple Chapter 7 case, you’ll also want to take a few minutes to see whether you’re eligible to use the free filing tool provided by Upsolve. This resource will give you access to all the bankruptcy forms you need and will give you a secure, easy-to-follow platform upon which to fill them out. Upsolve’s free online filing tool takes a lot of stress and guesswork out of the pro se Chapter 7 filing process.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
You can also pick up free printed bankruptcy guides at any bankruptcy court in Texas during business hours. When you arrive, simply ask the clerk where to find the free bankruptcy information.
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
No matter how you choose to approach the process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there are resources available to help you complete this process successfully. If your situation is complex and you need legal help, you can pay a private attorney a relatively modest amount to prepare your case for you. If you’re eligible for free or low-cost help from a legal aid society, a staff or licensed volunteer attorney can prepare your case on your behalf.
However, if you’re up for a straightforward challenge, you’d like to save money, and you’d like to retain control over your bankruptcy process, you can choose to prepare your bankruptcy petition on your own. You can use reputable, no-cost resources on the Upsolve website to help you self-file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case efficiently and effectively.
No matter how you choose to approach the process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can achieve a fresh financial start successfully. You simply need to determine which approach will work best for your unique circumstances.