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 Dallas, Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
If you don’t earn much income and are interested in filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you’ll likely be able to prepare your bankruptcy petition without an attorney’s assistance. Although you can hire a bankruptcy lawyer if you’d like to, this process is straightforward enough that most filers can successfully prepare their Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases on their own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a debt relief option available to members of low-income households. As many Chapter 7 filers cannot afford the services of a bankruptcy attorney, the bankruptcy courts keep this process straightforward enough that filers can generally prepare their bankruptcy cases without seeking professional legal advice. However, if a filer has an unusually complex financial situation, owns a small business, or simply doesn’t want the stress of filing without help, they can – at any time – consult with a law office experienced in the practice area of bankruptcy.
Consumer bankruptcy filers who are ineligible for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process may file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead. The bankruptcy laws that govern Chapter 13 process are complex enough that it is important to connect with a law firm if you choose to file for bankruptcy under this chapter of the Bankruptcy Code.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The biggest difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy is thatChapter 13 bankruptcy involves a 3-5 year repayment plan. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcyeliminates a filer’s eligible debts in as little as 90 days. Both processes end creditor harassment, halt garnishments, and offer filers a fresh start - they just use different means to achieve this end goal. Also, Chapter 7 is only available as an option for alimited number of filers.
If you file bankruptcy under Chapter 13, your best bet is to hire an attorney. The legal issues involved in constructing a manageable 3-5 year repayment plan are complex. Cost savings now are not worth jeopardizing your shot at debt relief later. Unfortunately, most Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed without legal guidance in Texas and throughout the United States fail outright. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney is a viable option. Filing for Chapter 13 without an attorney is usually not.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be eligible to receive free legal services from a legal aid society. These non-profit organizations provide various legal services for members of particularly low-income households.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Legal aid services are often in high demand. As a result, legal aid organizations tend to strictly enforce eligibility criteria for those seeking assistance. If you’re interested in working with a legal aid organization, you’ll likely be screened to ensure that you meet that specific organization’s eligibility criteria. Depending on how busy that organization is, you may be placed on a waitlist before you can receive help. When you reach the top of the waitlist, an attorney will work with you on a one-on-one basis to prepare and submit your bankruptcy case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
The best way to determine whether you’re eligible for free legal aid is to contact legal aid organizations in the Dallas area and ask what their eligibility criteria are. Each organization constructs its own eligibility guidelines, so you may qualify to receive help at one organization, even if you’re ineligible for assistance at another.
Generally speaking, most legal aid organizations offer their services to members of households who earn 125% or less income per the federal poverty line on an annual basis. This standard is the minimum standard employed by organizations that belong to the federally-fundedLegal Services Corporation. If your income meets this threshold, chances are that you’ll be eligible for assistance at virtually any legal aid service. However, even if your household income exceeds this general standard, you may be eligible for help at select legal aid societies – it never hurts to check.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
There are a number of legal aid organizations located in and around Dallas that you can connect with for more information. Their names and contact information are conveniently located below.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you aren’t eligible for legal aid and you’re unsure of whether you want to work with a bankruptcy lawyer or file on your own, you may want to schedule an initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in your area. Most consumer bankruptcy firms offer free consultations. Attending an initial, no-cost meeting will allow you to ask questions without obligating yourself to work with that attorney. Just make sure when you’re scheduling your consultation that you’ll be meeting with a licensed attorney, not a paralegal or administrative professional who may not be able to answer your questions.
There are several ways to learn about the reputations and contact information of bankruptcy firms in your area. The most reputable places tostart your research include the Texas State Bar Association website and the website for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you hope to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy “pro se” (without an attorney’s assistance), know that this is also a viable option for many. While filing without a lawyer’s help isn’t the right choice for every filer, if it’s the best choice for you, you’ll have many resources available to help guide you through the bankruptcy process.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
One of the best free resources available to pro se Chapter 7 filers is Upsolve’s free web tool. Upsolve is a non-profit organization funded by generous donors, including Harvard University. Upsolve’s free web tool allows eligible low-income filers to prepare their bankruptcy petitions in a guided and secure online portal. This service is free and Upsolve will never ask you for your credit card information. This tool is available to individual Chapter 7 filers, including married couples where only one spouse is filing.
If you’re filing for bankruptcy on your own but you don’t meet the eligibility requirements for access to the online tool, you can take advantage of the no cost, accessible resources available in the Upsolve Learning Center. This platform features hundreds of articles about the bankruptcy process. The Learning Center doesn’t require a login to access and is available to everyone, at all times.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Additional resources designed to help pro se filers can be found at the bankruptcy courts in and around Dallas. You can pick up self-help filing guides either before you submit your initial paperwork or when you’re at the courthouse dropping off your petition and preparing for your next steps.
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
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can serve as an excellent way to achieve a fresh financial start. Whether you choose to enter into an attorney-client relationship or pursue filing bankruptcy pro se, if this debt relief option is a good fit for your financial situation, it’s an option worth exploring. If you’re unsure of whether you want to file for bankruptcy, that’s okay too. In this case, exploring no-cost credit counseling may be a good first step towards making an informed decision about your options.
No matter what, there are many options available (both free and fee-based) that can help you to successfully manage your debt. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which option is the best fit for your needs and financial goals.