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 Houston, Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 24, 2020
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy in Texas, you may benefit from working with an attorney when preparing your bankruptcy petition. However, depending on the details of your unique financial situation, you may not need to hire an attorney to navigate the bankruptcy process successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Unless a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is particularly complex, neither individuals nor married couples filing jointly need to hire legal counsel during the bankruptcy process. Unlike Chapter 13, the other common form of consumer bankruptcy, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is almost always straightforward. Hiring an attorney can be helpful if you can afford to do so, but you likely won’t needto hire an attorney if you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy unless your case is unusually complex.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to filers who don’t earn much income. When a low-income filer is already struggling to make ends meet, the challenge of paying for a lawyer’s services can seem insurmountable. As a result, the Bankruptcy Code keeps this process straightforward enough that filers generally don’t need to incur attorneys’ fees to get debt relief through Chapter 7. Instead, filers are granted the freedom to choose whether to hire an attorney or to file without a lawyer’s assistance (also known as filing “pro se”).
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
By contrast, you will almost certainly need to hire a bankruptcy attorney if you choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This process is far more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is. As a result, most Chapter 13 filings submitted without an attorney’s assistance fail.
If you don’t pass the Chapter 7 Means Test, you’ll want to speak with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer in your area about their approach to bankruptcy and their approach to a potential attorney-client relationship. Once you find a law firm that fits your needs, you can begin reorganizing your debt through the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Legal aid offices offer free legal assistance to those who earn very little income. These non-profit organizations are usually federally funded and provide legal services to residents of the United States who clearly cannot afford to hire an attorney privately.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Before you can receive free legal advice from an attorney employed by a legal aid organization, you will likely have to go through to an eligibility screening. You may also be temporarily placed on a waiting list until an agency representative is available to help you work through your legal issues. However inconvenient, screening and a short wait will likely be well worth the fresh start that filing bankruptcy provides.
Once you meet with a legal aid attorney, you’ll be able to ask any questions you may have about the different types of bankruptcy, whether you can have your bankruptcy filing fee waived, how to notify debt collectors that you’re filing for bankruptcy, and any other debt-related concerns you may have at this time.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid organizations in and around Houston each have their own eligibility requirements. However, most legal aid eligibility requirements closely resemble those set forth by theLegal Services Corporation. Organizations funded by the LSC serve, at minimum, those who “live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.” The best way to determine whether you’re eligible for free legal assistance is to contact the legal aid organizations in your area for guidance.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
Each of the legal aid organizations listed below serves residents of the Houston area. Having the phone numbers and contact information for these non-profits in one place is a handy resource if you’re interested in exploring representation through a legal aid society.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If the idea of filing bankruptcy without a lawyer is unappealing and you don’t qualify for legal aid, know that most bankruptcy attorneys offer prospective clients a free consultation. This initial consultation is confidential and risk-free, as you’re not obligated to work with the lawyer or to file for bankruptcy after your consultation is complete. Therefore, this is a great opportunity to have your questions answered by a professional at no cost.
You can use the Texas State Bar Association website, contact local bar associations, or connect with the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) to locate a qualified bankruptcy attorney in your area.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
You can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own (“pro se”), even if you schedule a free consultation with an attorney to get some initial questions answered. Filing pro se, without an attorney’s assistance, isn’t the right choice for everyone. However, it may be the right choice for you. However you want to proceed, you can file bankruptcy in pursuit of a fresh financial start with, or without, a lawyer’s help.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you choose to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer, you may be able to use Upsolve’s free web tool to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy as an individual. The tool will allow you to prepare your bankruptcy forms online, for free. It works much like TurboTax does, only for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This non-profit service is made available for eligible filers through generous donors, including Harvard University and the Legal Services Corporation. Although the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is straightforward, having all the resources you need to navigate Texas bankruptcy law and prepare your petition correctly in one place allows for a streamlined, low-stress approach to bankruptcy filing.
This tool doesn’t work for joint filings, but the always accessible resources available on Upsolve’s Learning Center may serve joint filers well. All general educational materials on the Upsolve site related to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy are available without a login and Upsolve will never ask you for a credit card number.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
Regardless of whether you use Upsolve’s free web tool, you’ll be able to access various “self-help” materials for pro se filers at the bankruptcy court located nearest to your residence. You can also pick up materials related to your meeting of creditors, credit counseling, etc. when you drop off your petition at the courthouse.
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 be an empowering process, as it allows you to eliminate your eligible unsecured debts so that you can focus on building a strong financial future. Thankfully, there are a number of resources available that you can access for free as you prepare your bankruptcy petition and others you can access for a fee. You can choose to work with an attorney or to file pro se.
There is no single “right way” to approach filing for bankruptcy. If you’re interested in pursuing debt relief through bankruptcy, choose whichever resources and approaches best fit your needs and financial goals.