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 Seattle, Washington.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated September 17, 2020
There are two types of bankruptcy ordinarily filed by individuals in the U.S. who don’t own a small business: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. While filing for debt relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code is complex, filing under Chapter 7 is so straightforward that most filers don’t need a lawyer’s help to do it successfully.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
If you choose to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can absolutely work with an attorney if you prefer to do so. Some filers understandably don’t want the stress and hassle of filling out legal paperwork, even if that paperwork is straightforward. Others have unusually complex finances and need help sorting out their options. Still others own expensive personal property or real estate and are concerned about taking all the exemptions they’re entitled to. Finally, those with certain disabilities might not feel comfortable filing without help. There’s nothing wrong with seeking legal assistance. It’s just that most Chapter 7 filers can file on their own if they want to.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is kept purposefully straightforward because this debt relief option is only available to members of low-income households. The courts recognize that most low-income filers can’t afford to retain the services of a law firm. As a result, the process is kept as straightforward as possible so that most filers can prepare their case without having to hire a lawyer.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The reason why Chapter 13 bankruptcy is so much more complex than Chapter 7 bankruptcy is that this process requires filers to restructure their debt via a 3-5 year repayment plan. This restructuring makes paying down debt more manageable, but it takes time and skill to construct a plan in ways that will allow the filer to succeed. As a result, most Chapter 13 repayment plans created without professional assistance fail. If you’re ineligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because you earn too much money, talk to a lawyer about filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
It is possible to receive legal advice regarding the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process at no cost. If you’re eligible to receive assistance through a legal aid society, you can meet one-on-one with an attorney who will help you prepare your case for free.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
Working with a legal aid society is often like working with a law firm, albeit one that is busy and not terribly well funded. Although legal aid societies employ some attorneys, they often rely on private attorneys volunteering their services to meet demand. Depending on how well demand is being met at the time you request services, you may be placed on a waiting list for assistance after you’re screened for service eligibility. When an attorney is free to take your case on, you’ll meet with them one-on-one.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal aid societies are very approachable. If you can’t discern a legal aid society’s eligibility criteria from the information posted on its website, call and clarify the organization’s eligibility restrictions with an employee or knowledgeable volunteer.
When it comes to eligibility for legal services, most legal aid societies are primarily concerned with household income. For example, if you want to work with an organization that is funded by the Legal Services Corporation, you’ll be eligible for services if your household reports an annual income that doesn’t exceed 125% of the federal poverty line. You may be eligible for services even if you earn more than this threshold, but this is the minimum requirement of LSC funded organizations.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
You can use the contact information below (phone numbers, etc.) to connect with legal aid societies located in and near Seattle. If you aren’t eligible for assistance at one or its waitlist is too long, keep contacting alternatives in case another better fits your needs.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Whether you want to develop an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer employed at a private bankruptcy law firm or you hope to file for bankruptcy on your own, you can take advantage of an initial consultation with a professional, often at no cost. Many bankruptcy lawyers offer free consultations to anyone interested in asking questions about filing for consumer bankruptcy. This meeting won’t obligate you to work with that attorney moving forward or to file bankruptcy. When you schedule a free consultation, you only commit your time.
To find a licensed bankruptcy attorney in your area who practices Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can use the “find an attorney” feature on the NACBA website. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, like many local bar associations and the Washington State Bar Association, helps individuals and families locate licensed attorneys who may provide free consultations.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you don’t qualify for legal aid and can’t afford the services offered by a bankruptcy law office, don’t stress. Unless your circumstances are unusually complex, you can use free resources to file “pro se” (without a lawyer’s help). If you don’t earn much income, you can even request a waiver of your filing fee. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is usually straightforward and affordable for self-filers.
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
One resource that is completely free and accessible to the public without a login is the Upsolve Learning Center. This hub features hundreds of articles and guides designed to help individuals and families who are struggling with debt. Upsolve is a non-profit organization, so you will never feel like you’re being “sold” a service or a particular debt relief solution when you’re reading anything posted on the Learning Center. Whether you want to learn more about managing credit card debt, scheduling a free credit counseling session, or filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own, the guides on the Learning Center can help.
Additionally, Upsolve provides a free web tool that is accessible if you’re an eligible Chapter 7 filer (note that the tool doesn’t allow for joint filings at this time). This platform allows filers to prepare all the forms that are required for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition on a secure site. Although Upsolve necessarily has to limit platform use to filers with “simple cases,” this resource streamlines the process in an easy-to-use format that significantly helps those who qualify. If you think you may have a simple Chapter 7 case, it’s a tool that’s worth checking out. Although the Chapter 7 process is straightforward, it helps to have all the forms you need in one place.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
If you’d like to supplement online resources with printed material, you can pick up self-filing guides for free at Seattle area bankruptcy courts. These guides can be particularly helpful when you’re preparing for your meeting of creditors, determining whether you can request a filing fee waiver, and learning about bankruptcy law generally.
Although filing forChapter 7 bankruptcy isn’t the best debt relief option for every individual’s financial situation, this process does provide a fresh financial start for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States every year. If filing bankruptcy is the best option for your circumstances, there are many free and fee-based options available to help you prepare your bankruptcy case. You can choose to file pro se or to work with a bankruptcy attorney – whichever option is the best for you is the approach worth taking.