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 Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 1, 2020
Wisconsin residents benefit from more consumer bankruptcy options than other Americans do. In addition to the option of filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy provided for in the federal bankruptcy laws, Wisconsin residents may file a type of bankruptcy provided for in Chapter 128 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is an easy enough process that it can be completed without a bankruptcy attorney’s assistance.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?
Unlike filing under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, filing under Chapter 7 or Chapter 128 does not necessarily require the guidance of a licensed bankruptcy lawyer. These two debt relief options are far less complex than filing under Chapter 13 bankruptcy is. With that said, there are major differences between the Chapter 7 and Chapter 128 bankruptcy processes. Most notably, Chapter 128 bankruptcy reorganizes unsecured debt to make a repayment plan more manageable. By contrast, filing a successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy case allows filers to have their eligible unsecured debts discharged in as few as 90 days.
Filing for any type of bankruptcy without an attorney’s assistance isn’t an option that fits every financial situation. However, if you don’t own numerous pieces of real estate, a small business, or luxury property, you can save money by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 128 bankruptcy on your own. These processes were purposefully constructed in straightforward ways. The courts wanted these specific approaches to bankruptcy law to remain so easy to navigate that only filers facing unique circumstances or unusually complex challenges would need to consult with a bankruptcy law firm to complete them successfully.
The idea that you have the opportunity to seek the fresh financial start that consumer bankruptcy provides without paid legal advice may sound too good to be true. However, it is important to keep in mind that these processes are special. Almost all other legal issues require Americans to consult a law office that deals with a specific legal practice area unique to their situation. The United States bankruptcy courts purposefully made an exception to this general rule with Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is only available to low-income filers.
Are You Filing a Chapter 13 Reorganization Bankruptcy?
The potential for immediate debt relief is so significant in a Chapter 7 filing that the courts don’t allow everyone to take advantage of it. Only low-income filers are permitted to seek debt relief under Chapter 7. All consumer bankruptcy filers who don’t meet the income-based eligibility criteria outlined in the Chapter 7 Means Test must file under an alternative Chapter. Chapter 13 and Chapter 128 bankruptcy both reorganize debt to make a filer’s repayment plan more manageable.
Filing under either Chapter will halt harassment from debt collectors and other collection actions and allow you to seek a fresh start. However, there are differences between these processes. To begin with, Chapter 13 bankruptcy is far more complex than Chapter 7 and Chapter 128 are. As a result, if you choose to file under Chapter 13, you’ll need to hire a bankruptcy attorney. Their fees can be repaid over time. If you’re unsure of which Chapter is best for your situation, consider scheduling a free credit counseling session to explore your options.
Getting Free Bankruptcy Help Through Legal Aid
Did you know that legal aid organizations exist not only to help low-income individuals facing criminal law challenges but also low-income individuals facing certain civil legal challenges as well? If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be eligible for free or low-cost legal services from one of these civil organizations.
What Is It Like Working with Legal Aid?
If you choose to work with a local legal aid society, you’ll be given the opportunity to develop a one-on-one attorney-client relationship with a lawyer, just like you would if you worked with a private law office. This lawyer may be a staff member of the non-profit organization or they may be a private attorney volunteering their time.
It’s important to understand because non-profit legal aid societies aren’t funded in the same ways that private law offices are that you may not be able to meet with an attorney immediately. After you’re screened for eligibility to receive assistance, you may be placed on a waiting list until the busy non-profit has the resources to begin work on your case.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Legal Aid?
No two legal aid societies operate in exactly the same ways, as they are independent operations. However, most legal aid organizations screen potential clients according to income-level. There may be other eligibility criteria enforced by these organizations, but income-level is almost certainly going to determine whether you qualify for free or low-cost assistance.
Many organizations will offer you assistance if your household income doesn’t exceed an annual total that is more than 125% of the federal poverty line. This is because any organization funded by the Legal Services Corporation is required to offer specific legal services to members of this demographic. The LSC is the largest funder of civil legal aid in the nation, so many organizations are bound to honor this standard, at an absolute minimum.
What Are the Legal Aid Organizations Near Me?
A handy phone number and contact information guide to Milwaukee-area legal aid societies can be found below. Feel free to put your name on more than one waiting list if doing so could gain you access to legal assistance sooner. Just make sure to take your name off of the others once a spot opens up.
Getting a Free Evaluation from a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Wisconsin offers more consumer bankruptcy options to its residents than other states do. As a result, you may understandably be unsure of which type of bankruptcy best fits your situation. Thankfully, most bankruptcy attorneys in Wisconsin offer free consultations to anyone who would like a no-risk, no-obligation case evaluation. You can take advantage of this no-cost opportunity to ask a lawyer (not a paralegal) questions about filing bankruptcy, even if you’re planning to file bankruptcy on your own under Chapter 7 or Chapter 128.
To find an attorney in your area who practices consumer bankruptcy law, check out the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys’ (NACBA) website. Alternatively, you can search local bar association sites or the Wisconsin State Bar Association website. If you know someone who has filed for bankruptcy successfully in Wisconsin before, they may also be able to give you some recommendations.
Filing Without a Bankruptcy Attorney
If you choose to file bankruptcy without an attorney’s help (which you can do successfully under Chapter 7 or Chapter 128), you will be referred to as a “pro se filer.” Pro se is a Latin term that means “in or on one’s own behalf.”
Using Upsolve’s Free Web Tool to File Bankruptcy on Your Own
If you meet the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing income limits and are therefore eligible to have your debt discharged in a matter of months, you may be able to use Upsolve’s free filing tool to prepare your bankruptcy forms. This platform isn’t available to Chapter 128 filers or Chapter 7 filers who have complex cases. However, if you are eligible to use the tool, you’ll find that it takes much of the guesswork out of the pro se filing process. It’s free, secure, easy-to-navigate, and allows you handy access to all the forms you’ll need to complete your bankruptcy petition successfully.
Regardless of whether you’re eligible to use the filing tool, you can find hundreds of helpful guides and articles related to bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy debt relief and debt management alternatives on the Upsolve Learning Center platform. This resource is available to the public at all times, at no cost, and without a login. The pieces published in the Learning Center are written by attorneys, so you can trust that you’re reading reliable information when you access information here.
Self-help Resources at the Bankruptcy Court
When you’re filing your bankruptcy petition at a bankruptcy court in Milwaukee, take a moment to ask the clerk where you can find free printed guides for self-filers. The courts usually provide the public with information on topics including what you should expect at your meeting of creditors and how wage garnishments are addressed in the bankruptcy process.
Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse
120 North Henry Street Madison, WI 53703
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy may or may not be the best option for your situation. If it is the best debt relief option available to you, know that seeking bankruptcy protection is nothing to be embarrassed about. Bankruptcy used to carry a stigma, but the 2008 Great Recession taught us all that even the most responsible Americans can fall on hard times through no fault of their own. Filing for bankruptcy can be life-changing and empowering, whether you work with an attorney or file pro se. In the end, either option is very likely to be successful.