CAN YOU FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY?
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Abraham Lincoln has often been credited with imparting this sage legal advice over the years but researchers have also credited others before Lincoln including William De Britaine in 1682 and Roger L’ Estrange in 1692. The quote has even been cited as an ancient Italian proverb.
Regardless of who first authored the phrase, the point is crystal clear. Sure, you can certainly file pro se for bankruptcy. But why would you? Seeking the advice of a qualified attorney is strongly recommended because filing for bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal consequences.
When filing for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 your attorney must thoroughly prepare and have a clear understanding of legal issues. Misunderstandings about the law or making mistakes in the process can affect your rights. The law also prohibits court employees and bankruptcy judges from offering legal advice.
There are many ways that your lawyer can help you with your case including giving you advice on whether to even file a bankruptcy petition and, if so, under which chapter you should file. He or she can also advise you on whether your debts can be discharged and whether you will be able to keep your home, car or other property after you file.
Your lawyer can also:
– Advise you of the tax consequences of filing
– Advise you on whether you should continue to pay your creditors
– Explain and help you understand bankruptcy law and procedures
– Assist you in completing and filing forms
– Assist you with most aspects of your bankruptcy case
Those who choose to be pro se litigants need to follow the rules and procedures in federal courts and should be familiar with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the local rules of the court in which the case is filed. Local rules, along with other useful information, are posted on the court’s website and are available at the local court’s intake counter. Court employees and bankruptcy judges are prohibited by law from offering legal advice.
Bankruptcy Forms are available to the public free of charge.
You will need to use the forms that are numbered in the 100 series to file bankruptcy for individuals or married couples. If you plan to file a bankruptcy on behalf of a nonindividual such as a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company (LLC) you will need to use the forms that are numbered in the 200 series. Sole proprietors must use the forms that are numbered in the 100 series. In addition, many courts require local forms so you should check your court’s website before filing any documents.
So you’re still thinking about going it alone without an attorney? Consider this. If you file bankruptcy pro se you may be offered services by non-attorney petition preparers. By law, these preparers are only allowed to enter information into forms. They are prohibited from giving you legal advice, explain answers to legal questions, or assisting you in bankruptcy court. Further, the petition preparer must sign all documents they prepare for you as well as print their name, address and social security number on the documents. They must also provide you with a copy of all documents and they cannot sign documents on your behalf or receive payment for court fees.
If you need help finding a bankruptcy lawyer here are a couple of resources that may help. If you can’t afford an attorney, you may qualify for free legal services.
– American Bar Association’s Legal Help
– Legal Services Corporation