Many people file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney. In fact, in some districts, a whopping 28% of bankruptcy filings were by pro se litigants (the legal term for "filing on your own").
Some people represent themselves because they can't afford the attorney fees. Others have simple cases and don't feel the need to hire an attorney. But while doing so is possible, it's not wise in every case. In this article, you'll learn about some of the most common problems the court sees in bankruptcy cases filed without an attorney.
In many cases, problems arise even before the consumer files for bankruptcy.
Even if the debtor chooses the correct chapter, pitfalls abound in the paperwork phase of bankruptcy.
Most Chapter 7 cases move along predictably: you file for bankruptcy, attend the 341 meeting of creditors, and then get your discharge. But, that's not always the case. Other, more complicated issues can arise that most pro se filers aren't prepared to handle. For instance, many self-represented filers:
Failing to understand these concepts will be problematic if a creditor challenges the dischargeability of a debt or if the bankruptcy trustee—the official who oversees your case—alleges that you've committed fraud. Or something else might crop up. When you find yourself on the receiving end of a complaint or motion, an attorney is essential to your success.
If you decide to file for bankruptcy on your own, find out what services are available in your district for pro se filers. Some bankruptcy courts hold pro se clinics where an attorney describes the bankruptcy options and process. Others can connect you with legal aid organizations that do the same. Many courts and their websites have information for consumers filing for bankruptcy—from brochures describing low-cost or free services to detailed information about bankruptcy.
Getting a good self-help book is also an excellent idea. Any bankruptcy book worth its salt will highlight situations when you should talk to an attorney.
You also might be able to find an attorney who will provide advice without full representation. And most bankruptcy attorneys will meet with you for free for an initial consultation. That might be enough for you to learn that bankruptcy is not for you, to determine which chapter is best for you, or to discover that you have some issues that might mean going it alone is a bad idea.
(To learn more about hiring an attorney, getting other types of bankruptcy help, or what to do if you can't afford a Chapter 7 attorney, visit out Getting Bankruptcy Help section.)