Bankruptcy Basics - Part 9: Legal Assistance
The following program was produced by the United States Courts.
Individuals have a right to represent themselves in bankruptcy court. However, bankruptcy is a complex area and involves many considerations including whether to file, what chapter to file under, and what exemptions to claim. It is important to understand all of the protections of the bankruptcy code in order to make full use of them.
The right decision for you depends on an evaluation of your family situation, your assets, your obligations, and many other factors. It is a very serious step that could affect you for the rest of your life. It is possible to lose all of your assets in a bankruptcy and still come out owing all of your debts. A lawyer can explain to you how the process works and can help you make the right decisions. Some debtors use non lawyer bankruptcy petition filing services to complete the documents that must be filed with the court. While this may cost less than consulting an attorney, these services are prohibited by law from giving legal advice or representing you in court. If a problem arises, they won't be able to help you.
If you are contemplating a chapter 13 or chapter 11 case, the need to be represented by an attorney as even greater. The complexities of the law make it extremely difficult for a debtor to successfully complete a chapter 13 or chapter 11 case without the assistance of an attorney. A corporation cannot represent itself in a bankruptcy case and must be represented by an attorney.
Debtors are strongly encouraged to find competent legal counsel. Even if you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to qualify for free or discounted legal services, depending on your annual income and number of dependents. There are a number of resources available to help you find a lawyer. Many cities have lawyer referral services listed under lawyer attorney or information and referral services in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. A referral service will give you an appointment with a lawyer for a nominal fee. Your state and local bar associations are also good sources of information about hiring an attorney and finding free, also known as pro bono, legal services programs.
In addition many law schools have legal clinics that offer free legal services. Other resources for finding free or discounted lawyer services in your area include the American Bar Association's legal help page at findlegalhelp.org, and the Legal Services Corporation website at lsc.gov. I hope you found this video informative and helpful to you as you ponder whether bankruptcy is the remedy for your particular situation. If you have any more questions about bankruptcy, you may obtain informational brochures from the bankruptcy court, and you may access additional information at the bankruptcy court’s website, which includes useful links for debtors. You can find links to local court websites on the US Courts website at uscourts.gov.
To find your court’s website go to the court web site locator, choose the bankruptcy court as the court you want to locate, and then search by either your city and state or your ZIP code. Local court websites often have contact information for bar associations and pro bono legal services programs as well as important procedural information. Another good resource on the US Courts website is the link to the bankruptcy Basics documents.
Remember, bankruptcy laws help people who can no longer pay their creditors get a fresh start by liquidating their assets to pay their debt or by creating a repayment plan. Good luck with your fresh start.