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Hiring a Bankruptcy Lawyer

This article was prepared by Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and contains material from other resources as well. It contains a general overview of bankruptcy and is not a substitute for direct representation by or advice from a lawyer.

Do I need a lawyer to help me file for bankruptcy?

You don’t have to have a lawyer. You might be able to make it through a Chapter 7 case by yourself. But filing a reorganization case under Chapter 11, 12, or 13 is tough—even with a lawyer.

As it says in the instructions for official bankruptcy forms, “It is extremely difficult to succeed in a Chapter 11, 12, or 13 case without an attorney.” Reorganization cases are hard to get off the ground and require years of maintenance. For instance, a Chapter 7 case lasts about three months. But if it gets confirmed (successfully approved by the bankruptcy judge), a Chapter 13 case can last as long as five years.

The instructions to the official forms for individual debtors say it well. “Completing the forms is only a part of the bankruptcy process. You are strongly encouraged to hire a qualified attorney not only to help you complete the forms but also to give you general advice about bankruptcy and to represent you in your bankruptcy case. If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, you might qualify for free legal services if they are provided in your area. Contact your state or local bar association for help in obtaining free legal services or in hiring an attorney.”

Can I file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer?

Even a simple Chapter 7 liquidation case can be risky if the debtor does not know how to properly claim basic assets as exempt. There are Texas exemption laws and federal exemption laws. Knowing which set of laws to choose (you must pick one or the other) and exempting each type of asset under the proper statute could mean the difference between keeping an asset and having it sold off (liquidated) by the Chapter 7 trustee to pay your creditors.

Can I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy without a lawyer?

Again, like the instructions for the official bankruptcy forms say, “It is extremely difficult to succeed in a Chapter 11, 12, or 13 case without an attorney.” Reorganization cases are hard to get off the ground and require years of maintenance. For instance, a Chapter 13 case can last as long as five years, if it gets confirmed (successfully approved by the bankruptcy judge).

How do I file a bankruptcy case by myself?

If you choose, despite the warnings above, to file a bankruptcy case without a lawyer, which is called filing the case pro se, a good place to start this task is: http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/filing-without-attorney.

The official forms to file a bankruptcy case are here: http://www.uscourts.gov/forms/bankruptcy-forms.

The bankruptcy court has recently overhauled the forms to make them easier to understand, and the instructions for new forms will be helpful to you. Please see the following link: http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/instructions-individuals-2015.pdf

To help make a decision about which Chapter to file your case under (Chapter 7, 11, 12, or 13), please read the following document thoroughly: http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/form_b2010_0.pdf.