Do I need a bankruptcy attorney?
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
– Abraham Lincoln
I see more and more folks who are trying to file bankruptcy without an attorney. And more often than not, they come to regret that decision.
There’s more than one set of rules, and it can get complicated.
The federal bankruptcy code and federal rules are supplemented by the local rules of the court where your case is filed, so directions you find online about how to file bankruptcy may differ from the local rules where you’re filing.
Bankruptcy outcomes depend on the interplay of a variety of federal and state statutes:
- U.S. Bankruptcy Code
- Federal rules and procedures
- State codes
- Local rules
- Standing orders
- Case law
It is very, very difficult for someone not trained in the law to understand the interplay of all of these.
The rules change frequently, so non-professional advice you get could be outdated or inapplicable.
To add to the complexity for non-lawyers, the bankruptcy laws are not static. The practice of bankruptcy is constantly evolving because of new case law, new judicial orders, and amendments to statutes and rules. Judges will issue written opinions from time to time that might expand, restrict, or explain the way the statutes and rules are put into practice. Accordingly, advice you get from a friend may not be accurate or relevant to your situation.
It’s the job of practicing bankruptcy attorneys to keep up with these changes. Bankruptcy attorneys have a familiarity with the bankruptcy process in their area that can’t be found on the Internet or in how-to-file-bankruptcy books.
Lots can go wrong if you file by yourself.
The term to describe an individual who files without attorney representation is “pro se.” I’ve seen a lot of pro se cases, and folks often run into problems that could have been avoided with an attorney.
I observed one bankruptcy case in which a gentleman who lost his job filed bankruptcy without an attorney. When he realized he could lose part of his tax refunds in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, he wish he hadn’t filed. But he couldn’t undo the fact that he had filed.
Often, a pro se case will get dismissed because not all of the required papers were timely filed with the court or the filing fees were not timely paid. Unfortunately, such dismissals are often followed by another filing and further court filings. A lot of wasted time and effort.
I also observed a woman recently who hadn’t been paying her landlord. She, too, filed bankruptcy without an attorney. Then she found out that bankruptcy would not help her continue living in her house without her paying rent.
Her landlord showed up at her initial meeting of creditors. She probably didn’t expect that; in fact, she probably did not know what to expect at that meeting at all without having an experienced attorney explain it to her.
Your attorney may be able to protect your car or your house.
Depending on your circumstances, you can lose assets, like your car or your house, in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And you may not get all of the help you need just by filing a petition in bankruptcy. If you have income to protect or assets you want to keep, an experienced bankruptcy attorney can guide you through the process and help you avoid an unpleasant outcome.
The bottom line:
So maybe Honest Abe was right when he said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” It’s important to find an experienced bankruptcy attorney in your area to determine if bankruptcy is right for you.