Filing without a lawyer:
Recently, I was part of a group of attorneys that was asked what risks are there for someone who wants to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer.
What risks are there? One risk is of losing your property to the Chapter 7 trustee. A Chapter 7 is a liquidation, and you need to be sure you can exempt/protect all your assets. A second risk is of not following the correct steps and being denied a discharge, which means you suffer the negative effects of a bankruptcy with none of the positive effects. Many attorneys do not practice bankruptcy law because it is very technical. Also, if your schedules are substantially incorrect or if you falsify information then you risk fines and possible jail time.
This is not to scare you, just to point out the risks and why you need a qualified bankruptcy attorney. People occasionally file successful chapter 7’s without the help of an attorney but, in my experience, that is extremely rare. I have focused my legal practice on bankruptcy for 17 years, and I have also worked as the attorney for a Chapter 7 trustee. Bankruptcy is not a do-it-yourself project. What usually happens when someone files without an attorney is that the case is dismissed due to some small thing they missed. The person ends up having to hire an attorney to fix their mistakes, which means they are charged even more than a basic bankruptcy because it requires more work for the attorney.
Much depends on the climate of the court as well. In some areas, the Chapter 7 trustees and U.S. trustee are very aggressive toward people who file without an attorney because they assume the person made mistakes OR, if the paperwork is too good, then they assume the person had help from a bankruptcy petition preparer (which can be another problem). All of this goes to say that when you hire a qualified bankruptcy attorney you are not just getting help filling out some forms, you are gaining a wealth of information about how the court works in that jurisdiction and you are benefiting from that attorney’s reputation and contacts within the legal system. To talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney, just call my office at 229-474-6742 and we can discuss your options. In my experience, you cannot afford NOT to have qualified legal help.