Do You Need to Hire a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
When filing for bankruptcy is your best option, you're already in a financial pinch. Hiring a bankruptcy lawyer to file for you can seem like an impossible expense.
However, bankruptcy can be complicated, especially if you have a complex situation. Having a bankruptcy attorney can improve the outcome of your case. Consider the following as you weigh the pros and cons of using an attorney.
You aren't required to have a bankruptcy lawyer to file for bankruptcy. However, hiring a lawyer gives you access to legal expertise in bankruptcy laws to ensure everything is filed correctly. An attorney can advise you on the types of bankruptcy and which one fits your situation the best.
Making a mistake in the paperwork could result in your bankruptcy case being dismissed by the courts. If you have a straightforward bankruptcy case, you might be able to file yourself. For more complex cases, it's usually better to hire an attorney to help to ensure you approach bankruptcy correctly to improve your outcome.
Your bankruptcy lawyer will walk you through the entire bankruptcy process and support you throughout the court process. The following services are provided by the lawyer:
- Advice: A bankruptcy attorney should start with a consultation to review your situation and advise you on the best options. They should also let you know what to expect during the process.
- Paperwork preparation: Bankruptcy requires extensive paperwork, which an attorney can help you complete correctly. You'll need to supply the information, but your attorney will often complete the required forms. They'll also check for accuracy to ensure there aren't any mistakes in the documentation.
- Filing paperwork: The bankruptcy lawyer will file the completed paperwork with the courts to get the legal proceedings going.
- Representation at hearings: Your bankruptcy can't be finalized until your hearing — everyone filing for bankruptcy has to attend one hearing, but you could have additional hearings or court appearances based on your situation. Going to court can be scary. Having a lawyer to prepare you for those appearances and represent you can make them easier.
You'll still have some responsibilities in the process, but your lawyer will handle the majority of the duties and keep you informed along the way.
Bankruptcy attorneys often charge a flat rate since it's a fairly standard process. This makes it easier to estimate how much time it will take. However, some bankruptcy attorneys charge an hourly rate. The price can vary significantly depending on where you live, the experience of the lawyer and the complexity of your case. Lawyer fees for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy could range from $500 to $3,500, according to Nerd Wallet, while Chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer fees often run between $1,500 and $6,000. That's on top of the filing fees, which are $338 for a Chapter 7 petition and $313 for a Chapter 13 petition.
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If you decide to hire a bankruptcy lawyer, these tips can help you choose the right one for you:
- Hire a bankruptcy expert. It's best to choose an attorney who only handles bankruptcies rather than one who dabbles in several areas of law. This ensures the lawyer is well-versed in bankruptcy law.
- Check on experience. Find out how long the lawyer has been practicing, particularly in bankruptcy law. Ask how many bankruptcy cases the lawyer handles per year. If you have a unique situation, find out if the attorney has ever handled a similar case.
- Vet the lawyer. Look for online reviews or check on sites such as Super Lawyers and AVVO to check up on bankruptcy attorneys you're considering. You can also check with your state bar association.
- Inquire about pricing. Find out if the attorney charges a flat rate or hourly. If it's hourly, ask for an estimate of how long your case might take.
- Interview the attorney. As questions to get an idea of how the lawyer handles bankruptcy cases.
- Consider the interaction. If the attorney doesn't listen to you when you're interviewing them, they likely won't give you the support you need if you hire them. Look for someone who listens well, is responsive and treats you with dignity.
Once you choose an attorney, get the agreement in writing to ensure you don't have any issues.
Coming up with the money for an attorney when you're already struggling financially can be a challenge. Here are some options for affording the fees:
- Opt for a flat-fee option, so you're not surprised with a higher cost if your case takes longer than expected.
- Check for legal aid programs, free legal clinics through local law schools or pro bono attorneys for cheap or free services.
- Ask about a payment plan through the law office.
- Save up the money until you can afford the fees — if you know you're filing for bankruptcy, you can stop paying the debts that will be forgiven and use the money that would go toward them to pay an attorney.
- Be aware that bankruptcy attorneys generally require payment in full before they'll file your case, and you may not be able to pay them with a credit card. This avoids having the attorney become a creditor or having the legal fee wiped out with your other debts.
- In some circumstances, you may be able to have your filing fee waived. This may be a small cost in comparison to lawyer fees, but every dollar helps. Ask your attorney if you qualify for a filing fee waiver.
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