A bankruptcy attorney is necessary to file a bankruptcy case just like a surgeon is necessary to remove your spleen. You can do either yourself, but should you?
SHOULD YOU USE AN ATTORNEY, PARALEGAL, OR REPRESENT YOURSELF?
There are a lot of agencies and paralegals out there who will tell you that you don’t need a bankruptcy lawyer to represent you in filing a bankruptcy case.
This post explores the reasons why you should use an attorney.
And, what can happen if you don’t.
Corporations and Partnerships must have an attorney represent them.
For individuals there is no legal requirement that an attorney to prepare, file, and represent them in a bankruptcy case.
There is also no requirement that you use a surgeon to repair a severed artery in your leg, or an electrician to wire your new home. But unless you are expert in those areas, it almost never makes sense to attempt it yourself.
The legal system is tricky enough for attorneys to navigate.
Representing yourself in a specialized forum such as bankruptcy is just asking for trouble.
And the trouble can be huge.
Failure to follow the intricate network of procedural rules and statutes, as well as local rules of the various bankruptcy courts, can result in denial of your discharge, loss of assets, lawsuits against family members and additional fees and charges being levied against you.
And there can be consequences for future bankruptcy cases if your case gets dismissed due to something done improperly.
Paralegals Cannot Give Legal Advice; Attorneys Can
Much of what goes into a bankruptcy petition, as well as the planning and advice one gets from an attorney prior to filing a case, cannot be given by a paralegal or petition preparing service.
Why is that?
Because they are not attorneys and are strictly prohibited by law from giving any legal advice.
Thus, they are prohibited by law from giving you advice on how to properly exempt protect assets in a Chapter 7 case , structure a repayment plan in a Chapter 13 case, or even advise you on potential pitfalls and problems you are likely to face in any given situation.
Bankruptcy Courts Agree Attorneys Are Important For Success
Don’t take my word for it. See what the United States Court website has to say about filing without an attorney.
Among a lot of interesting points that report makes, is its conclusion that “bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal consequences [and] hiring a competent attorney is strongly recommended.”
The Success Rate for Parties Representing Themselves In Bankruptcy is Extremely Low
See also my article on the recent report of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California on the success rate of those filing without a bankruptcy attorney.
I have many horror stories of former clients who initially tried to file bankruptcy without a lawyer and ended up hiring me to try to fix what happened. In many cases, the damage is too great to get fixed, and in ALL the cases the cost to the client to have me attempt to fix things was far greater than it would have cost to have me (or another bankruptcy attorney) represent them in the first place.
Bankruptcy attorneys, particularly those representing primarily debtors in bankruptcy, do not do it for the money (which is not great) but because we care about helping people get out of these financial straits. It pains me, as it does any competent bankruptcy professional, to see people committing “legal suicide” by representing themselves or using non-attorneys to prepare the documents that will affect their financial future.
We (bankruptcy attorneys) are all acutely aware that people who need to file bankruptcy generally don’t have a lot of spare cash floating around. But this is simply not the time to cut corners. You could end up worse off than you are now if your bankruptcy case is not handled properly.
Image courtesy of NYCGal