Can I File Bankruptcy Myself?
“He who represents himself has an idiot for a client and a fool for a lawyer." That old proverb may be a bit harsh, but there is some truth to it. While it is possible to file a bankruptcy case without the assistance of an attorney, it is generally advisable to hire a local bankruptcy attorney to assist you with the intricacies of the complex bankruptcy code.
If you choose to represent yourself in any court proceeding without a lawyer, you are known as a PRO SE Litigant. "Pro Se" is a Latin phrase which translates as "for yourself." As a Pro Se bankruptcy filer, you are entitled to the same rights that you would have if you had filed with an attorney. However, Pro Se litigants are expected to know and conform to the way law is practiced in the Bankruptcy Courts. Bankruptcy Judges and trustees can have very little patience for those Pro Se filers who are not prepared or who don’t know what they’re doing. You should be familiar with the United States Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the Local Rules of your jurisdiction before you attempt to file a Pro Se bankruptcy.
Filing for bankruptcy without the help of a lawyer can be a frustrating, difficult, and time-consuming experience. It is highly recommended that if you are considering filing bankruptcy that you consult with a competent attorney prior to filing your case. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations and are trained to identify any potential issues specific to your case.
What can go wrong if I file a Pro Se Bankruptcy?
There are many hidden pitfalls if you file a bankruptcy without an attorney. Bankruptcy is a highly procedural area of the law that allows little tolerance for error. Seemingly minor errors made in your bankruptcy petition may cause devastating results, such as causing you to lose a home or having your bankruptcy dismissed for procedural errors.
The Bankruptcy Law Changes of 2005 added situations in which dismissal of your case can happen more easily and further limited your ability to re-file a bankruptcy. The new laws also instituted a “Means Test” requirement, which can be confusing and easy to mishandle. For better or worse, Congress’ intent of the 2005 Law Change was to discourage people from filing bankruptcies, and so they made the process of filing considerably more complex and the consequences of mistakes more costly.
Seemingly minor errors made in your bankruptcy petition may cause devastating results, such as causing you to lose a home or having your bankruptcy dismissed for procedural errors. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is especially ill-suited to file as a Pro Se litigant. Some of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy laws are very complex and local rules and nuances in every jurisdiction make it difficult to properly research. In fact, some bankruptcy judges and Chapter 13 trustees strongly recommend that you hire a bankruptcy attorney before continuing your Chapter 13 case.
The more complex you think your case may be, or the more assets you have to lose in a bungled bankruptcy, the more important it becomes to hire a local bankruptcy attorney to handle your case. Even if you think your case may be “simple” and that you may be able to handle it on your own, it is wise to obtain a free online evaluation with a local bankruptcy attorney.
Beware of Online Bankruptcy Kits, and Paralegal or Document Services
There are many dangers to filing a bankruptcy through websites and companies that offer “bankruptcy kits” and bankruptcy documents to help you file without an attorney. It is impossible for these companies to carefully examine your specific situation and advise you accordingly. A case-by-case individual legal evaluation is the only way to get a true understanding of what the bankruptcy law can do for you. There is also little supervision over these companies, unlike the strict rules that bankruptcy attorney have to follow to ensure your best interests are being represented at all times.
Despite what many of these Document Services may claim, bankruptcy is much more complex than just filling out forms. People who file their cases using bankruptcy kits or paralegal services often encounter problems and issues with their bankruptcy and can be forced to hire a bankruptcy attorney to help them clean up the mess. This can be a very expensive mistake.