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  • Writer's pictureBrett Weiss

Do I Really Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?

Updated: Jan 15

I’ve taken over a number of cases where a debtor prepared and filed the various bankruptcy documents without the help of an attorney – what is called filing pro se or pro per. -- or where they used a so-called "petition preparer" to do the documents. Apart from the fact that the schedules generally have to be completely redone (the exemptions are usually wrong, debts are not listed, assets are not listed or are listed or valued incorrectly, the Means Test uses the wrong figures, the Statement of Financial Affairs is incorrect, and the budget is generally wrong), a number of these people lost their homes as a result of not being advised about the correct chapter to file under, what was required, how the process worked, how to value assets, how to deal with various types of debts, etc. – something an attorney is required to do.

Others ran into severe problems at the Meeting of Creditors, where they have no one to turn to for preparation or advice, Generally, pro se debtors don’t know what the Trustee is looking for, or how to properly deal with the Trustee’s questions and concerns. One ended up being charged with bankruptcy fraud–all because she didn’t understand the effects of what the information put in their schedules meant. Another had the Trustee demand that she turn her engagement ring over to him then and there, something that would have been avoided had she had an attorney.

Finally, there are deadlines that, if missed, can result in the automatic dismissal of your case, and a potentially very complex means test computation.

If you are filing for a Chapter 11 or a Chapter 13 reorganization, it is virtually impossible for you to get your reorganization plan confirmed, or approved, by the Court without using a lawyer. The rules for confirmation (just part of which are found here and here for Chapter 11 and here and here for Chapter 13) are so difficult and complex that the likelihood that you will be able to make it to the confirmation hearing, much less actually get your plan confirmed, is very slim. And this isn't just my opinion--the US Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, which has more pro se filings than anywhere in the country, recently did a study that found that only 0.4% of pro se Chapter 13 filers were able to get their Plans confirmed. So if you want to have even a remote chance of success in your Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 case, you need a lawyer.

Bankruptcy is a very tricky area of the law (even to attorneys who don’t regularly practice it). Interestingly enough for a federal system, it is very state and locality specific. What will work in California, for example, probably won’t fly here in Maryland.

Do yourself a big favor—see a lawyer.

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