Many individuals who are thinking about filing for bankruptcy protection consider doing it without the help of an attorney. When a person represents himself or herself, it is called "pro se" representation. While representing yourself may seem like it will save you money, the reality is that it could cost you more than you realize. Losing assets, having your discharge denied, or having your case dismissed is much more expensive than hiring an attorney to represent you.
There is a reason the courts require attorneys to go to years of school in order to practice law and represent you. Bankruptcy laws are very technical, complicated, and confusing, and you are required to complete many official forms under penalty of perjury. While you are permitted to file a bankruptcy case without an attorney, it is extremely difficult to do so successfully. In fact, according to some studies, debtors who represent themselves in a standard Chapter 7 case successfully obtain a discharge of their debts only 61% of the time, as opposed to 95% of the time for those represented by a lawyer. In Chapter 13 cases, the success rate for debtors representing themselves is less than 1%.
The failure to timely and accurately complete official forms may affect your rights, result in the dismissal of your case, and adversely affect any future bankruptcy filing. In addition, only an attorney can give you legal advice. The Bankruptcy Court Clerk's Office staff is prohibited from giving legal advice and cannot aid you in the completion of required forms. Bankruptcy petition preparers are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice.
Using self-help books or the internet do not prepare you for the various circumstances and issues that can arise during your case. Also, "do-it-yourself" books and websites do not have experience in practicing before your local court. A bankruptcy attorney does. This practical experience can make a significant difference in how your case turns out. Hiring a bankruptcy attorney who has a good reputation and who is well-known by the judges and trustees can increase the chance that your case runs efficiently and effectively.
There are a few common areas where a pro se debtor typically makes mistakes:
- In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a debtor must pass the "means test." This test determines whether or not a person is eligible to file a Chapter 7 case. If the test is not correctly completed, it could result in your case being dismissed. The means test is complicated. As a result, many pro se debtors do not properly complete it.
- Individuals who represent themselves lose money because they do not understand how bankruptcy law works. The law provides numerous exemptions that allow a debtor to protect assets. However, if an exemption is not properly claimed, it is possible that the trustee could seize an exempt asset and administer it in the estate.
- Bankruptcy courts have numerous strict deadlines which must be met in order to have a successful case. Most pro se debtors miss these important deadlines, which can result in their case being dismissed.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy protection, contact Leiderman Shelomith Alexander + Somodevilla, PLLC to protect your best interests and save you money.